Warning: There will be Dancing….
Colour, passion and flamenco come to Seville each April for the Feira. And then there’s the sherry…
Article and Photography by Andy Barnham
I have to admit, the idea of sherry conjures a certain, not particularly scintillating, image to mind; of a group of older ladies playing bridge drinking something sweet. I have no idea from where this connotation originated as I’ve never witnessed it first-hand. Whilst I’m not a sherry drinker as it’s never been a tipple of choice, I don’t feel as if I’ve deliberately avoided it, but rather I’ve simply erred towards other drinks. No family members quaffs it and thus I’ve rarely had obligation to sample or purchase it. However a recent trip may have me reaching for a bottle of sherry in the future. And where was this trip to, I hear you ask? Seville, in southern Spain.
The chances are high that you’ve been to Spain. It’s a popular British tourist destination and if you haven’t been yourself, it’s likely you know someone who has visited and maybe even retired there. With the temperature in the balmy mid 20s this time of year, Spain is a perfect getaway to escape Britain’s winter blues. Seville has an extra surprise for anyone visiting in April, the Feria (fair). With a population of 690,000, Seville swells by approximately 1 million extra people a day during Feria time and yet with most of these visitors hailing from within Spain itself, the Feria remains mostly unknown to other nationalities. A stunning, colourful and vibrant unknown.
Located south east of the city centre near the university, the Feria consists of over 1,000 casetas (booths). The casetas are run along any number of social or business relationships; a social club, a sporting club, a company’s own caseta or perhaps even a pop up restaurant which has closed its main premises for the week. And who goes? Everyone, simply everyone. Young, old, on foot, on horseback, the Feria draws all. And the colour! Next time you’re on the tube (or another form of public transport) have a look see at what everyone else is wearing. As I write this first draft all I can see on the tube carriage is a forest of jeans. At the Feria, you’ll be hard pressed to see many visitors wearing something as mundane, and quite frankly as dull as a pair of jeans. The men go appropriately suited and booted with the more confident opting for something more sartorially audacious however even they looked conservative when compared to the women, the majority opt for the traje de flamenco (flamenco outfit). Black, red, white, blue… all colours and patterns are on show. With live music being played regularly throughout the many casetas, it’s hard to escape the spontaneous dancing that erupts during the Feria, not that anyone tries. As a dance far more active for women than men (there’s a metaphor for life here somewhere), it is not uncommon for girls to start learning flamenco at the age of three. As a result the dance floors in the casetas are full of women of all ages with the dance being passed down from one generation to the next.
Indeed, it’s hard not to escape colour and vibrancy in general in Spain. Reflected in the clothes and the dancing at the Feria, food is equally vivid and of dynamic; the ham, the cheese and in Seville, the fish. And here is when sherry comes into its own; a dry, crisp white sherry to accompany plates of tapas is perfect.
The word sherry itself is an anglicisation of the name ‘Xeres’, the former name of the Jerez and under Spanish law, all (fortified) wine labelled as sherry must come from the Sherry Triangle, the region between Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria.
Located in Sanlucar are the headquarters of Barbadillo, one of the largest Manzanilla producing firms in the area. A variety of fino sherry (“refined” in Spanish), it is the driest and palest of the traditional varieties of sherry. Founded in 1821, the Barbadillo offices used to be the home to the Bishop of Jerez, which doubled as a store house for money in addition to being accommodation. Currently owned by the seventh generation of the family, the company is now run by external (ie non family) employees, rather than risking family friction between the 100 principle shareholders. Barbadillo’s offices and storage facilities are located in high town, overlooking Sanlucar’s position where the Guadalquivir estuary feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. The sea breeze, air movement and humidity are vital with the river acting like a funnel for the wind when the marshes dry out in summer, sucking up all the sea air. Barbadillo’s largest storehouse resembles a cathedral, hence its name of the Cathedral cellar, with large round windows to let the sea breeze in. Despite the high ceilings, there is an unwritten rule in the region is that casks can only be stored three high, due to higher amounts of humidity closer to the floor. This keeps the flor yeast happy and alive as it feeds off a variety of nutrients in the wine while protecting the wine from oxidation.
Described by some as “the most undervalued fine wine in the world”, the levels of complexity of sherry can perhaps most easily seen and tasted in two of Barbadillo’s products coming from their cathedral. Their Poniente (Sea Breeze) manzanilla has a far stronger aroma and taste compared to the Levante (East Wind) which is both lighter in colour and more acidic. And the difference? The 200 metres or so between the two ends of the same cellar.
Unsurprisingly Barbadillo control their whole production process; from their Santa Lucia vineyards all the way through to the point of sale, including the wine production from which the sherry is made. This gives them the ability to produce any number of types of sherry, in addition to their wines with serve as their sherry baseline.
Types of sherry
Fino: Driest and palest, barrel aged.
Manzanilla: A light Fino sherry produced around Sanlucar.
Amontillado: Aged under flor yeast and then exposed to oxygen. Darker than a fino, lighter than an Oloroso.
Oloroso: Naturally dry, dark and rich due to exposure to oxygen.
Palo Cortado: Initially aged like an Amontillado, but suddenly develops Oloroso characteristics
The Feira runs for a week each April: www.andalucia.com/festival/seville-feria.htm