Sherry picked: a visit to Harveys cellars in Jerez

harveys cellars

Mark Ludmon visits Jerez in southern Spain, the home of sherry

We have Andalusia to thank for many things: flamenco, gazpacho and a rather theatrical breed of horse that excels at dressage. But we should be especially thankful for sherry which dates back over 2,000 years. From June 2 to 8, bars and restaurants across the UK celebrate International Sherry Week with events and tastings but the best way to learn about it is to go to its birthplace, Jerez.

One of the oldest producers is Harveys, which is now owned by drink giant Beam but traces its roots to 1796 when William Perry began importing wines from the region via Bristol. His partner’s nephew John Harvey developed the business, which created a 19th-century blend called Harveys Bristol Milk. In the 1860s, a new blend gained its name when a visitor tasted it and declared: “If that is Milk, then this is Cream” – creating the “cream” style that is now made by other producers in Jerez.

Part of the success of Harveys Bristol Cream – the number-one sherry brand in the UK – is that drinkers do not need to worry about the many different sherry styles to enjoy it. All sherries are made from Palomino grapes, apart from the dark sweet Pedro Ximénez (PX) which is made from sun-dried Pedro Ximénez varietal. The grapes are pressed to create a must that is fermented and then fortified with a grape-based spirit before being placed in barrels. They are aged according to the Criaderas y Solera system where old and new wines are mixed as they are transferred to different barrels over the years.

harveys vineyards

Visitors to Harveys in the old town of Jerez are can tour the cellars, called bodegas, including Molina, the site’s oldest bodega, that dates from 1730 and holds 25,000 barrels of sherry and brandy. The newer Mosquito bodega covers 26,000 square metres – about four football pitches – with lofty vaulted ceilings that resemble a mosque. Later this year, one room is set to become a museum about Harveys and the company’s brandies, Fundador and Terrys.

The most common style is fino, which develops under a natural layer of flor yeast. Two other styles, amontillado and palo cortado, start the same way but gradually lose their flor to oxidise, while the heavier oloroso is aged without the flor. Harveys has several of these styles in its VORS range, which stands for Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum – a category regulated by the Consejo Regulador de las DDO Jerez. As well as an amontillado and a PX, this includes the Very Old Palo Cortado Blend and Very Old Oloroso Blend.

For Harveys Bristol Cream, the blend is rarely talked about in marketing but, when you meet master blender Manuel J Valcarcel, you appreciate it is blended with the same craft as a cognac or whisky. It combines fino, amontillado, oloroso and PX sherries, which have been aged in 30 different soleras for between three to 20 years. There is also Harveys Amontillado Medium Dry, a blend of amontillados which, like Harveys Bristol Cream, have been selected to be accessible and easy to drink.

Harveys Bristol Cream is promoted by UK distributor Maxxium for serving with ice and a slice of orange as well as with lemonade and fruit – what the Spanish call a “rebujito”. It also works well in Cobblers and other cocktails, including twisted classics, created by the company’s Mixxit team. However, visiting Jerez, you find sherry drunk neat with meals like other wines, with fino going well with tapas and fish and PX ideal for strong cheeses as well as desserts.

Brand ambassador Maria Eugenia Herrera Garcia says sherry has suffered in the UK from not being served correctly or left open on a back bar for months on end. She says a fino is best at 7C to 9C, while an amontillado should be drunk at 10C to 11C. “As soon as you try sherry at the proper temperature, you will enjoy it more and more.”
Harveys Sherry CobblerHarveys Sherry Cobbler

2 fresh orange wedges
4 cubes of fresh pineapple
10ml Sugar syrup
25ml Bols Triple Sec Liqueur
75ml Harveys Bristol Cream

Place ingredients into a Boston glass and stir gently to release the juices and essential oils. Then shake with cubed ice and strain over crushed ice into a short glass and garnish with mixed fruit.

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Bar magazine.
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