As a huge fan of Sherry and with a keen interest in horse racing, I was very excited to have been invited to The Famous Carreras de Caballos ‘Horse Racing’ as a guest of Bodegas Hidalgo La-Gitana.
The Carreras de Caballos is held on the beaches of Sanlucar de Barrameda, but how exactly the races started is unclear. One story is that fish buyers raced the horses along the beach as they waited for trawlers to bring in their haul to the port. What is known is that a horse racing society was established in Sanlucar in 1845, creating a tradition that would become a part of the city’s cultural fabric. The racing takes place along a 1.8km stretch of beach at the mouth of the Río Guadalquivir during the month of August. It’s a thrilling spectacle where racehorses thunder across the sand watched by huge crowds of noisy spectators mere feet away from the action.
Day one of my visit started on the Friday evening where myself and many of the Hidalgo family watched the horse racing, ate tapas and drank sherry late into the night.
The crowds begin to gather for the Carreras de Caballos
Racing at dusk
Day two started with a visit to the vineyards with Fermin Hidalgo. Hidalgo are unusual in that they own about 100 hectares of vineyards. This ownership enables them to continually make improvements in the vineyard to increase quality. Something Fermin was keen to emphasise about Hidalgo’s commitment to quality, is the point at which they start harvesting. Hidalgo harvest when the grapes reach 12⁰ Baumé*. To put this into context most producers, both large and small, start the harvest at as low as 10⁰ or 10.5⁰ Baumé. For Hidalgo, reaching 12⁰ means that after fermentation the wine will reach at least 13% alcohol and therefore needs to be fortified less. The less the wine is fortified the more natural and balanced the finished wine will be.
Palomino vine in the Hidalgo vineyard
Following a day in the vineyards it was back to the beach for the final evening of horseracing.
Runners & Riders (including Hidalgo’s very own Javier)
The final day was spent in the Bodega where Fermin and I tasted through a range of sherries straight from the barrel – great practice in honing my Venecia* skills!
*Baumé: A measurement of the dissolved solids in grape juice that indicates the grapes’ sugar level and ripeness and therefore the potential alcohol in the wine.
*Venecia: A deep, narrow cup with a long, slender handle; it’s used to draw sherry from the cask.
Inside the Hidalgo-La Gitana bodega with Fermin Hidalgo