Sherry Wine: behind the scenes

The world of sherry wine, probably the most complex wine in the world, is extensive. Although the heart of the production of this wine may not be considered a very vast region, it is indeed full of many different areas within itself. Jerez de La Frontera, Sanlúcar De Barrameda, El Puerto de Santa Maria and the land around these cities in the province of Cádiz, Andalusia, is where it all happens.

However, away from the usual (and very recommendable) visits to the many wineries and cellars, this time we went beyond all that and dived into the origins, the background. With the company of an expert in sherry casks, our first stop was Sanlúcar, and a well-known cellar in the center of town.

 

Owners welcomed us through their backstage areas, a large warehouse that resembled old churches and cathedrals and where casks line up waiting to be taken away or assembled. Here, they keep and work their oldest casks, but not only this, they also keep their best secret: their finest not-for-sale manzanilla. We had the chance to enjoy a glass of this family-owned best selection, aged into a special cask called ¨pico¨(edge) that is preserved and located on one end of the lined-up solera casks, and poured with the usual Venencia, this one made of bamboo.

Next stop took us to the following bodega in town, another institution. Its young and passionate Owner/General Manager patiently waited for us to arrive, showed us the bodega and its secrets, amongst which there was some solera casks from the family and other well-aged Amontillado and Oloroso wines that we happily tasted as we passed by very old casks in the darkest parts of the bodega, which called the attention of my companion today. Then, he drove us to the outskirts of Jerez De La Frontera, where their vineyards grow around an old warehouse with more casks and a great view of the countryside and even the sea in the distance.

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After such a good start, we headed to one of the main private factories for cask-making. A tour with the manager showed us the production, maintenance, piling and repairing of the cask leaks. A noisy place but worth the visit to understand where and how it all starts and develops.

Back to Jerez De La Frontera, our route didn´t take us to a big winery, but to a very small privately-owned one, secluded behind a small door by a church in the center of the city. Here, they have a few very old casks with Oloroso wine that ages for more than 60 years. And right next, we were invited to visit a private home, where owner walked us through the large long hall of the old house into the backyard, where he keeps about 15 family-owned old solera casks with another amazing Oloroso. These cask will not be re-filled by the soleras and criaderas method, so when they´re finished, they´re finished. So we felt lucky enough to taste a wine that is part of family generations.

Time for lunch: this is a serious thing, therefore the chosen place was one of the landmarks of sherry wine and good local gastronomy in Sanlúcar de Barrameda: Taberna der Guerrita. A place where time flows easily, and you can feel the essence of this part of the world. Special and rare sherry wines were brought to table, excellent tapas and hot dishes, and we all toasted for the great day. This bar offers amazing private tasting sessions as well as an impressive sherry wine shop with more than 200 references.

 

 

After lunch, we drove back home with the feeling of having crossed the secret doors of the cathedrals of sherry, met people that otherwise would be difficult to meet on their own, and tasted wines that are not exposed easily.

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This was a glimpse of a fabulous private daytrip to Jerez with an expert on sherry casks. For more information on how to experience this private tailor-made tour, and learn about the secrets of sherry in the company of experts, please contact us directly.

 

 

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Best Hotel Rooms in Seville

The charming city of Seville, one of Europe´s top destinations, is just perfect for visiting all year-round. The hotel scene is growing and improving its quality year after year. There are some classics, always there, and new ones coming to offer a fresh look to the city, so here´s a selection of the best hotel rooms in town according to my views and expertise (and not necessarily in order of importance or quality):

Mercer Sevilla: the latest addition to the luxury hotel list in town, 12 quiet rooms in a former private palace, steps from the cathedral. Their Premium Jr Suite (room number 202) on the 2nd floor, has a charming private terrace that guarantees lots of daylight. Add design furniture and a discreet seamless service, and you´ll have a perfect stay.

Main details: 47sqm, kingsize bed, oak floor, Molton Brown toiletries, designer bathroom and rain shower, complimentary Nespresso coffee maker and minibar.

 

Alfonso XIII: the landmark hotel in town, it walks hand in hand with the history of Seville, a classic in the city and part of Starwood Luxury Collection, this is a historical property that was recently refurbished and shines with all splendor. The Grand Suites (numbers 145 and 247) would be a perfect choice. Each suite is exquisitely decorated in Castilian style. Unique wood carved ceilings and extra-large corner windows offer extra luminosity. Bathrooms with floor to ceiling windows, abundance of marble and tiled in ceramics, double sink, whirlpool bath and separate rainforest shower. These unique suites, reveal the cultural roots of the hotel and the city. The glazed marble floors have intricate designs. The Spanish sun illuminates the room through the large windows overlooking the city center or the beautiful gardens. All windows have double glass to ensure a peaceful stay.

