The year my grandmother offered me a sherry on Christmas morning, I knew I was growing up. I was 13, and it marked a point in my life, a new status, that I’ve never forgotten. So it was inevitable that, when in Spain driving around Andalucia in our Audi, we would visit Jerez de la Frontera, the home of sherry. Besides, the town’s name is wonderful to pronounce, and a bit of a tongue twister with the compulsory lisp and the rolled r’s. How could you not want to visit Jerez de la Frontera, simply to be able to say it?
We picked up our car at the airport in Sevilla. Our map showed a direct line through to Jerez de la Frontera and so my husband, who was eager to be on his way, insisted on setting off before I had figured out how to use our GPS. In the past, we’d always managed to navigate our way through Europe with the help of a good map, and so we didn’t think we’d need the GPS. But as we arrived at Jerez, we realised it would have been helpful. You see, Spanish towns don’t have street signs. Well, not as we know them. To me, a street sign should be on the corner of the street, clearly labelled, easy to locate. In Spain, however, the labels are on the corners of the buildings, often obscured by trees, and always in different fonts. They’re actually quite quaint – here are some photos I took in Madrid that are representative of Spain as a whole. But they are no help whatsoever as you drive into Jerez, a long long long straight road, where – try as I might – I could not figure out where we were.
And so we kept driving. Eventually, we saw signs directing us towards different sherry houses. But it was Sunday, and one or two that we stopped at were closed. Finally, we found our way to the centre of the town, found a park, and the tourism office. Armed with a map, we were soon walking through the town, enjoying the relaxed Sunday atmosphere of a small city in early summer, admiring the cathedral, and wandering through a Sunday afternoon market.
The entire reason for our stop was, in the end, sherry. I mean, what else. And we found ourselves at the Tio Pepe Sherry House, ready for a tour, and of course, tasting. The processes, and the history, of Tio Pepe was fascinating. The taste of the dry sherries were about as far from the sweet sherry my Nana gave me at Christmas in the 1970s, but worked so well with the Serrano ham and chorizo we were given to sample with them. In Jerez, we knew we had arrived in Spain.