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Reflections on Spain

Adventure, War and Sherry

Cádiz is a magical city founded in the mists of time. About 1100 BC, the Phoenicians (the Canaanites of the Bible) established it as a trading center – far from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. Both geographically and culturally, it is as distant from Barcelona as Manhattan is to the Mississippi Delta.

The principal gate to the ancien barrio, the old city, is through the Arco de los Blanco, built around 1300 AD. Beyond the remnants of medieval battlements, the lively walled city remains intact. One of my great pleasures is merely to wander through her winding cobblestone streets adorned with beautiful little plazas such as the elegant Plaza de Mina located in the heart of the city.

Curiously to some, I also find it a treat to drop by the vast public market close to the Cathedral. I love to visit the abundant fruit stalls selling blood oranges, clementinas and other local fruits. Many of them are carefully stacked in the form of pyramids! Around the edge are stalls full of jamón and all kinds of sausages. Next to them are the local breads and cheeses.

Cádiz is located on a very narrow peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, not far from the Straits of Gibraltar. It is the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, and was subjected to continual naval raids over the years: pirates, privateers and especially the Royal Navy, Spain’s constant political rival.

In 1587, Sir Francis Drake, during one of the periodic Cádiz naval sieges, captured the Cádiz harbor and set fire to many Spanish ships in the armada preparing an invasion of England. A British landing party came upon the grape arbors near Jerez de la Frontera.

They were enthusiastic about the new type of wine and spirited away 2900 butts of sherry that was waiting on the docks of Cádiz. This new "sherry wine" was greeted with great enthusiasm. Shakespeare’s Falstaff did much to spread the reputation of the sherry, then known as sack: "If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be to forswear thin potions and to addict themselves to sack."

In fact, their newly discovered sherry was among the world’s oldest wines. The grape vines originated in ancient Phoenicia. The production of wine continued under the 300 year rule of the Carthaginians whose leader Hannibal used the city as a staging point for his invasion of Spain and Rome. The wine of Jerez and its environs spread throughout the Roman world. In 206 BC, there is reference to it as the wine from Ceret (Jerez). Those foraging troops had rediscovered an ancient wine tradition.

Merchants from England, Scotland and Ireland were quick to understand its commercial value. Many of these wine merchants moved from Great Britain to Andalucía and built thriving wine businesses. Even today bodegas located in the three sister cities of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María bear British names, such as Osborne and Terry. Yet, I have a young friend from one of the major sherry families named Gonzálo Osborne Mac-Crohan. He could not be more Spanish! Another friend of mine is María Arizón whose surname is a transliteration of "Harrison." Her ancestors were an Irish family who fled persecution by immigrating to Catholic Spain.

An amusing footnote: 200 years after Sir Francis Drake’s raid of Cádiz, sherry bodegas did a thriving business during the decisive Battle of Trafalgar. Showing no favoritism, they provisioned hundreds of barrels of sherry to the warships of the Royal Navy under Lord Nelson, and at the same time provided an even greater number of casks of sherry to the 33 warships of the combined French and Spanish fleets of Napoleon. To mark the occasion, Bodegas Hidalgo, founded in 1792, offers Wellington Palo Cortado and Napoleon Amontillado Sherries!

Our first experience with the world of sherry was when, as a young Navy couple with a growing family, we decided to live in downtown El Puerto de Santa Maria, one of the three sherry cities - the others being Jerez de a Frontera and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Our traditional house (complete with wrought iron barred windows facing the street and an internal patio with citrus trees) was located in the midst of a cluster of Osborne bodegas, which filled the neighborhood with the intoxicating aroma of sherry.

As many of you may recall, sherry is a distinct kind of white wine that is produced by a Solera process – which means that year after year, the new wine is introduced into a barrel of older wine, while part of that older wine is added to barrels of still older wine and so on. The goal is to produce a sherry wine that is consistent in flavor year after year. It is for this reason that sherry wine does not have a vintage date since within every cask are blended many vintages.

One unexpected discovery for us was the magnificent sherry vinegar of the region, a dry and complex vinegar unlike any other. It has transformed our everyday salads. No more dreary commercial bottles of dressings for us! We just take a small bottle (maybe an empty spice jar); add one part sherry vinegar and two parts of quality fragrant extra virgin olive oil. We might toss in herbs such as basil or garlic, and then with a couple of shakes, we have an effortless gourmet vinaigrette salad dressing. It is easy to do, try it!

