Part two of our adventures in Spain with Gin Mare saw us visiting the home of Sherry in the form of Jerez.
The drinks industry is full of exceptionally beautiful places, be it the multi-coloured buildings of Tequila town, the rolling Scottish countryside surrounding their distilleries or the tranquil streets of Cognac. Jerez is right up there with the best.
Walking the streets is like stepping back in time, there is only the odd clue in the form of mobile phones and fancy cars to suggest you are anywhere near the 21st century. Cobbled streets, stone buildings and wooden shutters surround you and every street seems to contain a tapas bar complete with a couple of old men putting the world to rights over a glass or two of something.
We had arrived in Jerez in time for lunch via a quick flight and car ride following our day and night in Barcelona the day before (read all about that part of our adventure here). As we walked down the citrus tree lined streets Stu Bale couldn’t resist grabbing an orange straight from the branch, it turned out to be closer to a lime than orange in taste, I guess it wasn’t quite the right season.
If you’ve read the Barcelona part of this write-up you’ll know that this trip was as much about food as it was alcohol and we carried on with lunch where we had left off with dinner last night. Plate after plate of tapas came out to cover the table pleasing Jenny ‘Nom Nom’ Chuter no end.
It is hard with so many different dishes to know exactly what to drink but our hosts from Vantguard had us covered with wine, beer and sherry finding their ways onto any spare inch of space on the table. A couple of hours later and we were ready for a nice lie down but the thought of visiting the home of Ysabel Regina and trying some brandies and sherries got the old legs moving again.
Ysabel Regina is a blend of the finest brandies and cognacs aged in “moist” Pedro Ximenez casks; the perfect start for a noble spirit. This pedigree cross-breeding is at the heart of Ysabel Regina, adding to our enjoyment of each cocktail which uses her as a base.
We’ll come back to the cocktail element of Ysabel Regina later on but is certainly a very interesting product that can be used to great effect if understood.
The Cognac’s used are a mix of Petite and Grande Champagne VSOP’s which are combined with Solera Gran Reserva brandy also from Jerez. The aging takes place in Pedro Ximenez casks from the Ximenez Spinola family and it was at this Sherry House we were to get a real flavour of Jerezs rich history.
The setting of the bodega was unsurprisingly stunning with the countryside stretching out in front of us. The weather was much like the UK in spring with bright sunshine and rain showers sharing the skies, one of the reasons Jerez is so perfect for it’s job of making lovely tasting sherry.
The Ximenez Spinola family focus mainly on Pedro Ximenez Sherry (as the name so cunningly suggests) and being given the opportunity to taste several of their different varieties was fascinating. It was the first time that we had tried products aged using the solera system straight from the casks and from the different stages.
The differences were huge and from the 6 different samples we had, no particular one became a favourite with the group and showed the skills involved in the production of a great sherry.
As we made our way into the room where the Ysabel Regina is aged for a year in those used Pedro Ximenez barrels, Jorge Balbontin from Vantguard had set up a little bar to knock out some drinks. He had on hand his favourite bit of kit, an ‘infusion syphon’, based on an ornate piece he found in a Beijing flea market, he has now had his own produced.
Using these heated infusion syphons Jorge infused Ysabel Regina with a variety of teas and herbs to showcase just how well the product works when paired up with flavours and is a fantastic base for some delicious drinks. In actual fact it turned out we needed a pair of plyers and a blowtorch to get the drinks out of Emma Stokes’ hands she was enjoying them so much.
Our hosts at Ximenez Spinola had one more surprise for us before we left with a tasting of some of the products they make, which was hugely enjoyable. When a bottle of Brandy was opened that our hosts father had made many years ago I think he could have sold the whole remaining cellar store to our group in about 30 seconds. I was certainly eyeing up the group and trying to decide who’s liver and kidney’s would be worth the most on the black market.
A very jolly drive back to Valencia ensued before another night out on the town with yet more excellent food. All that remained was a rather hazy trip to the local off license in the morning to stock up on sherry and wine before we jetted back to normality and the disappointment of only one dish for dinner.
A huge thanks go out to Vantguard and CASK Liquid Marketing for their superb hospitality and you have the chance to experience it all for yourself. Entries for the Gin Mare Mediterranean Inspirations competition are open now with a trip to Ibiza up for grabs and the chance to win yourself a few thousand quid and the opportunity to travel around the world with Gin Mare and experience a whole world of fun and games. Competition details here.