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A guide to the sherry bodegas of Spain

Ready for a tasting at Bodegas Tradicion in Jerez de la Frontera.

Ready for a tasting at Bodegas Tradicion in Jerez de la Frontera.

(Fred Seidman / For the Times)

The oldest sherry bodegas of Spain are national treasures, or should be: vast cathedrals dedicated to thousands of casks of sherries aged by their unique solera system of fractional blending. In that scheme of things, wine from older casks is drawn off into casks filled with younger wine, and that into casks filled with even younger wine, and so on.

Sherry, then, is a remarkably consistent blend of vintages. Each bodega will give visitors a crash course in the making and history of the wine and its various styles (fino, manzanilla, amontillado, oloroso, etc.), but it’s complicated. You’ll understand more if you read up on the subject before you go.

I highly recommend two recent books: “Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, With Cocktails and Recipes,” by Talia Baiocchi, and “Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla,” by Peter Liem and Jesús Barquín. Both include useful profiles of the bodegas, a great help in deciding which to visit.

Most of the big bodegas have websites with information on how to arrange visits. Some smaller bodegas may require a reservation through a U.S. distributor. Below are some of the bodegas I visited. For a more complete list, with links, go to www.sherry.org/en. Another very useful site is the blog Sherry Notes at www.sherrynotes.com.

The Jerez Tourism site at www.turismojerez.com has information on all aspects of Jerez and the Sherry Triangle. For information on Sanlúcar de Barrameda, go to www.sanlucar-de-barrameda.com.

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Note that some bodegas charge a fee for a tour and tasting.

Jerez de la Frontera

Bodegas Lustau: Founded in 1896 and home of the benchmark fino La Ina. Impressive cellars and expert guides. You can schedule a tour in English on its website, anything from basic tour ($17), tour with aperitif, full-tasting tour or a professional tour. 53 Calle Arcos; 011-34-956-34-15-97, www.lustau.es/en/visit-us

Bodegas Valdespino: This large bodega on the outskirts of Jerez has facilities to receive large groups. It also owns the Sanlúcar bodega Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín, which makes the top-notch manzanilla La Guita. Tours include horse stables and art gallery. Km 640 Carretera Nacional IV; 011-34- 956-32-10-04, www.grupoestevez.es. Visits by appointment; tours $14, noon Mondays-Fridays.

Bodegas Tradición: A fabulous visit, not only for the aged sherries (even its fino has an average age of 12 years) but also for the museum-worthy collection of Spanish paintings that includes works by Picasso, El Greco, Goya, Veláquez and Zurbarán. Bodegas Tradición is a fairly young company specializing in small quantities of superb sherries, many old and rare purchased from shuttered cellars. Reservations required for tours ($22) in English. 3 Calle de los Cordobeses; 011-34-956-16-86-28, www.bodegastradicion.es, visitas@bodegastradicion.com.

Sanlúcar de Barrameda

Barbadillo: A must visit for its dramatic old cellars and its fine manzanilla called Solear. The bodega, founded in 1821, also includes a manzanilla museum with old tools and historic photographs. It’s a pleasant walk up the hill to the Barrio Alto from Sanlúcar’s main square. 6 Calle Sevilla (opposite Castillo de Santiago); 011-34-956-385-500, www.barbadillo.com/en. Tours $7, tastings $22 per person.

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana: Founded in 1792. This bodega made its fortune on its manzanilla La Gitana, with the familiar painting of a gypsy woman on the label. It also makes wonderful amontillado and other styles of sherry. 42 Calle Banda Playa; 011-34-956-385-304, www.lagitana.es/en. The 11 a.m. daily tour ($7) is in English.

Bodega Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín: The bodega, founded in 1852, produces the famous manzanilla La Guita and is now part of Grupo Estévez, which also owns Valdespino in Jerez. Visits by appointment only. 1 Calle Misericordia; www.laguita.com

irene.virbila@latimes.com

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