We searched for the source of a sherry vinegar we particularly enjoyed and found it was made in a small family bodega in El Puerto located just three or four blocks from where we lived forty years earlier – right under our nose, as it were. On our way to catch the ferry to Cadiz, we must have walked by the Gutiérrez Colosía sherry bodega many times!

We introduced ourselves to the owners, Carmen and Juan Carlos, and found them extraordinarily cordial. As they proudly showed us around their bodega, they treated us as part of their family. They led us way back in the cavernous bodega to a room full of their finest Sherries. Over in the corner was a section with dusty barrels of their oldest vinegars. Aged in oak for decades, the reserve sherry vinegar was dry and complex, with notes of smokiness and roasted almonds. Another barrel contained a sweet and sour variation of sherry vinegar that moderates its robust flavor by adding a few drops of sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry wine. Their Gutiérrez Colosía sherry vinegars are among the finest vinegars we have ever tried.

The legacy of the Phoenician introduction of wine to Cádiz thousands of years ago has resonated throughout history, influencing cultures from the ancient Romans to the English and French empires of the renaissance. I am pleased that this tradition continues, and that the legacy of hundreds of generations can be experienced in the complex flavors of sherry wine and vinegar of the region.

Tu amigo,

Don

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COMMENTS

"As always a well written and interesting article. We lived in Cartagena Spain for about 16 months (and several other Spanish cities) and they claimed that "New Cartage" (Cartagena) was the capital ofthe Phoenician's European empire and that's where Hannibal and his elephants left from on there way to Rome. If you get to visit there I will be interested in your article.RegardsPat Storey"
Pat Storey, Tolland, MA

""Thank you for you historial comments about Cartagena. You were probably right about Hannibal's elephants. It would have been a more direct route from Carthage, and save some wear and tear on those huge beasts. My wife Ruth and I have visited Cartagena. What a vast and beautiful harbor and walk along the shore line! We loved the Roman amphitheatre and the general ambience of the city. When we were there a while ago they were restoring the bull ring to its former glory. You were fortunate to spend some te there. If you will go to our Flickr site (on the bottom right of the tienda.com home page and search for Cartegena as part of our Murcia album) you might enjoy some of my pictures tke there. You might also enjoy some of the more than 3000+ pictures i have posted there. Tu amigo" - Don Harris

"Very good.it has been years but had known well and enjoyed Cadiz "
Ulises Sanroma, Richmond ,VA

"Dear Ulises --How nice to hear from you. How long ago when you last Visited Cadiz? I have taken many pictures of the city..In my Flikr collection (which can be reached by going to the bottom of the tienda.com home page) I have posted of over 3,000 pictures of Spain. Under albums, go to the Andalucia section and search for Cadiz." - Don Harris

"Well written Don. When I was stationed in Rota 1974 and 1975 I learned to love sherry. My favorite is, of course, Fino with Amontillado a close second. The sherry vinegar I had everywhere in Andalucia was superb."
Steve Thickstun, Columbus OH

"Hola Steve, I think our tours of Rota overlapped. What a great place to be stationed. As I mentioned in the essay the Gutierrez Colosia bodega has some extraordinary sherry vinegar --among the best. You will be amazed with the depth of flavor. We can't do without it!" - Don Harris

"I never even knew that Sir Walter Drake had any connection, at all, to Jerez de la Frontera, directly or not, until I read this article. So, who say that you can't learn anything new every day?"
John F. Tashjian, San Marcos, CA, USA

"Dear John --History has some amazing stories. For example, did you know that Spanish Jesuits landed near what is now Williamsburg, Virginia thirty years before the English! The rivalry between the two kingdoms is legendary. Tu amigo" - Don Harris

"I enjoyed the information about sherry vinegar from Spain. Although I make my own, which is a Lebanese recipe. I would like to try yours."
Myriam Vijil, Alhambra, CA, USA

"Dear Miriyum, Thanks for the response. I hope you enjo our vinegar --its depth of flavor and pungency is amazing. Tell me how you make vinegar Lebanese style. My grandmother was originally from Armenia so I am very familiar with Middle Eastern cuisine. " - Don Harris

