Sherry 101: Learning the Joys of Pairing and Tasting at Bodegas Tradicion in Jerez

Kevin enjoys the locally-produced sherry at Bodegas Tradicion in Jerez

Kevin and I quickly learned one big common theme about our trip — Spaniards love to eat (and often late at night!). And we joined right in, chowing down on plates of cheese and tapas. But besides all this delicious food, many restaurants offered equally thick menus of wine that nearly rivaled the scale of War and Peace. In fact, many restaurants we visited in the south of Spain had full-sized chalkboards on the wall dedicated to Sherry.

One of the typical Sherry menus. I don’t even know where to begin!

So when Kevin and I got an invitation to take a guided tour of Bodegas Tradicion — considered the best Sherry producer in the region — we didn’t hesitate. Sign us up!

The gorgeous exterior of Bodegas Tradicion in Jerez

Full disclosure: I knew next to nothing about Sherry before visiting Bodegas Tradicion in Jerez.  It was that kind of drink I always associated with bored grannies sipping while watching reruns of Matlock. Or the beverage of choice for someone like Lady Grantham or Dowager Countess from my TV-fave Downton Abbey. Welcome to my weird mind!

Cheers Dowager Countess

But there is so much more to Sherry than we ever realized. And whether you’re spending 5 days in the south of Spain or even less, we highly recommend visiting this bodega to get a sense of Sherry’s deep connection to Spain and its culture.

The inner courtyard at Bodegas Tradicion, such a peaceful spot.

Each of their 2-hour tours begin in the sunny inner courtyard. And all tours are kept small to allow plenty of questions and interaction with the guide. And you know how much Kevin loves asking questions! Jerez, which literally translates to “Sherry” in Spanish (blowing our minds!), is considered the Sherry capital of the world. So, this is the place to taste and learn all about it!

Sherry tasting is incredibly popular in Jerez, and we saw about 9 other bodegas offering tours. But none can compare to the beauty of Bodegas Tradicion, which is one of the newest spots to hit the scene.  The bodega was founded in 1998 by Mr. Joaquín Rivero, who decided to give continuity to the family tradition in the sherry industry.

The line-up of Sherry that we’ll try later on in the tour after learning more about its production. What a tease!

Our incredibly knowledgable guide Sabrina clearly has a passion for Sherry — explaining that her goal is to show us not only how Sherry can be consumed by itself, but just how well it pairs with foods and intensifies various tastes. We’re intrigued!

Heading inside the bodegas to learn more about Sherry. Like being back in school!

But first – what exactly is Sherry? In short, it is a fortified wine — meaning that a small amount of neutral grape spirit (brandy) is added to the wine to increase its alcohol content.

Checking out the barrel room

Sherry also has to be produced in what’s known as the “Sherry Triangle” to be labeled as a Sherry (Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria). This region produces a distinct flavor due to the area’s soft clay-like soil from the nearby rivers and heavy rainfall. It’s the same type of classification regulated to other wine regions (like Champagne or Bordeaux)

It’s a barrel, No… it’s a chalkboard! It’s both! Getting a lesson on how Sherry is made.

Bodegas Tradicion, we learned, specializes in old Sherries. The historic building, located in one of the oldest parts of Jerez, is filled with American Oak barrels that can be used up to 100 years! Through experimentation, they found that American Oak is the best and fill the barrels only part way to allow oxidation, a key to the fermentation process.

But even though many people (myself included) expect Sherry to be super sweet, this isn’t always the case. There are varying degrees of sweetness in Sherry — which is controlled partly by the amount of time the grapes are kept out in the sun. Fascinating stuff!

Another shot of the exterior of Bodegas Tradicion – it feels like another era.

One other thing about Bodegas Tradicion — if you’re an art aficionado, you’ll love it. Before heading out to the tasting patio, you’ll get a chance to check out their private collection, which includes original works by Diego Velazquez, Francisco Goya and Ortiz. It’s like we’re back at the Prado in Madrid (only with way less people!).

Kevin admires original paintings from Goya in the private art collection.

After getting the skinny on all things Sherry, now it’s time to taste! And we are surprised with a feast of snacks to be paired with each. In total, you’ll get to try 5 different Sherries and 1 Brandy. Or maybe more? After a few tastes, you may lose count. Sherry is pretty strong in the alcohol department!

Yum, look at all the snacks lined up for the tasting. We just ate, but hey, I can’t pass up a snack!

Now, here is the rundown on the tasting —

  • Taste #1: Palomino Fino, the lightest of the Sherries. This is their white with 15% alcohol. And it goes up from here!

  • Taste #2: Amontillado, the most complex. It’s very dry with some nutty hints. It’s considered a sipping wine due to its intensity.

Getting a sense of the aroma is key to tasting

  • Taste #3: Oloroso, which had no yeast and packed with 20% alcohol. It’s a good one to pair with spiced food and cheese, boar, Indian food or basically anything with intense flavors.
  • Taste #4: Cream Sherry, which also uses Oloroso.

The tastings keep on coming!

  • Taste #5:  Pedro Ximenez (often shortened to “PX”), is very thick and pairs well with dark chocolate (super trendy at the moment). This was my favorite of the bunch. But then again, maybe it was because I was eating nearly all the dark chocolate!
  • Taste #6: Brandy, aged 30 years, and a liquor-like cognac.

Moving over to the last stop. A separate table to try the Brandy.

Wow, that’s a lot to take in! But we learned so much — and wish we would have done this tour as one of the first things upon arriving to south Spain.

Many servers in the south of Spain will suggest Sherry if asked — but if you aren’t expecting the intensity of Sherry, you might snub your nose. Like one memorable moment, when Kevin asked the server to pour her favorite wine (which turned out to be Sherry) and he gave his honest feedback. Let’s just say she felt like she led us astray (and ended up not charging us!). I also passed on a glass of Sherry (not knowing what I was drinking) thinking the wine went bad! Oops! It’s sort of an acquired taste.

We now have such a better understanding of the process after visiting Bodegas Tradicion — especially how well it pairs with food. Bye bye old memories of Sherry! And now here’s to an excuse to eating more dark chocolate! Like I need one?

THE LOWDOWN

  • Bodegas Tradicion hours:
    • Monday to Friday: 9 AM – 5 PM (except public holidays)
    • Saturdays: 10 AM – 2 PM
    • Summer (July-August): 8 AM – 3 PM
  • We highly recommend joining one of their 2 hour tasting tours — you will learn so much about the process and what makes Sherry so unique.
  • There is ample parking out front, and upon arrival, we were directed on where best to park the car.
  • Address: Calle Cordobeses, 3, 11408 Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain
  • Reservations required for tours ($22) in English. Tours offered in other languages as well including Spanish, German, French and Italian.
  • The artwork alone is worth a visit! It’s included in the tour where you’ll get to see original works from Goya, Veláquez  and even Picasso.
  • Contact: Tel for bookings: (+34)956168628 / 689224162 or e-mail: visitas@bodegastradicion.com
Summary
Sherry 101: Learning the Joys of Pairing and Tasting at Bodegas Tradicion in Jerez
Article Name
Sherry 101: Learning the Joys of Pairing and Tasting at Bodegas Tradicion in Jerez
Description
Bodegas Traditicion in Jerez in South Spain is considered the top place to try out Sherry. Follow us on their 2 hour guided tour and sherry tasting that also includes an on-site art collection like no other.

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