On my recent visit to this dramatic cellar, before working my way through the expansive winery, production facilities and their fine Sherries halls. I had a personal tour of the renowned stables at the rear of the estate where there are some 70 horses all pure Spanish breed, all with black or chestnut-black coats; all bred for official ceremonial occasions and with stables full of lavish carriages and coaches from and for royal events.
The Valdespino winery dates back to 1264, which was liberated from the Moors by King Alfonso and his knights. One of them, Don Alfonso Valdespino, was rewarded with land for his bravery and loyalty during the recon-quest of the town and ever since then the Valdespino name has been indissolubly connected to wine.
The winery was acquired by the Estévez family in 2000, who at the same time asked recognized winemaker Eduardo Ojeda to ensure that the firm's legendary quality was maintained and even improved and he has definitely excelled in this role, nurturing his beloved soleras.
The characteristic calcareous soil in the surrounding region is known as Albariza; white and porous, it retains all essential moisture as in Jerez it rains less than 40 days a year. Valdespino owns 400 hectares including the vineyards of Macharnudo, considered the best growing zone in Jerez; with the primary grape the locally adapted Palomino Fino.
With somewhere around 25,000 barrels, Valdespino is considered a medium-sized bodega, but when you stand on the internal balcony and look down on the main cellar of barrels - it is a memorial sight. In Sherry, as in any style of wine making, medium or large size is no indication of quality. However, Valdespino does stand out as a bodega where no corners are cut and where quality is pursued.
After exploring the barrel halls, where there are areas dedicated to famous bullfighters who have signed them as well as Lora Flores, one of Spain’s most famous flamenco singers, I had a private tour of the bodega’s gallery, where they have an exhibition of the Spain’s second largest collect of original Picasso artwork, as well as stunning works from Dali and Botero, as well as an impressive range of 17th & 18th century antiques.
As there was a grand event being set up the day I was here and time with my kind host Silvia Menacho was coming to an end - we found time to enjoy a cheeky Fino Inocente sherry in the dining room. But that evening I had a very short walk into the heart of Jerez de la Frontera from my quaint hotel, where I found a well stocked Tapas’ bar, where I worked my way through an array of tapas’ and Valdespino sherries, with some passionate locals and fellow travelers.
Valdespino Fino Inocente: Produced from a single vineyard Macharnudo and a rare example of Fino fermented in cask prior to undergoing Solera maturation for more than 8 years. Crisp and exceptionally fragrant.
Tío Diego Amontillado: Macharnudo fruit is fermented in oak and aged for more than 15 years. Amber coloured, this wine is dry, well-balanced and complex.
Contrabandista Amontillado: This is significantly darker than Tío Diego by virtue of added must and a touch PX. Fascinating aromas of caramel, roasted nuts and an emphatic bitter sweet tang. Round, elegant, and most appealing.
Valdespino Solera 1842: Around 30 years old, this savoury Oloroso offers pronounced and concentrated flavours of almonds and caramel wrapped up in an agreeably subtle sweetness. Mouth filling and breathtakingly long.
Valdespino Pedro Ximenez El Candado (PX): Sweet yet by no means cloying thanks to its excellent, fresh, well balanced acidity, El Candado (means the padlock) is a fusion of liquid figs and concentrated hazelnuts. Try it with Roquefort, Stilton or a chocolate torte!
It was an epic journey to get to Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain - but it was well worth the effort. As by being here and experiencing this part of the world first hand; the history, culture, the heat and local cuisine - is truly the only way to better understand and enjoy Sherry and Tapas’.