Jerez | Hotel Palacio Garvey

palacio garvey (1)

The Palacio Garvey was originally built in 1850 as the residence of the Garvey sherry family and still retains its neo-classical architectural style, but is now equipped with all the conveniences of a modern 4-star hotel. Located in the old town of Jerez, just off calle Larga, one of the main shopping streets. It’s a great base for exploring, visiting one of the many sherry bodegas or the famous horse show.

The 16 rooms are spacious and uniquely decorated, with a choice of either a “dark” or “light” theme. Each comes with a modern bathroom equipped with a hydro-massage bath, and have wenge wood floors, flatscreen TV with satellite channels, music system and free Wi-Fi. Downstairs the Patio Andaluz provides a relaxing open air space with plenty of greenery for taking a coffee or reading, and meeting rooms are also available. The two-floor building has several other comfortable common areas with lots of colourful quirky art throughout, mostly Andalusia-related subjects (flamenco, bullfighting, etc).

The La Condesa restaurant serves modern Mediterranean cuisine and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (room service available until 11 pm). It has a lovely terrace that runs alongside a part of the old roman city wall.

palacio garvey (2)My first-floor double room (a light-themed one) was the only one in the hotel with twin (90cm) beds. It had beautiful high ceilings and tall windows overlooking the patios. Modern and traditional are combined nicely in the attractive restored furnishings and sleek electronics. The spacious bathroom came with two sinks, spa bath and shower, nice toiletries and exceptionally fluffy towels. Possibly due to the set up of the rooms my WiFi reception was inadequate, but this was my only complaint (though it was a rather important one). The continental breakfast at 12€ will certainly set you up for the day, with a selection of artesanal breads and pastries, spreads, ham, cheese, fresh juice and excellent coffee. A nice touch is having table service rather than the usual buffet-style. The staff are very helpful, professional and friendly. Recommended.

Hotel Palacio Garvey
Tornería, 24
Jerez de la Frontera
Tel: +34 956 326 700

Jerez | Hotel Asta Regia

asta regia (1)

The Asta Regia (named for the nearby Roman town) is a relatively new hotel just off the Plaza Arenal, the main square in the centre of the old city. It’s also near the Alcázar Palace and just a five-minute walk to the central Market, with plenty of good bars and restaurants nearby.

The building was once a palace, but has been completely renovated to provide all the modern services which you’d expect from a four-star hotel, including swimming pool, sauna and gym, while maintaining some traditional touches – lots of those horseshoe arches, for example. The rooms (31 of them) are spacious, and include twins, standard doubles, superior doubles and junior suites, all with TV and free Wi-Fi. Aside from an attractive dining area (open for breakfast only) there is also a lounge/bar in front of reception. If you want a room with a street view, opt for a superior. The standard double rooms are all interior and open onto the patio.

asta regia (2)Room decór is clean and modern, and is consistent throughout the hotel. Our double superior room, which faced onto the street, had two larger than average (and very comfortable) 105cm twin beds, a desk, plenty of closet space and a mini bar. The bathroom was attractive and well-equipped, with a shower/bath, two sinks, toiletries, and a hair dryer. My only small niggle was the insufficient number of electrical sockets to plug in our devices. But it was a very pleasant stay, with helpful and friendly staff. I highly recommend the Asta Regia for comfort and location.

Hotel Asta Regia
San Agustín, 9
Jerez de la Frontera
Tel: +34 956 327 911

Sherry Sipping in Sevilla

sherry sipsSeana Rizzutto Yee AKA @SherrySips

Some of you may know about my sherry epiphany a couple of years ago, which resulted in the creation of my Introduction to Sherry tours (chosen by The Telegraph this year as one of their top ten food and drink holidays in Spain). Sherry has become quite important in my life and I am always eager to learn more and share that knowledge.

