JEREZ: A HORSEMAN RIDING BY
Our 500th post.
Who knew that we would still be here two and a half years later?
It seems fitting that a blog with a Spanish name and written by two brothers with a slightly unhealthy obsession with Spain should note this milestone with a post about their favourite country.
Even more so, when the post also involves one of their favourite things to drink, sherry.
We have droned on about sherry before. Well a couple of times at least. In our humble opinions one of the great underrated drinks of all, primarily because of a lack of good marketing on the part of the producers and a misunderstanding of the product on the part of the consumers.
So, we make no excuses for taking yet another opportunity to promulgate the sheer wonderfulness of the fortified wines of Jerez one more time. Even more so because, on this occasion we had the opportunity to drink the sauce at source, as it were.
As I head towards the natural conclusion of EAT MY GLOBE, one of the things that has kept me going as I have been dragging my big red rucksack all over the globe was the invitation from my new friends at Gonzalez Byass to come and be their guests at The Feria Del Caballo in Jerez. It is hard to explain to anyone who has not been to a Spanish fair just what makes it so special as lots of things combine to make them one of the most enjoyable experiences anywhere on earth.
In this case, as the name suggests the official reason for the fair is to celebrate the local horsemen who turn out in their finery to ferry people around the town. But, these days, that is just an excuse for a week long knees up that involves fun fairs, food stalls, the opportunity for every one, men, women and children to dress up to the hilt and, of course, this being Jerez, the chance to drink more Sherry than anyone ever thought possible.
After arriving the night before from Madrid, we fortified ourselves for the day with a little breakfast of tostada with tomatoes and lots of olive oil before heading out for a visit to the vast vineyards of Gonzalez Byass where nearly 900 Hectares of grapes, Palomino and Pedro Ximinez, are cultivated every year.
After that, a guided tour around their bodegas followed by a sneak at the original tasting rooms, The barrels signed by Picasso and Orson Wells and the pot stills for Lepanto Brandy, made from specially selected Palomino grapes. Finally, we went to the archives of Gonzalez Byass, which include a letter from original UK distributor, Mr Byass complaining about the “Pale Wine” they had sent him, known to us now as Tio Pepe, the first commercial fino ever produced.
It is a truly stunning place and each bodega has its own distinct smell as the scents of fino and, other sherries, leach into the air from the barrels.
Finally, before heading to the fair itself, a tasting of the full Gonzalez Byass range including some pretty exciting 30 year old sherries a sniff of which explains the beauty of The Solera system.
The fair is of staggering proportions, covering an area equivalent to about ten football fields all filled with “casseta” which literally means “hut” but does a disservice to rather elaborate stands set up by most of the local sherry producers and all the bars in town. Everyone serves different food, with standard Spanish choices of Jamon and Queso sitting alongside Andalucian specialities such as Menudo, a tripe stew. What more could two middle aged men want than the sight of mounds of freshly fried seafood being consumed by outstandingly attractive Spanish women?
It is all washed down, of course, with vast amounts of chilled sherry, primarily Tio Pepe which, we were told sells 25,000 bottles a day during the fair. Unsurprisingly, it is bottled and comes straight to the fair, so is as fresh as you are ever likely to try and goes beautifully with the food, as you would expect.
As the night draws in, so the fair goes from being great fun to being one of the best parties on earth. Stands begin to play music and every, but everyone, begins to dance. Particularly when the heart rending local folk music of Sevillanas blares through the speakers. Everyone seems to know the 12 step pattern to the dance and some foolish sorts even tried to get DH up on the floor. You will be delighted to know that it didn’t happen.
As I said in the previous post, one of the great things about the Spanish is that they know how to have a good time all the time. So, as midnight came around and I headed back to the hotel to prepare for an early start back to Madrid the next day, I passed plenty of elderly people heading the other way to begin their night’s fun. A diet of fried fish and sherry obviously works wonders.
HP stayed out until 4.30am and, when he left, it was still going strong. As we headed to the train station, at 7.30am, it was just coming to an end and stragglers were heading home to rest up in preparation for the last night
As for us, we have a half bottle of Tio Pepe chilling in our hotel room fridge which we plan to drink tonight before HP heads back to London and I head off to Istanbul.
As I have said before on the blog, every now and again, life stops kicking you in the ass.