Spain Study Abroad Resources

Sherry-The drink, not the song

Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
February 2006

Only the British would manage to anglicize a word to make “jerez” become “sherry.” As a Spanish speaker, I can’t see how one could think that jerez sounds anything like sherry, but sherry it was, and sherry it became in the Spanish speaking world.

            Shortly after arriving in Spain for a semester abroad, I decided to travel to Jerez de la Frontera, a small city only a short distance from Seville, and the unofficial capital of “sherry country.” Although neither my traveling companion nor I had ever drunk sherry before, touring a sherry bodega (bodega of course is the Spanish word for winery), seemed like the quintessential cultural sojourn. The Italians have their wine, the Belgians have their beer, and the Spanish have their sherry. 

Choosing which bodega to visit was like choosing which museum to visit in Paris, there were literally that many of them in Jerez. My friend and I opted for González Byass, one of the leading sherry bodegas in Jerez and also one of its most historic. González Byass enjoys its immense popularity and success due to the Tío Pepe brand, which is best known for its fino style of dry sherry made from the palomino grape. Tío Pepe is a beloved icon in Spain,  for who wouldn’t think it cute, a bottle of sherry “dressed” in a traditional Spanish ensemble, complete with a hat. If you ever happen to be in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol neighborhood, it won’t be hard to see the landmark Tío Pepe billboard there. 

            After a scrumptious lunch of tortilla bocadillos (sandwiches with  Spanish omelets), we meandered our way through Jerez’s centro commercial (shopping district) and headed towards the bodega. We knew we had arrived when we saw the dozens of grape vines which looked incredibly defenseless against the cold air (Mediterranean or not, it was still winter). 

            Although we had the choice between a tour in English or one in Castellano (what the Spanish language is referred to in Spain), we selected the latter. We were after all in Spain for the sole purpose of becoming fluent in the language, not using English at every turn. However, this would prove to be somewhat of a bad decision on our part,  for there are many words spoken on the tour that were simply not covered in either high school or college Spanish classes. 

            We received a couple of inquiring looks from the other people on the tour, namely the fact since we did not appear to be Spanish or even European.  Spanish fashion can be just as much about the flair as Parisian, but were on a Spanish speaking tour. Nonetheless, we held our own, even managing to ask a couple of questions here and there. Our profesores de español would have been so proud. We rode on the sherry train (similar to any number of amusement park railways) and laughed at the antics of our fellow tour participants, who I think by the end were a bit “borracho.”

            We saw the bodgea’s weathervane which, according to the Guinness Book of World Records is the biggest in the world, with Tío Pepe on the one end. We learned just how the British became so fond  of a decidedly Spanish drink. Apparently after a British buccaneer and pirate sacked the neighboring city of Cadiz in the 16th century, he happened upon ships full of the stuff. Naturally he took many of these crates back with him to England, and the British people have been hooked on the stuff ever since. A number of the Jerez cellars were even founded by British families. 

            I learned more about the drink than I would ever care to, namely because I found its smell much more appealing than its taste. Thankfully we were given papas fritas (potato chips) to accompany our tasting samples (which came in decanter-like glasses), as I needed something to get the incredibly strong wine taste out of my mouth. I did immensely enjoy the gift shop and even purchased a miniature bottle of sherry to take home with me, not for an after dinner dessert drink but rather to use in cooking. I’ve found many incredible Spanish recipes that require the use of sherry and it truly does give your cooking concoction a sublime taste.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    April 24, 2011 at 1:31 am

    That’s awesome! I like sherry a lot! 🙂

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