Searching for the Tapas ‘Duende’ in Jerez
The cradle of Spanish wine tourism, temple of devotion to Sherry wines and a pleasant city dotted with cobblestone streets and small, whitewashed palaces. This is Jerez de la Frontera (Andalusia), an obligatory destination for anyone who loves quality wines. After a brief, barely 48-hour stay, we compiled this list of five keys for an in-depth look at the wines, foods and other pleasure centers of this city. Their common thread? The always-appealing harmony between the tapas and Sherry wines
1. Traditional tapa hopping: quality as a standard
Tapeo, or tapa hopping from bar to bar is an institution in Jerez de la Frontera. It is a deep-rooted practice among locals, and one that has been readily adopted by visitors as well. The names of certain establishments form part of the city’s tradition and recent history. Bar Juanito, which is located on calle Pescadería Vieja, just steps away from Jerez’s imposing Alcázar and the bustling plaza del Arenal, is one of them. Open since 1943; try the small clay dishes filled with stewed artichokes, meatballs cooked in Oloroso, chickpeas with chard or the almost obligatory kidneys cooked in sherry. Our recommendation: green habita beans with baby squid and a glass of Fino, which lends crisp and acidic nuances to this sea-inspired stew.
Next door to Bar Juanito is El Bichero, which is particularly recommendable for those who love good seafood, including coquinas (small clams), langoustines from Sanlúcar, razor clams, or mussels. Let yourself be seduced by the tantalizingly fresh salpicón de marisco, a salad made with finely diced peppers, tomatoes and onions, whole peeled shrimp and chunks of crabmeat in vinaigrette. The best companion for this tasty dish is a glass of Fino en rama, an unfiltered fortified Fino wine with notably salty aromas.
A mere 100 meters away is El Gallo Azul, which is strategically located where calle Larga and the mercado de Abastos (market) meet. The tapa of atún crujiente (a thin roll of phyllo dough filled with bluefin tuna and accompanied by a delicate saffron alioli), a small dish of pescaíto frito (tiny fried fish – one of the most emblematic dishes in the cuisine of Cádiz) or the fried eggplant with salmorejo (cold tomato soup), all pair perfectly with a glass of Fino or Manzanilla. For dessert, a sliver of blue cheese or an ounce of bittersweet chocolate with a sip of Pedro Ximénez.
2. New wave tapas in Jerez
The culinary modernization of the tapa has also made its way onto a classic scene like Jerez de la Frontera. This refreshing and rejuvenating breath of fresh air that has wafted its way throughout Spain has left its mark on the good work of the young chefs of this city. Three examples. The first is El Almacén, which is located very close to City Hall. With a vintage look plastered with images reminiscent of the world of wine, this establishment offers magnificent tapas that offer a modern approach to traditional Andalusian fare, and excellent Sherry wines.
Our recommendation: mini bluefin tuna burger on a bed of pickled vegetables, a tapa that brings together the quality of a product as Andalusian as atún de almadraba (traditionally caught tuna) with the escabeche technique that originated in this region due to the influences of Arab cuisine. To drink? A glass of Amontillado, the best match for this escabeche sauce, which features extra virgin olive oil and vinegar as protagonists.
For the next stop on this modern tapas route, we make our way to Alcalde Álvaro Domecq avenue, outside the historic district but very close to the central plaza de la Alameda. Chef Ismael Ramos awaits us at his Albalá restaurant and gastrobar. Two suggestion: smoked sardines on an extra virgin olive oil torta and a glass of Amontillado, or a very delicate Salmorejo washed down with Manzanilla from Sanlúcar. Other seductive proposals for tapa hopping in Albalá: an oxtail croqueta, green rice with ortiguillas (a type of anemone), canelones with Ibérico pork cheeks or chicken cooked with Oloroso wine.
After a short walk along this tranquil avenue we come to Ajonegro, one more example of the newly minted tapa-hopping style. A must-try here is the artichoke confited in extra virgin olive oil, which, when paired with an Oloroso won the Los Imprescindibles de la Tapa y el Vino de Jerez competition, a contest hosted by the regulatory board of Denominations of Origin Jerez-Sherry-Xérès y Manzanilla de Sanlúcar.
3. The taverns, living vestiges of old Jerez
The days when there was a tabanco (Sherry tavern where Jerez wines were served directly out of wineskins) on every corner in Jerez de la Frontera are long gone. It is said that the spread of flamenco music in this city is strongly linked to these tabancos, where complaints over the disappointments and misfortunes of everyday life and the rhythmic pounding of fists on the bar frequently ended as authentic displays of flamenco artistry and cante jondo.
Today, only two of the old taverns remain, as well as several more recent additions. We recommend El Pasaje (calle Santa María) and El Tabanco de San Pablo (Calle San Pablo), which offer Sherry wines from and a selection of 100% authentic, local fare, including chacinas (traditional cured meats from the province of Cádiz), Payoyo goat cheese made in the Sierra de Cádiz mountains, albóndigas (meatballs), Russian salad or cazón en adobo (breaded, marinated dogfish), all of which can be ordered as a tapa, media ración (half portion) or ración (full portion), meant for sharing. If you’re lucky and the muse makes an appearance, an impromptu display of flamenco singing, guitar or cajón (the rhythmic box), might arise while you are savoring the Sherry wines.
4. Visit wineries, a must
Spanish wine tourism originated in Jerez, when González Byass began to take its customers and tourists to see the beautiful inner workings of its extremely large winery. Today many wineries open their doors, displaying their tranquility and silence, the botas (the name for Sherry barrels) stored in the classic soleras y criaderas (nurseries and floors) system, the chalk and stone floors, or the natural ventilation that relies on high ceilings and walls with large windows covered in mesh that together make it possible to preserve the ideal humidity levels for aging the fortified wines.
Four suggestions: the enormous installations at González Byass, the beautiful interior of the Lustau winery, the tradition and manual elaboration techniques at Bodegas Tradición, the only winery in Jerez that makes exclusively VOS (Very Old Sherry aged for more than 20 years) and VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry aged for more than 30 years), and that also boasts a splendid collection of Spanish paintings from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries including works by Velázquez, Murillo, Zurbarán, El Greco, Goya and Sorolla; and Maestro Sierra, a family winery that is unique in Jerez due to the fact that it is run exclusively by women.
5. Jerez, beyond wine
Wine may be this city’s principal draw, but it is not its only one. In addition to seeking harmony in tapeo, visitors can lose themselves in the maze of its Jewish quarter and historic district, especially at dusk when the fading natural light is easily confused with the glow of the street lamps creating a magical ambience. One can also lose themselves in the world of flamenco by visiting the Centro Andaluz de Documentación de Arte Flamenco. Or, you can discover the dynamic beauty of the famed horses from Jerez at the demonstrations at the Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre.
And finally, one should never leave this city without spending a morning at the Mercado de Abastos (market), the temple of local products: fish like bluefin tuna, dorada de estero (sea bream), acedias (small sole), gamba blanca (white shrimps), chocos (squids), cazón (dogfish); bull meat, cheeses from the Sierra de Grazalema mountains, and molletes (soft bread) and rosquillas (pastries) from Arcos de la Frontera… and, if you’re looking for a shop that specializes in Sherry wines and traditional local foods, take note of this one: Calidad en Boca.
Tapeo, or tapa hopping from bar to bar is an institution in Jerez de la Frontera. It is a deep-rooted practice among locals, and one that has been readily adopted by visitors as well