Hot on the heels of my whirlwind visit to sherry bodegas in Jerez I planned a trip to the home of manzanilla, Sanlúcar de Barrameda. I was curious to learn more about the differences between manzanilla and fino first hand, furthering my own sherry education so I could also better inform guests on my Introduction to Sherry tours.
Manzanilla is basically made in the same way as a fino, using the same grape (palomino fino) and the same methods, resulting in a very pale, dry wine. What makes the main difference in flavour is the very particular micro-climate in Sanlúcar, located on the sea estuary of the Guadalquivir river. Consistently cooler temperatures and higher humidity than in Jerez or El Puerto de Santa María (the other two main towns that make up the Sherry Triangle) contribute to a thicker cover of flor, the natural yeast that protects both fino and manzanilla wines from contact with the air while it ages in oak barrels. The result is a lighter, more delicate, slightly salty flavour. Delicious!
During my two days in Sanlúcar I was invited to visit three very different family-run bodegas and, as in Jerez, I felt honoured and was very grateful for the time given to me by these very passionate people. Here they are in the order I visited them (click on images to enlarge).
Bodegas Delgado Zuleta
Delgado Zuleta, founded in 1744, is the oldest of the Sanlúcar bodegas, and can be found at the very highest point of the town. Even from outside, beside the little sample vineyard of palomino grapes (the variety from which all dry sherries are produced), you can smell a tantalising faint aroma of the sherry aging in oak barrels wafting through the massive open doors.
Our tour of this bodega was given by the very knowledgeable Nuria and featured more about the history of wine production in the region (it goes back at least to the Romans) than our other tours, as well as something of the history of the bodega. We were also given one of the clearest explanations of the sherry making process I’ve heard, with instructive diagrams at different stopping points, all delivered against that almost church-like atmosphere that these high-ceilinged bodegas all seem to exude. The bodega’s principal brand is the famous La Goya, and it also ages Barbiana (a Manzanilla Pasada), as well as a full range of other sherries. Our tour finished with a tasting of a selection of five sherries (with snacks) in the main room of the visitor centre and before long everyone was chatting away like old friends. It was from Nuria that I learned about the Sanlúcar cocktail made with manzanilla, and also where to find it.
Contact the bodega directly to arrange your visit.
Avenida de Rocío Jurado, s/n
956 360 543
Bodegas Barbadillo, founded in 1821, is the largest of the Sanlúcar bodegas, with a number of sites around the town, but the biggest, which includes the visitor centre, shop and museum, is in the upper town, next to Santiago Castle. We took the hour-long tour with another couple and an English speaking guide.
The bodega is impressively massive, and it was while we were being shown around that I began to appreciate the amount of work involved in monitoring and moving wines around it – and how many people it must have taken when everything was done manually, rather than by machines such as “the octopus” which we saw in action pumping sherry from one rank of barrels to another. This part of the bodega complex includes pretty gardens and beautifully decorated rooms, and is often used for events like weddings or corporate hospitality.
Rosario Pérez-Barbadillo, a 6th generation member of the family, not only set up our visit but also oversaw the tasting. As well as sherries, including flagship brand Solear manzanilla, we also tried Barbadillo’s young unfortified white wines, dry Castillo de Diego and semi-sweet Maestrante.
Afterwards we got to chat a bit more with Rosario. She shared some personal anecdotes and, as we talked, she pointed out two young girls who were playing in the courtyard, the 7th generation.
Guided tour and tasting Tues-Sat 11am (English) 12 noon, 1pm (Spanish) Price 5€
Museum Tues-Sat 10am-3pm
956 385 500
Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana
Bodega Hidalgo La Gitana, on the edge of the old town facing the sea, is one of the oldest Sanlúcar bodegas, founded in 1792, and is still wholly owned by the descendants of the founder, Don José Pantaleón Hidalgo. The name of its flagship Manzanilla, “The Gypsy woman”, is said to refer to his mistress, who worked as a barmaid in Málaga.
We were fortunate enough to be shown around the bodega by Juan Hidalgo, a 6th generation member of the family, who proved an entertaining host and an adept venenciador. Less of a tour than our other visits, we ambled through the various sections of the bodega, sampling wines straight from the barrels as we went, while Juan told us about family history and the different sherries produced.
Other highlights of the visit included seeing the bodega’s very own storks’ nest, and perhaps most unusually of all, getting to see the original portrait of “La Gitana”, which was actually painted on a tambourine skin and now hangs in the bodega’s office. I’ll never look at a bottle of La Gitana manzanilla again without remembering that moment.
Visits Monday-Saturday 11am (English & Spanish) 12.30pm (Spanish only). Price 5 euros
Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana
Calle de la Banda de la Playa, 42
956 385 304
Just like after my Jerez bodega visits, I’m not able to pick a favourite. In fact, the more I learn about sherry, the more I realise how much there still is to learn. If you have the time I really recommend visiting as many bodegas as you can. You will take something different away from each one.