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Client Testimonials
Tony, this is just a small note to say thank you for all of your help , advice and patience during our trip. We have had an absolute blast and much of it is thanks to your generosity. Please find attached the most expensive bottle of wine we could find in Mercadona, at a bank-breaking 4 euros 90 and a ‘rescue card' which hopefully you won't have to use.If you're ever in Ireland we'll show you the local kite spots and in the meantime we'll be sending anyone who ever mentions Tarifa in your direction. We'll make it back as soon as possible, maybe in Spring 2012, so you'll have to keep us a spot in Tortuga Dos! Thanks again and good wind!

Ian & Nuala view all

Liquid Gold

Outside the sun is blinding, the temperatures are topping 40º and the heat is unbearable. Inside though, the sun’s rays are blocked by old esparto grass shades, the temperatures are a mere 23º and the air is moist from sandy floors constantly watered. We are in one of the old bodegas at Gonzalez Byass, in the heart of Jerez, surrounded by aged American oak casks, stacked three high in row upon row…hundreds, nay, thousands of barrels of sherry all quietly busy going through their unique process to produce the liquid gold, famous the world over.

This morning, when temperatures were so much cooler I had taken a stroll through some of the vineyards surrounding our country hotel. The grapes, fat and round hung in their multitudes from the vines, nearly ready for picking – carefully, by hand. These are Palomino grapes, others grown in the triangle are Pedro Ximénez and Muscatel. Under foot, the carefully tilled earth is amazingly soft, each step sinking inches into the almost white, clay soil. It is the soil that is the single most important factor in growing the sherry grapes. The land is classified according to the soil’s chalkiness with the albariza at the top end of the scale at 60% of chalk. This soils absorbs and retains the moisture, in particular the “blanduras”, the very fine dews which are also a significant feature.

It was the Phoenicians that brought the grape here and discovered the region’s suitability for growing it - 1000 years before Christ men were sipping sherry. The Romans called it “Xera” and took great quantities across the empire followed by the conquering Arabs who renamed it – “Sherrish” and permitted the continuing cultivation of the vine justifying it for medicinal reasons. Behind closed doors though it was widely consumed for pleasurable purposes! The English, who played a large part in the sherry business first became involved when Henry I failed in his attempt to swap wool for Bordeaux wine with the French and settled for “sherrish” from Andalucía. Later Captian Drake took 3000 casks to the English courts with sherry soon becoming the preferred tipple. Englishmen came and started their own bodegas – Osborne for example, the Byass of Gonzalez Byass, Croft…

As the temperatures start to rise in the rows of heavily laden vines, I head back through the vineyards in the shadow of a huge Tio Pepe bottle– the trademark of the most well known of the Gonzalez Byass sherries. The unique microclimate of this area with mild winters and hot, dry summers, (temperatures ranging from 0º to 40º), an annual rainfall of 600L per m2 and humidity of 70% are perfect for growing grapes. The nearby Atlantic Ocean, the Guadalquivir and Guadalete Rivers play their part as do the prevailing moist, warm westerly winds and the hot dry Levante.

A few days earlier at the Osborne bodegas in El Puerto de Santa Maria, I had been invited to pluck the large cork from one of the barrels and smell its contents – a strong but not unpleasant odour filled my nostrils – the air trapped between the all-important layer of flor and the top of the barrel, for they are never filled to the top of their 600 litre capacity. The yeast, which starts to appear during the tumultuous fermentation period is the most important part of the sherry making process as without it oxidation would occur and the precious wine would turn to vinegar. Also known rather romantically as the “veil”, it is responsible for many of dry sherry’s appealing qualities such as its pale colour and unique flavour and aroma.

Today standing in this bodega, the silence is almost overwhelming. Even the mice that scurry between the barrels to visit their own little bar where a tapa of mature cheese sits beside a glass of sherry, complete with miniature ladder for easy access – are absent today, no doubt sleeping off their last visit. Meanwhile inside these ancient casks – some more than 70 years old, the contents are busy working their magic.

Despite technological advances in nearly every aspect of the grape to bottle story, the “solera” process has remained unchanged. “Solera” means literally “a group of barrels” and the bodegas of producers such as Gonzalez Byass, Osborne and Domeq are little changed since their construction in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Wine is taken for bottling from the bottom of the three-high pile of barrels and replaced with wine from the cask above which in turn is replaced with wine from the top. The wine removed from the bottom casks has been maturing for about 4 ½ years in total.

As we wander the aisles one of the expert “noses” of the bodega inspects a cask. Dipping his “venencia”, a tall, narrow cup at the end of a long, thin handle, he takes a sample from deep within the barrel. Declaring it OK with no signs of the live bacterial cover beginning to die he moves on.

We have come to the end of our tour and to arguably the best part – the tasting. First up is a pale, extra-dry, ice cold fino made from the same grapes I was tasting direct from the vine this morning. Even though it’s a fortified wine, its crispness is refreshing. Next we sample an olorosso, this one a darker, medium variety made from palomino mixed with Pedro Ximenéz grapes. It is darker and sweeter than the fino but olorossos can also be lighter and drier. We try a sweet cream – the colour of dark mahogany. Made solely from the Pedro Ximenéz grape it is sweet and has a more syrupy texture than its dry and medium brothers.

As a last treat we try the vintage sherries. Aged for more than a generation, these sherries are stronger and full of aroma; hints of dried fruits, spices and fine wood entice the palate. A drink once synonymous with my Grandmother at Christmas time suddenly becomes like angels dancing on my tongue. Like the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors and English before me, I am converted wholeheartedly to sherry.

Happy Birthday Bull!

Standing proud on many a Spanish hillside are huge black bulls - but what are they for? The bulls were erected by Osborne, one of the largest names in sherry, in 1956 to advertise their new brandy “Veterano”. In 1988 a new law banned advertising hoardings next to main roads so Osborne simply took their name off the bulls and left them standing – everyone knew by this time that they were Osborne bulls. In 1994, a new law was passed which spelt the end for the bulls but their was such an outcry by bull-lovers all over the country that the Junta de Andalucía declared all 21 bulls in the province protected monuments. Spurred on by their clients’ loyalty Osborne took the national fight to the courts and in 1997 Spain’s supreme court decided that the bulls had transcended their original advertising purpose and were now part of the landscape. Next year, 93 toros de Osborne will celebrate their birthday and hopefully will look forward to many more!