As a huge sherry enthusiast, I was very excited about my first trip to Sanlucar and Jerez to visit Bodegas Hidalgo. Still family owned and run, Hidalgo has recently been taken over by the 8th generation of the family and is run by four brothers – Luis, Antonio, Juan and Fermin. Being the 9th oldest company in Spain, and the 3rd oldest sherry bodega, Bodegas Hidalgo has fantastic heritage and is among the top 500 oldest companies in the world. What was also interesting for me is that the history of the Gitana brand goes back to the late 1800s when Eduardo Hidalgo was at the helm of the bodega. He and his father became rich due to milling salt in the region and he later became mayor of Sanlucar. When the King asked him to create a railway from Malaga to Sanlucar, Eduardo gladly took on the challenge and improved transport links to the region. However, once the construction was complete, the king ousted him. As revenge Eduardo of course became a republican and even financed Simon de Bolivar to rub salt (ahem) into the wound (he had sold salt to Venezuela so had a relation with them already).
In 1880-90, Bodegas Hidalgo sold most of its wine to a lady in a shop in Malaga. Everyone called her la Gitana and talked of the wine of “La Gitana” and how good it was. Eduardo eventually got wind of this wonderful lady who was keeping him in business so wanted to see her for himself. They fell in love. Eduardo decided to call his wine formally after her and commissioned her portrait on a tambourine – the logo of the company to this day.
My first stop on my visit was El Cuadrado vineyard – the highest point in Jerez at 110m. Here there is lots of sea breeze due to the altitude. In total Hidalgo have 100 ha of vineyards, and they actually own 100% of these vineyards, not usual in Jerez and Sanlucar. They are now making great improvements in the vineyard to increase quality even further – pruning harder so they have 6 bunches per vine on average, minimal intervention, alumbres (trenches between the vines that gather water for irrigation).
A section of El Cuadrado is being used to produce an exciting new wine – a still wine from 100% palomino. The vineyard used for this wine is organic, where the vines are 70 years old, and they are even using pheromones to counter pests.
Next stop was the Pastrana vineyard that is one of the prime coastal vineyards in the Sanlucar area – the sea is only 3km away.
The other marker of quality for top sherry is the location of the bodega, and this is of course where I spent many hours walking among the barrels and tasting the freshest sherry I have ever had the pleasure of drinking. I was in heaven! Hidalgo’s bodega is in the prime location of Sanlucar – Barrio Bajo – in that it is very close to the sea at only 300m distance. Here the humidity is naturally high, not only because of the sea, but also because they have rivers and marshland areas nearby. This high humidity produces very fine and fresh Sherries. I was lucky enough to taste through all of the Hidalgo Sherries during my stay, including the new and very exciting La Gitana Anniversary – a Pasada Pastrana with 3 more years’ ageing. This wine is all about finesse and indeed Fermin referred to it as the “Burgundy of Sherry”, an analogy which, as a white Burgundy fan, I loved. Meaty and savoury the anniversary edition is a wonderfully complex wine that is floral, refined and elegant on the palate. A superb sherry that highlights the efforts the brothers are making to produce new and exciting Sherries, whilst also maintaining their unique heritage and class. Viva la Sherry Revolution!