SEPTEMBER is grape harvest time in Andalucia and no one does la vendimia like the Jerezaños with their super-fortified sherry-wine festival.
From August 31 for two whole weeks the famous tipple takes centre stage alongside the best of everything else the city has to offer, from fresh Cadiz tuna to fiery flamenco to thoroughbred Andalucian horses.
Gallons of fino, manzanilla, amontillado and oloroso will be brought out of musty bodegas to be consumed in city plazas and between the vines, poured from dizzying heights into tiny glasses by maestro venenciadors, shaken up in cocktails and paired with gastro tapas inside ancient alcazaba walls.
But this year, don’t be surprised if some of what you sample tastes like vinegar.
It IS vinegar, and a very fine one – too good for chips!
Vendimia 2019 is dedicated to Vinagre de Jerez, a success born of failure – too much acetic fermentation in the casks of sherry, which probably cost the cellarman his job.
It’s sherry on an acid trip, produced from the same grape types and aged in identical American oak casks by the same solera system.
But it wasn’t until the 1950s that local producers thought to capitalise on the mistake.
Today Vinagre de Jerez is one of only three vinegars in the world to have its own Denomination of Origin, along with Condado de Huelva from just up the road and sweeter balsamic vinegar from Modena and Reggio in Italy.
And there are plus 10-year-old Gran Reservas out there good enough to swallow, not spit.
A small bottle of the premium stuff may leave little change from €20 but aged Modena balsamic can cost five times more.
And it’s not just olive oil’s other half.
It’s not Andalucian gazpacho without it.
Furthermore, Spanish chefs have been sneaking it into their dishes for decades to jazz up their sauces, stews and postres.
Seriously – try a few drops of Pedro Ximenez sherry vinegar sprinkled over your next bowl of Huelva strawberries!
It also makes a mean marinade, raises good cholesterol, lowers blood sugar and helps with weight loss and detox.
You can probably use it to clean the windows too but it would feel like blasphemy and, personally, I prefer gin!
Two places to try it at Jerez Vendimia:
Catas Magistrales – If you’re partial to theatrical dining, this is the best invitation you’ll get this summer: a chance to pair fine sherry wines and vinegars with gourmet tapas under the moonlight in a medieval courtyard.
The Alcazar’s Patio de Armas is the idyllic setting for these magisterial Master Tastings, conducted by top oenologists and served with sides of live flamenco.
De Copa en Copa – If you don’t know your palo cortado from your vinagre muscatel, this nocturnal white-tented market will bridge the gap in your education.
It’s a sherry crawl with knobs on.
Over two dozen wineries set out their stalls in Santa Domingo monastery’s stunning cloistered courtyard, offering sherry and tapas tastings at special prices so you can try before you buy.
Check out the full programme at www.jerez.es