by Mel Fenson
amous as a center for Flamenco music and dance, for the magnificent dancing horses at the Royal Andalucian School of Equestrian Art, and for its sherry wines, Jerez de la Frontera is located in Andalucia region of southern Spain in the province of Cadiz, near the Atlantic coast.

Jerez has a markedly aristocratic flavour with its wide jacaranda and palm-lined streets and stately squares. The cultural wealth of Jerez is due, in large part, to the enormous influence of the different civilizations which have flourished there.There are many reminders of city’s past, such as the 11th century Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress which has been partially restored. Its Catholic church, originally built by the Arabs as a mosque, is an impressive cathedral where archictectural styles ranging from the Gothic, Baroque and the Neo-classical blend into historical unity.

Jerez de la Frontera dates from Phoenician times, but first rose to prominence under the Moors, who called it Xerix or Sherrich ‘de la Frontera.’ These names refer to Jerez’s position on the frontier of Moorish Spain. During the period when the Moslem exercised control over the city, they built mosques and palaces, many which are still in evidence today throughout Jerez.

The Christians tried on several occasions to capture the city, during the 12th century but Jerez remained under Moorish control for long period of time, after these attempts. However, the town was eventually re-conquered under Alfonso X, at which time, itsmosques were converted to Catholic churches.

Many reminders of Moorish Spain remain in Jerez, including the Alcázar, the 12th century Almohad fortress with the Capilla Santa María la Real , the Chapel of Santa María la Real and the Baños Arabes, Arab baths. On display in the Archaelogical Museum in Jerez is a collection of 7th century BC Greek helmets found in the Río Guadalete. On Plaza del Arenal stands the 16th century Iglesia de San Miguel, built in Isabelline Gothic style and embellished with beautiful stained - glass windows.

The 19th century became a period of economic prosperity for Jerez, due to English exporters and wine merchants, who established the Jerez sherry industry. Sherry originally has roots in the 11th century B.C. cultures of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, and Moors.

Jerez Sherry

Vineyards surround Jerez and Its famous sherry production houses are located right in the center of town. The white chalky soil which is prevalent there is known has 'albariza' and is ideal for the cultivation of the Palamino grapes, which produce the sherry for which Jerez is so well known. Sherry production is a legacy that dates back 250 years, when a Scottish family, the Gordons, etablished a wine trade in Cadiz.. Shortly thereafter, wine businesses were also founded by French families, including the families Pemartin, Lustau and Delage. Today large multinational companies are involved in the leading Jerez bodegas.

Visitors may take guided tours of Jerez’s many well known wine bodegas( wine cellars), such as Gonzalez Byass, Pedro Domecq and Sandeman and sample the sherry wines. The House of Domecq, founded in 1730, guided by Pedro Domecq’s knowledge of the science of viticulture, is still owned by the Domecq family, which directly oversees their vineyards and cellars in the Jerez region. Their long history means that some of their wines are from very old soleras (sherry's distinctive aging system), and it is said that, “ a sip of such a sherry is a gateway to the past.”

The best Sherry vineyard land is called "albariza," which is a distinctively white soil with a very high proportion of chalk. Only when grown in this calcium carbonate rich chalky soil, do the two most important Sherry grapes, the Palomino and the Pedro Ximenez, produce the finest wines. These grape vines thrive on the intense heat of summer in the region and produce massive clusters of luscious grapes. The grape varieties that are permitted by the regulatory body of Jerez are all white and include: Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Jimenez.. Palomino is the predominant grape variety and accounts for over 90%of the wine produced.

At harvest time, the grapes are left on the vines in the brilliant sun for several additional days to concentrate the already rich juice. This natural intensifying of the grapes' sugars is the first stage in the production of Sherry. The wine's initial process of about a week to ten days is termed "tumultuous." It’s seething and frothing as the grape sugar is turned to alcohol is vigorous and violent. Next follows a quieter second fermentation, when the remaining sugar is converted, leaving a pleasant, totally dry wine. After a fermentation process, the sherry is lightly fortified then placed in new casks to mature. Once new wines have reached the proper point of maturation, they are then placed in oak casks in a solera for aging. The soleras are housed in bodegas, which are impressive, high-roofed, cathedral-like buildings, where the wines have time to slowly mature in a cool environment. The Solera System is the traditional Spanish system used for the production of Sherry. It is a process of a gradual blending of different vintages, which helps achieve a uniform character and quality.

Four main styles of sherry are produced in Jerez: Fino is a light pale golden-colored dry wine with an alcohol content of between 15.5% and 16.5%; Amontillado is an older fino, richer in character with a soft copper or amber color and an alcoholic content of between 18% and 20%; and Oloroso is a rich dark dry mahogony-colored wine with a full rich nose. Most Olorosos have an alcoholic content of 21%. Cream sherries, which are rich dark wines with a soft, sweet finish are a blend of dry Oloroso and sweet Pedro Jimenez.. The alcoholic content of these wines are generally 20% - 22%.

September is a special month in Jerez . It is time for the wine harvest and parties to begin.

The Andalusian Horses of Jerez

Real Escuela de Arte Equestre - The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art was founded in Jerez in 1973 on Álvaro Domecq´s initiative .The institution is dedicated to the conservation and promotion of the classical horse breaking, the preservation of the prestige of the local horsemanship, and to the development of new horsemen. Its headquarters is situated in the elegant El recreo de las Cadenas, surrounded by a botanic garden, designed by Garnier in the second half of the 19th century, A tack school and one of the most important equine hospitals in the world are part of the institution’s impressive facilities. An Andalusian horse show, which presents an equestrian ballet with choreography adapted from the training exercises of classical dressage and doma vaquera, along with traditional Spanish music and costumes that date back to the 18th century is held daily at noon.


For more than two centuries, Jerez has been famous as one of the most important centers of Flamenco.
The 12th Festival de Jerez 2008, which is one of the most important Flamenco Festivals in the world, was held from February 22nd to March 8th this year. Held annually, it provides two weeks of colorful Flamenco events, and performances by world renown Spanish artists.

Jerez’s Flamencology Cátedra was founded in 1958 and the Andalusian Flamenco Centre was recently founded with The Pemartin Palace as its headquarters. This palace is characterized by artistic elements, such as a "Mudejar" decoration and a stone-carved patio. The goals of this center are the promotion the traditional artistic, literary and musical values of Andalusian cultural tradition and the conservation and collection of documents and objects related to Flamenco.

There are numerous Flamenco cafes and small Flamenco clubs (peñas flamencas) in Jerez, where flamenco lovers gather to dance and attend concerts and recitals.

Although its origins are unclear, Flamenco is thought to have originated with nomadic Gypsies, who lived in India. As they moved from place to place, they adopted local music to their own style. Flamenco evolved over time and took on a Spanish influence when Gypsies intermingled with Moorish culture from Andalucia. Flamenco is composed of cante, the song; baile, the dance; and guitarra, the guitar. Other components include: palmas, hand clapping; zapateado, rhythmic toe and heal clicking; and jaleo, finger snapping.

Flamenco has been decribed as, “...not only being found in a formal dance academy or a guitar studio, or in a crowded theatre, but maybe in an out-of-the-way bar late at night, where a crowd of people may suddenly hush to listen to a singular dancer break out in an expression of Flamenco, or down a poorly lit street, where a lonely individual may be heard singing to himself in the shadows. It may only last a moment, but when you experience it you will realize what it is, that unmistakable sensation which everyone can feel but no one can describe, a moment of thrilling sensation and ecstasy. It’s called Flamenco!”


Edited from information gathered from web sources and interviews.



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