 

Casa 1800: this cozy small boutique hotel, with another sister property in Granada, is located in the middle of the action, yet a quiet property. Room number 302 is a sure bet. Think of a cozy deluxe room with views over the beautiful Giralda tower, private terrace and jacuzzi, fresh flowers, and all details you may expect from a luxury boutique hotel. The attentive service guarantees a lovely stay.

Main details: 25sqm, Molton Brown amenities, laptop safe, outdoor private jacuzzi and terrace, twin or queen beds in the bedroom.

 

Corral del Rey: a little gem in the historical center, this is a lovely boutique hotel with a superb taste for decoration and style. All rooms guarantee a good night sleep, but the Penthouse Suite is probably the star. With a a variety of natural linens, hand weaves and exquisite fabrics, to the silk cushions, bespoke sofas and a 18th century painted panel from a Spanish convent, all provides the unique character and soul of this room. The marble en suite bathroom has a bath and a double rain shower overlooking the Cathedral. The separate living room allows for more comfort and a private roof terrace overlooking the Cathedral offers garden furniture and sun-beds. You have another private terrace with your plunge pool.

Main details: state of the art sound and vision system, 85m2, ipod dock, espresso machine, bathtub…

 

Casas del Rey de BaezaFormerly a traditional neighbourhood patio in the XVIII century, this is one of the most authentic boutique hotels in town, member of the Spanish Hospes boutique hotel company. Exquisitely decorated, and secluded in a very quiet area within the historical center. Very good restaurant and a cool rooftop are some of its highlights. When it comes to any of its 41 rooms, number 18 (deluxe category) is a great selection, with neutral nice colours and a touch of colonial decor.

Main features include tea & coffee facilities, 30-35m2, traditional pottery, carpets and the attentive service this property provides at all times.

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Gran Melia Colon: another classic, this hotel, from the Spanish chain Meliá, has always been popular and was also refurbished not long ago. Its Burladero restaurant is very recommendable, and as an interesting detail, all hotel room doors are decorated with paintings from Spanish masters. The property is part of the Leading Hotels Of The World.

Their signature room is number 703, the Grand Penthouse Suite, including an impressive large private terrace, jacuzzi bath, and all you can expect from a 5-star property. Main features include Clarins amenities, 85m2 + 140m2 terrace, hammocks, dining room, and access to Melia´s exclusive red-level service.

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For a more detailed information on these hotel rooms or other recommendable properties, booking with special treatment and vip service guaranteed, as well as additional travel assistance while in Seville (transfers, restaurant bookings, insider tips, private tours and experiences…), Eduardo Blanco provides a discreet and efficient service in the city, rest of Andalusia and all of Spain. 

Contact details: BlanConcierge

 

 

 

The adventure of Tuna Fish

 

 

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Every year, around the month of March, the tunas commence an amazing journey that takes them from the cold waters of the North Atlantic all the way into the Mediterranean sea.

On their way, they all have to pass through Cadiz coastline and the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, and this is where all the action happens. Cádiz, one of the most beautiful provinces in Spain, and part of the 8 provinces in Andalusia, has excellent beaches and lovely small coastal villages. Four of them are Barbate, Conil, Zahara de los Atunes, and Tarifa, and the Almadraba tuna fishing method is used here. This is an ancient technique with hundreds of years (Romans already used it, and it comes from the Phoenicians times). The word ¨Almadraba¨ has Arabic roots and means ¨place of killing¨. However, The Almadraba is not aggressive and is respectful of both the species and the environment.

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As the fish reach and pass the shores of these 4 villages, fishermen await on their boats by the bay with their huge nets, building a circle between all boats where tunas are selected, caught, killed and pulled in to the boats. Men also jump into the nets and help catching tunas that can be up to 600kg. Only the strongest tunas are caught, whereas the others are returned to continue the journey and help to carry on the future generation.

Watching how the fishermen catch the tuna is quite impressive, and just for a selected few, due to restrictions. The spectacle is impressive, though.

The month of May is considered the best for this, since the tunas have enough fat. And a good amount of all the fishing goes to the demanded and selective Japanese market.

Most towns hold annual tuna festivals throughout May and June, and they´re all worth visiting. Bars and restaurants prepare gourmet delicacies around tuna fish, and the best chefs of the area offer selective red tuna options in all their menus.

It is also quite interesting to learn about the ¨Ronqueo¨, the method through which the Almadraba tuna is skinned and filleted by hand, in a way that nothing is wasted. Many restaurants have experts coming to do live ¨ronqueos¨ during this season. The word ronqueo comes from ¨roncar¨, which means ¨to snore¨ in Spanish. The reason is easy: when experts are cutting the tuna, they use special knives that make a peculiar sound when touching the spine and bones of the fish with the knife as they cut it, and it resembles the sound of ¨snoring¨.

