Manzanilla, uniquely tinged with the brine of the ocean, rules supreme in Sanlucar de Barrameda, the northerly point of Andalusia’s Sherry Triangle. In fact, thanks to Sanlucar’s coastal location, there is no other place on earth that can claim to make one of the finest of all sherries; and there is no better place on earth to sip a chilled manzanilla while enjoying the simple but delicious delights of papas aliñas con melva.
Sanlucar de Barrameda is a sherry town, and it has the centuries-old bodegas to prove it, but its location where the River Guadalquivir meets the Atlantic coast makes it one of the finest places in Spain to eat seafood. I don’t say that lightly. The Spanish take seafood seriously, but the quality of the langoustines, scallops, prawns, crayfish, cuttlefish and clams found in this historic town is seriously impressive.
It will be a very long time before I forget our Sunday lunch on the Playa de Bajo de Guía. Here, amongst joyous families enjoying a long and boisterous lunch, we had one of the finest meals I have ever eaten. Garlic infused clams, fresh ‘Langostino de Sanlúcar’, and squid ink black rice filled with seafood that alone made us want to relocate our lives here immediately. All washed down with … manzanilla.
Our lunch took hours to work through, but it was time very well spent. While Sanlucar offers a cornucopia of delicious seafood, is famed for its sherry, and has a beautiful historic centre, it feels like a place a long way from Andalusia’s tourist trail. That might be about to change though. This year it has been crowned as the Capital Española de la Gastronomía, Spanish foodie heaven by any other name.
It’s a title the town deserves. Dotted around the Plaza del Cabildo, the small but perfectly formed Plaza Mayor, are great tapas bars like Barbiana, where the famed tortillita de camarones is almost obligatory. Elsewhere in town, you can sip sherry in a bodega, and afterwards have a snack and yet more sherry in bars like Taberna der Guerrita, where you’ll be rubbing shoulders with cap wearing older gentlemen who seem to live at the bar.
If it wasn’t for the need to earn an honest day’s wage, I’d still be sitting in a Sanlucar tapas bar sipping a chilled glass of manzanilla and ordering up another papas aliñas, local potatoes that are sweeter and more starchy than the average potato, boiled and crushed, doused in olive oil and sherry vinegar, and then topped with onion, parsley and oily tinned tuna loin. It’s utterly delicious.
Sanlucar’s otherworldly food scene is matched by the uniqueness of its sherry. I recall trying manzanilla at the Lustau Bodega in Jerez de la Frontera, one of the other corners of the Sherry Triangle. We were told that this storied tipple gained its unique briney flavour from the sea winds, and the sherry barrels sat in buildings aligned to allow the breeze to do its work … and what work.
There are plenty of bodegas that offer visits, but I’ve always enjoyed the wines of Bodegas Hidalgo, with their famed “La Gitana” brand. Founded in 1792, these wines have quite some heritage. La Gitana, the iconic gypsy woman who graces the labels, is said to have played a vital role in the business as well as being something of a femme fatale, captivating the heart of owner, Eduardo Hidalgo.
The tour of the bodega was wonderful, starting with a glass of manzanilla (and yes it was only 11am), we then tasted a variety of sherries sat in the darkened interior of the bodega amongst the stacked barrels. They offer several different manzanillas, and a range of other sherries, wines and a fiery brandy. Dazed and possibly tipsy, we emerged into the brilliant sunlight and set off to explore.