So when I found out that Seana Yee was coming to Jerez I got in touch via Twitter in case she had time to come to Sevilla. Seana lives in Portland and was here on a sherry odyssey lasting the better part of two weeks, visiting bodegas in Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María (sound familiar?). I think because it was becoming apparent that we knew so many of the same people, and also that the planets and stars aligned just right, Seana found she had a free day and took the train to Sevilla to spend last Sunday with me. And what a day it was!

We met late morning and did a quick tour of the Metropol Parasol (which hadn’t existed when Seana was last here) before setting off in search of churros. Instead we ended up having tostadas and cava (don’t ask) at La Azotea in Barrio Santa Cruz, which proved to be a good start to what was to be my first ever Tapeo Extremo con Jerez.

sherry sipping collage[click on image to enlarge, but not if you’re hungry… or thirsty]

First up was Las Teresas for some jamón, queso and caña de lomo, paired with wonderful Botaina amontillado from Bodegas Lustau. Seana had a bodega tour (her last) booked with Lustau the following day so this proved to be a nice preview. Then we stopped in at Casa Morales for some fabulous lomo en manteca – we told barman Diego we were looking for a special manzanilla and he pulled out a bottle of manzanilla pasada from Bodegas Sacristia AB… perfection. Then we headed over to visit my “family” at Bodeguita Romero. Of course Seana had to try their famous pringá montadito, along with Pedro Romero’s equally famous papas aliñás… with these we had a nice Alfonso oloroso. Moving on to my favourite braised pork cheeks in town, Alejandro Romero recommended Palo Cortado Leanor from Bodegas Gonzalez Byass. We were pretty much stuffed at this point but I wanted to take Seana to the home of the “crackburger” La Brunilda, which was just around the corner. We were too full for a burger so opted for some lovely payoyo cheese from Cádiz instead, which was paired with La Bota de Manzanilla 55 from Equipos Navazos.

Last but not least I took Seana to meet the lovely Silvia Flores @vinosyflores who works as sommelier and event organizer for the Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience. There we enjoyed a perfectly chilled glass of Tío Pepe en Rama 2015 (which I’d had the pleasure of trying at the annual presentation earlier that week) and then Silvia surprised us with a glass of Apostoles VORS Palo Cortado and a plate of exquisite Michel Cluizel chocolates. Oh my!

palo cortado

We headed back to my place after this for a short rest before going to an early flamenco show at the Flamenco Museum. Then we said our “hasta luegos” as Seana left to catch the train back to Jerez and I headed off on a tapas tour. Honestly, in just one short (and seriously sherry-filled) day I felt like I’d made a friend for life. I’m also thinking of adding a Gourmet Sherry Tour to my repertoire after this, to complement the “beginners course”. We shall see.

Thanks so much for coming to visit me, Seana. Our love of sherry and cats shall endure! xx

You can also follow me and Seana on Instagram (go on, you know you want to)…
SherrySips  |  azahar

Sherry Tasting in El Puerto de Santa María

el puertoThe thing I like best about all my bodega visits is that everyone involved is so passionate about sherry, a passion I have come to share over the last couple of years, and that even very important people in the business are prepared to give their time to anyone who shares their interest. After recent trips to visit bodegas in Jerez and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, I knew I had to revisit one of my favourites in El Puerto de Santa María and get to know at least one other in order to round out this year’s Sherry Education. All of which helps me to give better and better Introduction to Sherry Tours in Sevilla.

Bodegas Caballero
caballeroCaballero is now one of the big players in the world of wine, with bodegas all over Spain (and they’re owners of Lustau of Jerez, too), but our visit was to the modestly-sized San Francisco bodega in El Puerto de Santa Maria, the production centre for their Fino Pavón sherry. As with a lot of bodegas, a rather warehouse-like exterior conceals not only the “cathedrals”, but some pleasant open spaces and gardens, in this case including a Drago Milenario, which seems to be something of a city symbol.