"We were in beautiful Jerez, El Puerto and Cadiz last June. We were introduced to sherry -- what a revelation. We are now converts. We are introducing sherry to our family and friends and winning them over. It is time for sherry to conquer America!"
Esmeralda, Jupiter, Fl

"Dear Esmarelda, Isn't the culture surrounding the sherry cities wonderful? We keep returning there -- so may happy memories. I have written several essays on that region which I think you would enjoy. Go to "Don's Blog" on the home page of tienda.com.. Also, while there, click on Flikr where, among over 3000 pictures I have taken of Spain, I have many pictures of the Horse Fair --Feria de Caballo- in Jerez." - Don Harris

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Reflexiones en Español

Read in English
Aventura, La Guerra y El Jerez

Cádiz es una ciudad mágica fundada en la noche de los tiempos. Sobre el año 1100 a.C. los fenicios (los canaanitas de la Biblia) establecieron en ella un centro comercial lejos de las costas del Mediterráneo oriental. Desde el punto de vista geográfico y cultural, Cádiz dista tanto de Barcelona como Manhattan del delta del Mississippi.

La entrada principal a la ciudad medieval, conocida como ciudad vieja de Cádiz, es el Arco de los Blancos, construido en torno al año 1300 d.C. Más allá de los restos de las almenas medievales, la animada ciudad amurallada permanece intacta. Uno de mis mayores placeres es caminar sin rumbo por sus sinuosas calles adoquinadas salpicadas de hermosas plazoletas como la elegante Plaza de Mina, situada en el corazón de la ciudad.

Y aunque a alguno le pueda resultar curioso, también me parecer un lujo pasarme por el enorme mercado que hay junto a la catedral. Me encanta visitar los numerosos puestos de fruta que venden naranjas sanguinas, clementinas y otras frutas de la zona. Muchas de estas frutas están cuidadosamente apiladas en forma de pirámide. En los laterales hay puestos repletos de jamón y de embutidos de toda clase. Junto a ellos están los panes locales y los quesos.

Cádiz está situada en una península estrechísima que da al océano Atlántico, no lejos del estrecho de Gibraltar. Es una puerta al mar Mediterráneo y fue objeto de continuas incursiones a lo largo de los años por parte de piratas, corsarios y especialmente por parte de la Royal Navy (la Marina Real británica),rival político de España desde siempre.

En 1587, Sir Francis Drake, durante uno de los continuos asedios a los que se vio sometida la ciudad, se hizo con el control de la bahía de Cádiz y prendió fuego a numerosas naves de la armada española que se preparaban para invadir Inglaterra. Un grupo de británicos que desembarcaron se encontraron con las parras de uvas cercanas a Jerez de la Frontera.

Estaban entusiasmados con la nueva clase de vino y se incautaron de 2900 barriles que estaban esperando en los muelles de Cádiz. Este nuevo “vino de Jerez” fue recibido con gran entusiasmo. El personaje Falstaff de Shakespeare contribuyó mucho a extender la reputación del jerez, por entonces conocido como “sack”. “ Si tuviese mil hijos, el primer principio humano que les enseñaría sería a que renunciasen a bebidas flojas y a que se hiciese adictos al jerez.”

De hecho, su recién descubierto jerez estaba entre los vinos más antiguos del mundo. Las vides procedían de Fenicia. La producción de vino continuó durante los 300 años de dominio cartaginés, cuyo líder, Aníbal, usó la ciudad como plataforma para su conquista de España y Roma. El vino de Jerez y de sus alrededores se extendió por el mundo romano. En el 206 a.C., había referencias a éste como el vino de Ceret (Jerez). Aquellas tropas en busca de comida redescubrieron una antigua tradición vinícola.

Los mercaderes de Inglaterra, Escocia e Irlanda comprendieron con rapidez el valor comercial del jerez. Muchos de estos comerciantes se mudaron de Gran Bretaña a Andalucía y fundaron prósperos negocios vinícolas. Incluso hoy en día algunas bodegas situadas en las tres ciudades hermanadas de Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda y El Puerto de Santa María llevan nombres británicos como Osborne y Terry. Sin embargo, tengo un joven amigo que pertenece a una de las familias jerezanas más importantes, se llama Gonzálo Osborne Mac-Crohan y no puede ser más español. Otra amiga mía es María Arizón cuyo apellido es una transliteración de "Harrison." Sus antepasados provenían de una familia irlandesa que huyó de las persecuciones emigrando a la España católica.