For those wanting to learn more or experience the season of the tuna fish, we can help with private access to fishing boats to see the catching live (very restricted), as well as bespoke itineraries to the finest bars and restaurants along the coast to enjoy the best recipes. Or meet and greet with local chefs and experts, see a ronqueo, or do the local ¨ruta del atún¨ (gourmet tuna routes) with a foodie expert, over the different villages celebrating it in May and June.

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Little Travel Stories: Granada, Alhambra and so much more

 

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The impressive and world-known Alhambra palace, the most visited monument in Spain,  is the reference point when it comes to talk or write about Granada in Andalusia. It dominates all aspects of the city, and indeed it is a must-do for all visitors (booking in advance is essential).

But Granada has so much more. A mid-sized city, easy to walk, unless you prefer to explore the beautiful Albaicín quarter, full of slopes, alleys and quiet charming streets, where tourists seek the best views over the Alhambra. These can be found at the popular Mirador de San Nicolás lookout point, where floods of people gather around sunset to enjoy the views. But for a complete city view, here´s a tip: get a taxi and ask to drive you to Ermita San Miguel, an old church on top of a hill, just 10min drive from downtown. The best unobstructed views over Granada and Alhambra, with the sun setting right behind.

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We spent a weekend in the city and chose a lovely small boutique hotel, Casa 1800. They also have a sister hotel in Sevilla. This one in Granada, with less than 30 rooms, is a small piece of tranquility in the heart of downtown. Expect charming rooms and attentive service. Some of the rooms overlook the Alhambra. As an added value, the hotel offers a complimentary coffee and pastry service every afternoon to all guests at the lovely interior patio, which is the center of the property. We stayed at Suite 1800, their signature room, a huge and spacious Suite with jacuzzi bath, separate living-room and big balconies with views over Alhambra palace.

From the hotel, it is easy to explore the city. The popular Carrera Del Darro Street by the small Darro river is just in front of the hotel, and it is the starting point from where to walk the Albaicín neighbourhood. Tea shops, small cafes and restaurants are easy to find all over.  I like Carmen De Aben Humeya, a little cozy restaurant with splendid views, outdoor terrace and great local cuisine.

The Realejo district is becoming a fashionable area lately. Also a few minutes walk from the hotel, it has become a kind of soho area, full of stylish restaurants, coffee-shops, jazz and music clubs, galleries… try Picoteca 3Maneras, a modern tapas bar and restaurant with surprising local dishes combined with a Northern touch as a reminder of the origins of the owner. Just a few steps from there, Papaupa is also surprising: a retro decor, cozy atmosphere and fusion dishes. They also open for afternoon coffee and late night drinks.

Culture: spend some time visiting the cathedral and nearby streets. The very interesting Royal Chapel is where the Catholic Kings are buried, and you can also see not only the grave but some of the original clothes and jewels they used during their reign. And right next to the chapel, narrow streets where artisans used to work and sell their products are now full of shops with handcraft, but the charm of those times still remain.

Fine dining: Arriaga Restaurant is the place to go. The setting is spectacular: the highest floor of the Memoria de Andalucia Museum, at 60 meters high, and with glass on both sides of the restaurant walls so you can enjoy amazing city views in all directions. However, the food will call most of the attention: a combination of local and basque cuisine, excellent product, great wines (with some surprising ones from Granada), and seamless service. Daniel the maitre is a great host, while owner Álvaro Arriaga, a basque chef who settled years ago in Granada, is the soul of the place. Their tasting menus are really interesting. Booking in advance is essential.

Daytrip: Sierra Nevada, the only place to ski in Southern Spain, is 1h drive from the city. The amazing white-washed mountains and snow landscapes are totally worth it. Between December and March, ski season takes place and it is a popular weekend destination. But you can also go during summer time, less crowded and same as spectacular nature. The finest resort is El Lodge, a small luxury boutique hotel right next to ski slopes, with comfortable rooms and chic atmosphere. Only complaint would be their Sun Deck outdoor restaurant, which still lacks efficient service to match a 5 star, but hopefully should improve.

Distances: Granada is 2h approx drive from Sevilla, 1,30h from Málaga and  about 2h from Córdoba. Its airport connects with Barcelona, Madrid and other international destinations.

For private tailormade itineraries to Granada, insider tips or additional activities or requests concerning the city of Alhambra palace, please feel free to contact directly.

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BLANCONCIERGE is a privately owned Luxury Travel & Concierge agency based in Seville, Spain, and managed by founder Eduardo Blanco.