October can be a wonderful time to explore Andalucía. The crowds have disappeared, hotel prices are reasonable once more, and bars and restaurants eager for customers, are likely to welcome you with open arms. Today we explore one of Spain’s culinary secrets. Fish and sherry are king here and the scenery is to die for. Sanlúcar de Barrameda, less than two hours from Gibraltar, reminds one of Spain in the 50s – with prices to match! My friend and guide, Jose, took us there recently after an overnight stay in Jerez..
“Don’t forget your sunglasses Andrew, the light in Sanlúcar can be blindingly bright. I am delighted your stay in Jerez has been enjoyable – a wonderful city small enough not to overwhelm. You English (his words), like the Moors, left behind indelible prints here. William, Humbert, Osborne, Harveys, Byass. A golden era when sherry was king. But let’s not immerse ourselves in the cold bath of morbidity on this glorious spring day, my modest car awaits around the corner.”
• From Jerez city centre, head out to the roundabout ‘Glorieta Cuatro Caminos’. Go into Calle Cuesta de la Chaparra. (Gonzales Byass on your right.) Turn left into Calle Ermita de Guia and follow the sign. Then as the crows flies to Sanlúcar. (30 minutes.)
“A torturous exit from Jerez but here we are on the splendid A480 – Sanlúcar a mere half hour away. Once there, nowhere to go except the Americas! Time itself seems to have forgotten this seaside town.
“Observe. A few minutes outside Jerez and already the famed Albariza is evident. A wonderful white soil deposited when the land was still subjugated by the sea. The Albariza, thirsty for revenge, now traps heavy winter rains by hardening under the blistering sun. Its why Palomino can be cultivated with inexplicable ease in our searing summer landscape. Each pago the birthplace of extraordinary Finos and Manzanillas, accessible to the humblest amongst us. A gift from God would you not agree?
Time itself seems to have forgotten this seaside town.
“Here we are entering Sanlúcar. Our arrival greeted by a profusion of barrels on roundabouts and elsewhere, signalling their owner’s name: Maruja, Goya, La Gitana, Piñero, Barbadillo amongst others. Having tasted Finos in Jerez, your keenness to compare these with Manzanilla is palpable. Brother and sister separated at birth. Manzanilla sent to Sanlúcar where, kept continually under a veil of flor much like the Andaluz Moors kept their concubines, grows subtle, whispering a mesmerising story which hopelessly ensnares our senses, whilst Fino, sent to Jerez, frees itself from the shackles of flor during cold weather imbibing oxygen, growing stronger and more muscular.
“Hotel Macia Doñana. I hope I have chosen well. This evening we will make our way to Bajo de Guia, barely two minutes’ walk, in time for our first glass of sherry as the orange sun sinks into the Atlantic. Here we will find a cornucopia of fish restaurants and bars overlooking the Moorish-named Guadalquivir river as its waters mingles irreversibly with the Atlantic”
“Please let me refill your glass; I see you are enjoying your Manzanilla. The sunset over the Guadalquivir estuary magnificent. Let’s not forget we are sitting outside Casa Bigote, the world’s smallest and best tapas bar, many say. I am more than happy to order. Let’s start with the indigenous Sanlúcar Prawns, revered by gourmands all over Spain followed by Zamburiñas, baby scallops in their shells grilled with olive oil and lemon juice. Then paper -thin slices of grouper, grilled and served with alioli and caramelised onions. Later, over a glass or two of amontillado or oloroso, we can greet the stars coming to life as the evening light fades.”
A breakfast Hemingway would have approved of.
• Casa Bigote – Bajo de Guia. Ultra-traditional, tiny tapas and wine bar. Like walking into the 50’s. Considered by many to be the best bar in Spain. Large range of sherries and Spanish wines. Try En-Rama Manzanilla straight from the barrel. Exceptional food at affordable prices (except for the rare ‘langostinos’ which are eye-wateringly expensive!). Unmissable.
• Mirador Doñana – Bajo de Guia. Wine bar and restaurant. Wide range of sherries and Spanish wines by the glass or bottle. Food exceptional. Try their tuna tartar.
“I am glad you slept well and enjoyed Bajo de Guia. This morning we can stroll to the town centre for a breakfast of coffee, churros and anis El Mono named to poke fun at your famous Charles Darwin. I agree, a breakfast Hemingway would have approved of. Later we will amble over to Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana where a visit has been arranged.”
