Thursday, April 21, 2011

Welcome to Jerez! Now let's go to Chipiona!!

Sometimes, to get a little bit closer to the truth, you need to step away from the intensive research and just drink a shit ton of sherry in situ during a small town carnaval. And then soak up the alcohol with fried seafood, especially some baby shark fried with cumin and vinegar.

While this may not be established knowledge, it certainly served me well last month while in Jerez. I'm going to backtrack a bit. A group of wholesale, retail and restaurant clients of De Maison Imports (myself included) had recently arrived in Jerez for a three day sherry "boot camp." Seeing as it was carnaval season in Andalucía, the time during which young and old folks alike party all night, into the morning, and deal with the consequences the next day, I think that it was certainly the right call to visit Cesar Florido, a producer based west of the sherry triangle in Chipiona. Incidentally, Cesar did everything in his power to dissuade us from coming to his little town during the craziest time of the year.

Cesar Florido is a specialist in moscatel, someone who has owned moscatel Alejandria (muscat of Alexandria) vineyards in the sandy soils outside of Chipiona (he has since sold most of them off) and who vinifies moscatel to produce under his own label. These are sweet wines which quickly ferment and reach 2% abv before being fortified to about 15%. 180 g/l sugar and fairly low acidity makes them quite sweet, but they are also floral and, depending on your taste for sweet stuff, well balanced. These wines are what Florido is commercially best known for.

Cesar Florido is also an independent bodega owner. He has various soleras: fino, fino amontillado, oloroso, manzanilla (provided by a cousin of his), very old palo cortado (at least 50 years). On one particular barrel of one criadera, you can see someone's cell phone number (maybe a soccer teammate who wants to buy a bota?) In addition to his moscatel winemaking facility and his old bodega, Florido is also putting the finishing touches on a new tasting room. This is where we wrap up our visit, eating cheese, chorizo and jamon, drinking his sherries, and settling into the wine culture of what is Spain's most original and important contribution to the world of wine.

After the visit, Sr. Florido suggested a spot that serves some of the best pescadito frito in town: Bar Franchi. He was right. This was by far the tastiest fried fish I would eat while in Sherry country. Teenagers and twenty somethings dressed in costume were all around us, as were locals snacking on tapas, older folks strolling through the street, and plenty of outsiders there to enjoy carnaval (here, outsider might mean from Cadiz, El Puerto, Carmona, Sevilla - all places in Andalucía outside of Chipiona).

Enough prose. For this night, pictures are best.