Un apunte divertido: 200 años después de que Sir Francis Drake saquease Cádiz, las bodegas de Jerez hicieron un muy buen negocio durante la decisiva batalla de Trafalgar. Sin mostrar favoritismo alguno, abastecieron con cientos de barriles de jerez a los buques de guerra de la armada británica que estaba bajo las ordenes de Lord Nelson, y a su vez suministraron un número incluso mayor de barriles de jerez a los 33 buques de guerra de la flota combinada de franceses y españoles de Napoleón. Para marcar la ocasión, las bodegas Hidalgo, fundadas en 1792, disponían de los jereces Wellington Palo Cortado y Napoleón Amontillado.

Nuestro primer contacto con el mundo del jerez fue cuando siendo un matrimonio joven en la armada y con una familia en crecimiento, decidimos irnos a vivir al Puerto de Santa María, una de las tres ciudades del jerez, siendo las otras Jerez de la Frontera y Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Nuestra casa típica (que hasta tenía rejas de hierro forjado en las ventanas que daban a la calle y un patio interior con cítricos) estaba situada en medio a un serie de bodegas Osborne, que llenaban el barrio de un embriagador aroma a jerez.

Como muchos de ustedes posiblemente sepan, el jerez es una clase especial de vino blanco que se produce mediante el proceso Solera, que consiste en que año tras año, el vino nuevo pasa a un barril de vino de más edad, mientras que parte de ese segundo barril pasa a otro de aún mayor edad. El objetivo es producir un jerez consistente en sabor año tras año. Esta es la razón por la que el jerez no tiene una fecha de cosecha ya que en cada barril se mezclan muchas cosechas.
Lo que supuso para nosotros un descubrimiento inesperado fue el magnifico vinagre de Jerez de la zona, un vinagre seco y complejo sin parangón. Ha transformado nuestras ensaladas diarias. Se acabaron los tristes aliños de bote para nosotros. Simplemente cogemos una botella pequeña ( o un tarro de especias vacío), añadimos una parte de vinagre de Jerez y dos partes de un oloroso aceite de oliva virgen extra de calidad. Puede que le pongamos alguno otro condimento como albahaca o ajo y luego, tras unas sacudidas, obtenemos sin mucho esfuerzo una salsa vinagreta gourmet. Es muy fácil de hacer, inténtenlo.

Buscamos el origen de ese vinagre de Jerez que tanto nos gusta y averiguamos que se elaboraba en una pequeña bodega familiar en El Puerto de Santa María, situada a tres o cuatro manzanas de donde vivíamos hace cuarenta años. Justo delante de nuestras narices, por así decirlo. De camino a coger el ferry a Cádiz, debimos de pasar muchas veces por delante de la bodega Gutiérrez Colosía.

Fuimos a presentarnos a los dueños, Carmen y Juan Carlos, y nos dimos cuenta de que eran extraordinariamente amables. Con orgullo nos mostraron las instalaciones de su bodega, tratándonos como si fuésemos parte de la familia. Nos llevaron a una zona muy interior de su cavernosa bodega hasta una sala repleta de su mejor jerez. En una esquina había una sección de barriles polvorientos que contenían su vinagre más viejo. Envejecido en roble durante décadas, el Vinagre de Jerez Reserva es seco y complejo, con un toque ahumado y a almendras tostadas. Otro barril contenía una variante agridulce del vinagre de Jerez, cuyo sabor fuerte se modera añadiéndole unas gotas de vino dulce Pedro Jiménez. Su vinagre de Jerez Gutiérrez Colosía está entre los mejores vinagres que hemos probado nunca.

El legado vinícola que los fenicios dejaron en Cádiz hace miles de años ha resonado a lo largo de la historia influenciado culturas desde los romanos a los imperios británico y francés del Renacimiento. Me alegra que esta tradición se haya mantenido y que el legado de cientos de generaciones pueda sentirse en los complejos sabores del vino y vinagre de Jerez de la zona.

Su amigo,

Don

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