Bodegas visits have never been truly commercialised in Sanlúcar. They retain an old-world charm rarely seen elsewhere. My two top choices remain:
• Bodegas Juan Piñero, Calle Trasbolsa 35. Sanlúcar (bodegasjuanpinero.com). Juan bought the bodega as a piece of real estate. He fell in love with the building and become a sherry producer! Here you can taste a whole range of sherries from Manzanilla to ancient olorosos. Juan doesn’t speak English but will have someone who can. Best to arrange visit beforehand.
• Bodegas Hidalgo (La Gitana). Banda de Playa 42. Sanlúcar. Opposite Hotel Guadalquivir (bodegaslagitana.com). Best known for Manzanilla La Gitana. Wonderful ancient Olorosos, Palo Cortado and Amontillados. I never tire of visiting La Gitana. Visits daily 11.30am Mon to Fri. (English spoken) For more in-depth visits pre-arrange tel. +34 956 385 304. Extensive wine shop at entrance. Full range and hard to get ancient Olorosos and Palo Cortados.
“Well, here we are back in the intense brightness of a wonderful spring day. A shock to the system after the cool interior of the bodega. Our senses having been assailed by aromas of ancient oak, flor and sherry, the darkened coolness, the sight of innumerable black barrels stacked on top of each other, the sandy floors much like those of a bullring and the impossibly high ceilings supported by vertiginous columns and arches disappearing into the twilight above. I agree the Manzanilla Pastrana straight from the barrel was special. The ancient Olorosos, Amontillados and Palo Cortados exceptional. I myself never tire of coming here. It is now lunchtime and food and wine await. Let us walk around the corner to Plaza del Cabildo.”
• La Gitana – Plaza del Cabildo. Traditional Wine Bar. Large range of tapas, sherries and Spanish table wines. Seating also available outside in the pedestrianised square. Try their Acedias (native dwarf sole – €5 for 6.) Portions tend to be large so best order tapas sized plates. Manzanilla Pastrana particularly good.
• Balbino – Plaza del Cabildo. Traditional wine bar with seating outside. Excellent Spanish ham and long list of tapas, crustaceans, sherries and table wines. Famous for its micro prawns crispy pancakes. Micro prawns are found in their billions in the nearby marshes. Accounts for the large flamingo population in the area. One large pancake enough for one person £1.20.
• Barbiana – Plaza del Cabildo. Traditional wine bar. Large range of sherries and table wines. Best known for its Patatas aliñadas (famous Sanlúcar potatoes with olive oil, lemon juice and topped with chunks of melba, a type of tuna. £2.80 enough for two).
• Bar Juanito – Plaza del Cabildo. Lovely tapas bar. Its walls lined with sherry barrels and whole cheeses. Its hams are excellent. Some rare sherries found here.
• Taberna der Guerrita- Calle San Salvador (tabernaderguerrita.com/la-taberna). Wine Bar with modern twist. Over two hundred sherries and wines from the region. Great tapas. Wine shop and tasting room at rear. Large range of Nieport, Equipo Navazos etc. Also, David Leclapart Palomino wines. Choose your bottle and drink there or take away.
“I am glad you enjoyed our lunch. The seafood rice tapas very good. A simple dish with a high degree of difficulty as they say here. A real test for any chef. There’s another tapas bar I would like to stop by just on the other side of the square next to the local market. Its why I have been carrying this bag with an empty bottle. Their old olorosos and amontillados straight from the barrel one of Sanlúcar’s secrets!”
• Despacho de Vinos Las Palomas – next to the local market. Beautifully tiled old-fashioned tapas and wine bar. Sherry by the bottle or take your own container. Old amontillados, oloroses and palo cortados from barrels. Their ham and cheeses excellent. So are their crustaceans and chick pea stews.
• The local market- Next to Plaza Cabildo – Mind boggling array of fish, fruit and veg. Also cheeses and hams. Just as Spanish markets were 50 years ago. (Many from Seville come here to buy fish and produce.) Sanlúcar is very fertile. Their potatoes famous in Spain.
Other wine shops in Sanlúcar.
• Delgado Zuleta – Avenida Rocio Jurado – Best known for their Goya Manzanilla. Whole range of their sherries and local Palomino Wines.
• Dealbariza- Calle de San Juan 6 – Small shop selling good range of sherries and local wines. Also local products, some gluten and lactose free. Friendly service. Tasting available.
“The hotel is just around the corner. I am sure that, like me, you are looking to a well-earned rest this afternoon. This evening, I suggest we head back to Bajo de Guia for another sunset and Manzanilla after which we can choose a bar or restaurant which takes our fancy. Regretfully, tomorrow we will be heading back along the A 480.