Our guide was Verónica, who showed us around the vast bodega while explaining the methods of ageing sherry and the solera/crianza system. We also saw the sacristy, the special room in every bodega that houses the unusual and high value products. Afterwards we moved on to the Castillo San Marcos a few minutes walk away, for a tasting of some Cabellero and Lustau sherries, along with some lovely snacks of jamón Ibérico, olives, cheese, and one of the best tortilla de patatas I’ve ever tasted. The castle, also owned by Caballero, was an impressive and perfect backdrop – a 13th century fortified church built over a former mosque, complete with Roman walls under the basement.

Bodega visits are by appointment only.

Bodegas Caballero

Calle San Francisco, 32
Tel: +34 956 851 751

Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosia
gutierrez colosiaGutiérrez Colosia is a family run bodega down on the riverside in El Puerto de Santa Maráa, producing a full range of sherries including a top of the range Palo Cortado. The original bodega on this prime site near the mouth of the Guadalete River, where the moist winds off the sea help to maintain the best environment for making sherry, was built in 1838. It was bought by the great grandfather of the current generation of the Gutiérrez family around the beginning of the 20th century.

This was actually my second visit, but the atmosphere (in both senses) of these sherry cathedrals, with their yeasty smell, coolness and dimness, is always both novelty and homecoming. Our guide Carmen (daughter of bodega co-owner Carmen Gutiérrez) took us through the history of winemaking in the region, and of the bodega, with the natural passion of someone born to sherry making.

After the bodega tour we went to the tasting room to sample six fabulous sherries accompanied by snacks, and we were joined by Carmen “madre” who added a few personal anecdotes and answered more of our questions. This is a family run bodega in the very real sense that only half a dozen people take care of everything. Very rare these days, and very special.

Bodega visits in both Spanish and English are held every day at 12.15 pm and cost 6€ per person. For larger groups or special requests get in touch with the winery directly.

Bodegas Gutierrez Colosia
Avenida Bajamar, 40
Tel: +34 956 852 852

Copa Jerez 2015 National Finals

copa jerez spanish finals  (1)Last week I was invited to attend the Spanish finals for the 6th Copa Jerez international food and sherry pairing competition, which will be held in April 2015. I had been at Copa Jerez 2013 and so I was very excited about seeing the finalists in action, preparing and presenting their three-course meals matched with three fabulous sherries. Expectations were high given the stellar reputations of the three participating restaurants: 41º Experience, Atrio and Venta Moncalvillo. The jury of four top Spanish food and wine experts was equally impressive: Beltran Domecq, Paz Ivison, Fernando Córdoba and María Isabel Mijares.

The competition lasted about three hours and we were allowed access to the kitchen as well as the chance to try both the sample dishes and the sherry (though there was more of the latter than the former on hand). Then the judges had the very difficult task of deciding who would respresent Spain in the grand final. Their choice was Atrio (two days later Cáceres was chosen the Spanish Capital of Gastronomy 2015, so if Atrio wins the Copa Jerez it will be quite a  year for the city).

copa jerez spanish finals  (3)Judges and winners!
Chef Alberto Montes & sommelier José López-Montenegro from Atrio.

Afterwards we were invited to Bodegas Tradición for an elegant lunch prepared by the Jerez Professional Catering School (where the competition had taken place). But first we were treated to a tour of the bodega and its private art gallery by Head of Wine Tourism Activities, Daniel Martínez Becerra. Although I had recently been to a wine tasting there, it’s such a unique experience that you can easily go several times and get something new from it, especially as the paintings change from time to time.

copa jerez spanish finals  (2)The lunch was delicious and each course was paired with sherry from the Sherry Regulatory Council and Bodegas Tradición. I was thrilled (and a bit intimidated) to find myself seated next to Regulatory Council president Beltran Domecq. I was also a bit sorry to have to tell him that I wasn’t from *that* Hennessey family, but he didn’t seem to mind, even later when I referred to my brandy as cognac (oops!). As usual with this type of event, it was a great opportunity to see friends and colleagues again, and also to meet new people. And as always when it comes to sherry, everyone connected to it is both passionate and generous. No wine snobbery or secret societies here. Instead there is a genuine desire to share knowledge along with their exquisite product, which I find refreshing.

