Entering an oloroso-scented bodega in Jerez in the late afternoon around sunset is such a surprising experience. In the dark of the cathedral nave-shaped cellar lit by sunrays with an orange hue, filtered through a decorated rose window, we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by pyramids of barrels, also known locally as a “solera system”.
The winery is pristine, cool, and silent. Perfect conditions to age the real gem of this city: the Jerez, universally known as Sherry. Locals say this wine was not invented by the English traders who added alcohol to the local musts, in the attempt of avoiding the oxidation on their voyages to England, but has an even more ancient history going back to the Arabs who conquered Andalusia and fortified these wines for medical purposes. Also the name Sherry comes from the Arab Sherish, town, the city of Jerez in this case.
Sherry is not only a wine typology it is also a pillar of the winemaking technique which has meticulously improved over the centuries, creating a wide range of styles under this name. In the solera process every barrel is filled with the fortified wine each year, and when the last container is filled, the oldest barrel in the solera is tapped for part of its content, which is bottled.
However Sherry wines do not require only this peculiar winemaking method but most of all a special terroir. Lying at 32° N latitude, Jerez district is one of the hottest wine producing regions in the world and benefits from a miraculous white marl soil composed of clay, calcium and sea fossils, the Albariza, which imbues Sherry with its most notable characteristics. With good water retention, it reflects sunlight back to the vines to help the grapes ripen.
Sherry is a wine that is a product of its terroir and the fruit of the long tradition of this people appreciated all over the world for many centuries.
Many visitors like us pay homage to it; however we are not so important to sign on one of the barrels and leave a trace we have been in this unique place. So, my only consolation is to stroll along the cellar naves, reading other’s VIP thoughts and homages to this land and this wine. One sentence caught my attention, possibly because I was thinking and feeling the same: it was what the famous guitarist Paco de Lucia wrote during his visit in 1975: “porqué no me dejáis vivir aquí?” Why don’t you let me to live here?
Well, I have lost the count of how many cellars I have visited in my life, but I can assure you that never before have I wanted time to stop, at least for long enough for the peace and the beauty of this experience to be stamped on my soul.