Jerez: city of horses, flamenco and wine

What more could you want?! The ancient port city of Jerez in neighbouring province Cádiz is well worth a visit during your stay at La Cazalla de Ronda. Just under 2 hours drive from our luxury villa rental in Ronda, Andalusia, the is city famous for its Carthusian horses (considered to be the purest strain of Andalusian), flamenco and, most of all, its sherry wine.

The sherry wine and brandy of Jerez, Andalusia

The word Jerez (pronounced "Hereth") is derived from Arabic and has now become synonymous with the English word ‘sherry’. In fact, the region is the only one in Europe allowed to use the name 'sherry' (much like the word 'champagne' can only be used to describe a sparkling white wine from Champagne in France). The story has it that around 1830 the González Byass company was established in Jerez by Manuel María González Angel who had an uncle living in nearby Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Unlike Jerez, where sweet wines were preferred at the time, the inhabitants of Sanlúcar liked their wine very pale and dry. When the uncle came to visit his nephew he brought along with him a few casks of his favourite beverage, which became nicknamed 'Uncle Joseph's wine' ('Tio Pepe's wine'). Very soon this wine was to become famous all over Jerez and, in time, would achieve universal recognition.

There are two basic styles of proper sherry: Fino (and the similar Manzanilla) - a pale, delicate palate-reviver that is extremely dry and tingles with life and zest. These sorts of sherry are as fragile as an unfortified table wine and rapidly lose their appeal if kept in an opened bottle for longer than a few days. They should be drunk well-chilled and ideally in the first few months after bottling.

The elaboration of the pale dry sherry contains a considerable part of mystery. Some time after the first fermentation, at the beginning of winter, the wine suddenly becomes clear and bright. It is then transferred to oak casks where it starts to define its personality in a very original and singular way. A veil of yeast, the flor, starts to build up spontaneously on its surface, becoming thicker in spring and autumn. As the contents of each cask develops on its own, they are classified according to the vigour of the flor and then alcohol is added up to the level at which yeast keeps on developing. If the flor in some casks is not sufficiently active, it is caused to disappear by again adding alcohol. Then it is allowed to mature softly until it becomes an oloroso full of aroma.

The other major style of sherry is dark and nutty, with nuances of mahogany and oak as a result of extended ageing in the oak casks. Dry Amontillado and, even deeper, dry Oloroso seem tailor-made for staving off the chills of winter. 

Great wines not only mature in Jerez, but are nurtured. This is done by adding a certain quantity of younger wine to a specific mature wine. This is known as the solera system. Imagine four rows of casks placed on top of each other. The row containing the oldest wine is called solera (located on the ground). To meet an order, a small quantity (never more than a third) is extracted from this row and bottled. This is substituted by an equivalent quantity taken from the row immediately above the first criadera. The process continues until the last row is filled with the current wine. The young wine progressively takes on the characteristics of the older wine until, after a few months, the content is exactly identical to what it was before the transfer. In Jerez there are no good or bad years, but wines which, within their type, are uniformly similar in taste, aroma and colour while quality is absolutely constant in time. 

Jerez brandy is also produced using the solera and criadera method and is one of only three in the world which have legal protection of their name: Cognac, Armagnac and Brandy de Jerez. Brandy de Jerez is produced from wine made from the Airen and Palomino grapes, and is aged in sherry casks made of American oak. These casks must have been used to age sherry for at least 3 years prior to being used to age the brandy.

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There are a wealth of tasting tours you can take within Jerez and the 'sherry triangle', and further information can be found on the Jerez Tourism's official website here.

Carthusian horses: equine Andalusians

The Carthusian horse, or Cartujano is not a distinct breed, but rather an offshoot of the pure Spanish horse and is considered the purest strain remaining, with one of the oldest stud books in the world. They are known for their proud and lofty action, showy, rhythmical walk, a high-stepping trot full of impulsion, and a smooth, rocking canter. Their natural balance, agility and docile temperament (and yet they have fire too!) make them a highly desirable horse to own.

For a performance of the most noble and classical kind, don't miss the magnificent stallions of the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre (the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art), whose spirited performances take place on Thursdays (and some other days, depending on the month) at the riding school, adjacent to the historic 19th century Palacio de las Cadenas. There are tours of the 60 stables arced round a cobbled courtyard and a wonderful tack room, with harnesses and tack worn by all the performing stallions, some of it dating back to the 18th century.

Alternatively, if you're going to be staying with us during the week of the 5th to 12th May 2018, you have the opportunity to enjoy the Feria del Caballo (the horse fair) - a 500 year-old tradition in Jerez and an important festival for Andalusians. The fair is open to the public and tickets are not required (except for special events). The centre of activity is in the Parque González Hontoria, where you can watch cowboy and classical dressage, riding competitions and polo. However, the highlight is the parade of carriages, also known as enganches.

English, Hungarian, Russian and Spanish-style carriages, richly decorated, are paraded around the park and the along the streets, culminating in the 'carousel', where the carriages and horses turn in unison and choreographed circles. A masterpiece of horsemanship and an unforgettable spectacle accompanied by the sound of cracking whips and jingling bells.

Jerez: the birthplace of flamenco

Considered to be the birthplace of flamenco, Jerez has produced the most, and best, singers, dancers and guitarists practising the art form since the turn of the century. In the heart of the Santiago quarter stands the Andalusian Flamenco Centre: equipped with the most up-to-date audiovisual technology. Its specialised library and extensive sound archives provide an insight into the history and understanding of this very special art form which is so deeply rooted in the spirit of the local inhabitants.

Jerez offers the very best of flamenco each day in its famous tablaos and the numerous Peña Flamenca clubs to be found dotted around the city. However, the famous International Flamenco Festival will be taking place from 23rd February to 10th March 2018 and during this important event the whole town allows itself to be completely taken over. The very best flamenco artists from around the world make their way ‘home’ to give a variety of concerts, workshops, master classes or simply impromptu performances in hidden away atmospheric bars.

Ostensibly, the central venue for the Jerez International Flamenco Festival is the impressive Villamarta Theatre and, indeed, this is where the main ‘headline’ shows will be found. However, there are other important sites – the Plaza Romero Martinez, the Palacio de Villavicencio and the Bodega Los Apostoles, for example – where significant concerts occur. But it is the bars of places such as those in the Santiago quarter where the authentic, raw flamenco will stand out. Take a look at this 'flashmob' flamenco at last year's festival:

Of course, Jerez is a beautiful city in its own right, with its remarkably aristocratic air, wide streets and squares. If horses, flamenco and wine aren't enough to entice you and you need something else upon which to feast your eyes, Jerez boasts magnificent rows of jacaranda trees during spring.