Full Disclosure: I write while seated in the backyard space of one of my favorite neighborhood coffee shops. People are speaking English and working on their laptops. That's right, I'm back in LA and have been back for nearly 2 weeks.
I've thought about how to sum up the remaining, oh, 2+ weeks of my trip to Spain and Portugal in words, but, to be frank, I am a little uninspired this week. Instead, I have been busy marveling at the pleasures of clothes dryers, medium sized drinks that would pass for XXXL in Europe, and American radio.
Fortunately, I have photos, lots of photos. So get ready for posts and posts of them! With a few lengthy captions thrown in. Despite my lack of inspiration, I can't help but throw a lot of facts at you.
First, let's rewind to Jerez, the third city of my trip to Spain, because I forgot to tell you about sherry.
I traveled to Jerez to learn all I could about sherry, a fortified wine, a wine that I had never tried. As you could tell in earlier posts, I ended up finding several more reasons (the fish and produce market, the churros stand, the small town feel) to love this city. But I did sign up for a bodega tour of Lustau, which offered pure sherry, zero miniature trains and overcrowded groups. In fact, I was the only person who had signed up for my 12:00 pm English tour-until a British couple arrived just minutes before the hour. The three of us followed our Italian guide Matteo around the various Lustau bodegas.
Now, I'm no wine expert. The most accurate description is probably that I enjoy drinking wine and learning just enough about it to enhance the drinking experience. So I apologize in advance for factual errors, misleading descriptions, and overall amateur status.
By the blurry shot, you can tell Matteo is emphatically waving his arm toward the stacks of barrels. Depending on the size of the room, sherry is stacked three or four barrels high. The room size and ceiling height are important for air circulation, and the floor, composed of the same stuff you find in bullrings, helps absorb excess moisture.
Sherry (called Jerez in Spain, "sherry" being the Anglicized pronunciation for the wine and city) is made via a method called solera (from "suelo," meaning floor or ground in Spanish). Technical details aside, sherry is drawn from the barrel closest to the ground, then bottled. Then, equal amounts of sherry are drawn from the next barrel up and transferred to the lower barrel, continuing until you reach the upper barrel. In other words, a sort of cascade of sherry.
We learned about three basic types of sherry - fino, amontillado, oloroso - and a few others - the manzanilla* (the same as fino but made in Puerto de Santa Maria, not Jerez) and the palo cortado, to name two. Technically, sherry must be made within the the so-called Sherry Triangle, formed by Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.
We also learned about two methods of making sherry - the first involves a layer of yeast that grows on top of the wine, preventing it from oxidization. The yeast, called "flor," is visible above in the barrel cross-section. Fino - the lightest and driest sherry, is made in this manner. The second method is to allow the wine to oxidize, resulting in a darker color and different flavor. The oloroso is an example of a sherry made with this method. The amontillado, Matteo told us, is sometimes called "twice wine" because it is allowed first to ferment with the flor, then to oxidize.
* Be careful: Manzanilla can also refer to chamomile tea, so be sure to specify you mean wine if you're ordering this wine in Spain.
The best part, of course, was sampling twelve sherries from the entire sherry triangle. We began with the finos and manzanillas then progressed through the amontillados to the olorosos. There were some other unique sherries thrown in-a palo cortado, a cream sherry, a sherry that tasted, just as Matteo described, like Coca Cola sin gas (not my favorite).
A bad shot, but you can see the light color of a manzanilla. This dry style of sherry is my favorite since it works well as an aperitif or paired with nuts and cheeses. I'm not sure how to describe the aroma and flavor. Any wine geeks out there who can chime in? It's not at all like chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, i.e. fruity, mineraly, oaky (some advanced vocabulary there).
I think this was an amontillado. Caramel in color, but nearly as dry as a fino, with only a slightly more complex flavor.
The British couple on my tour told me that in England, sherry is usually associated with old grandmothers, and judging by the fact that none of my peers talk about drinking sherry, I guess this is not very popular in the States. But it should be! I don't understand why we don't drink it more. It's not offensive or strange in any way, and like I said above, it's versatile and easy to drink. I call for an official sherry revival.