Vendimia de Jerez 2014

vendimia 2014The Fiesta de la Vendimia (Autumn Festival and Grape Harvest Fair) kicks off today in Jerez de la Frontera with activites for all ages. The programme includes open days and visits to wineries, master tastings, grape stomping, children’s entertainment, concerts, tapas and wine pairing, routes through the vineyards of Jerez, conferences, exhibitions, concerts, competitions … and don’t miss the gastronomy fair in the Alameda Vieja.

vendimia tapasCheck the official programme for more details.
Vendimia 2014 Programme

Jerez | Hotel Bellas Artes

hotel bellas artes (1)

Given its 4-star rating, some nice photos on the website, and a few good reviews/recommendations, the Hotel Bellas Artes turned out to be something of a disappointment. There was nothing wrong with the location in a little square near the Cathedral in the old city, and I’m generally a fan of small hotels (19 rooms in this case) in historic buildings (an old palace), but the Bellas Artes seemed somehow uncared for, almost down on its luck. Though it does photograph well – even my pics here have it looking nicer than it actually was.
hotel bellas artes (2)The first two rooms we were offered on the top floor were small and dark, and the promised “Cathedral view” was laughable… if you leaned out a side window in the bathroom, yes, you could see the Cathedral. The room on the first floor, where we eventually stayed, though larger, and with a nice view onto the square (spoiled by windows so dirty you could barely see through them), was still a bit depressing. More seemed to have been spent on acquiring the necessities for extra stars (eg the out of place wall-mounted flat screen TV, a Nespresso machine on the already cluttered small desk), than on cleaning and maintenance. Curtains were discoloured and frayed, the toilet seat was chipped in several places, lamps had burned out bulbs, hallway carpets were badly stained. Sad.

There is free Wi-Fi, but the connection in our room was patchy. A small roof terrace with a jacuzzi has a nice view of the Cathedral, and there’s a small breakfast room. Service was friendly enough, but a little lacklustre. We wanted to change hotels but were told that because we’d booked online they wouldn’t refund the second night. So we did our best to stay out as much as possible and just use the hotel room to sleep and shower. This really shouldn’t be a 4 star hotel. Not recommended.

Hotel Bellas Artes
Jerez de la Frontera
Plaza del Arroyo, 45
Tel 956 348 430

Tabancos & Tuna in Jerez

RUTA DE LOS TABANCOS Y EL ATÚN DE ALMADRABA  gastronomía  Guía de Cádiz - Mozilla Firefox 22072014 113426

Yesterday I was thinking about spending a few days in Granada as I haven’t been there in a couple of years, but my usual research tool (Twitter) wasn’t giving me any inspired ideas, so I suddenly switched gears and am now leaving tomorrow for an impromptu Jerez Getaway… and I couldn’t be happier. Seems I am hitting many of the bodegas before they go into serious “summer schedules” and I also get to enjoy this! A special route of Tabancos & Tuna… made to order. Tapas and a drink (sherry of course!) for just 3 euros.

Still looking for accommodation – stay tuned and follow @AzaharTravels and @AzaharTapas for a full report on Jerez in summer, great places to stay, things to do, and … tapas! Hashtag #JerezGetaway

Copa Jerez 2013

copa jerez
A last minute decision found me in Jerez earlier this week to attend the 5th Copa Jerez (Sherry Cup), an international bi-annual competition that aims to demonstrate sherry’s tremendous versatility as a wine to pair with food. It’s organized by the Regulatory Council of the D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry and Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and during the international final chef and sommelier teams compete to create the perfect sherry and food pairing. This year the Danish team from Clou won the coveted prize.

For me it was also an opportunity to meet up with old friends and sample exquisite sherries from 15 select bodegas, along with fabulous jamón Ibérica de bellota and Andalusian cheeses. It also whetted my interest to finish my own sherry education in order to be able to start my Introduction to Sherry tapas tours.

ajo negro

After the competition I was invited by Gonzalez-Byass to a wonderful lunch at Ajo Negro.