Timeline: June 25th
We’d decided, based on the success we’d had with our two-night blast through Burgos and Leon to do Gibraltar the same way, that is spend two nights in a hotel. We’d made a reservation in advance, based on the Steve’s Guide at Hostal La Campana, which is located on the Spanish side of the Gibraltar border in La Linea de la Concepcion. Knowing we had a place to stay and didn’t have to worry about setting up camp provided the luxury of taking our time on the drive down from Seville and would allow for a stop on the way to Granada.
To those familiar with Joanna, indeed even those who are not but having heard rumors, it will not come as no surprise that she had done some research and our purpose for stopping in Jerez was to visit the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. Founded in 1973, its purpose is to support the development, through education, training and breeding, of classic equine disciplines such as Dressage using native Spanish Andalusian horses.
This is a university of sorts, admitting seven students a year out of one hundred applications (they also have a more informal, for profit arm that awards two week degrees, much like an executive MBA Program) where students study for up to five years in all of the arts associated with horses, including their care and the ancillary crafts of stable hand and saddlery.
We’d been very fortunate with the weather since the windy day in Porto, with no real rain since our stay in the Dordonge in late May, almost a month of dry weather. This was one of those postcard days, warm but not too hot, dry with little humidity, a perfect morning for watching a bunch of horses put through their paces in a training ring. As luck would have it, the snack bar at the performance arena served food and so we enjoyed two café con leche’s and a very good jamon con queso on ciabatta, heated through.
The school offers two options for a visit and our timing was such that we would get the behind the scenes tour (not see an actual performance, like one we’d witnessed in Vienna in 1992), an opportunity to watch horses and students being put through their training regimens, and a tour of the estate’s palace, reputed to have been designed by Charles Garnier, architect for the Palais Garnier, Paris’ most famous opera house.
At one time is was occupied by members of the Sandeman family, famous for both their Ports and Sherry’s, the Sandeman Sherry plant being right next door to the school. A beautiful example of 19th century architecture, it contains a ground floor decorated as it was originally conceived and a basement housing the Museum of Equestrian Art, with an extensive display of the origins and history of equestrian art and the horse in Andalusia.
It was three hours well spent, enjoying the beauty of the horses, the discipline it takes to bring their art into reality, the gorgeous grounds and surroundings. We made our way back to the car and started to head out of town, but it was still early, something like 1:00 pm and with only a 90-minute drive ahead of us, we knew we had some time to burn.
As we were just about to leave town, Joanna suggested we consider a Sherry tasting. Does that girl know her man? Or was it a faint chimera of guilt for having drug me through all of that horse stuff? We’ll never know. We pulled off the highway and maneuvered through the typical maze of small streets to reach a Sherry house with, get this, abundant parking outside. We went inside, greeted by the friendly concierge who informed us that the tasting was 15 euro per person, which included 8 tastes. This sounds good at first blush, but we did have to drive and eight tastes is quite a lot of sherry.
We thanked him for his time and drove the car a block or two over to the Sandeman property, again fortuitously finding parking, and walked over to the sight. Now if we’d planned this out in advance, we could have just walked over from the Real Escuela, but that would give us to much credit for actually thinking ahead. Here the tour and tasting schedule was much more to our liking, offering different levels of tastes. We opted for the basic taste of three entry-level Sherries and the next bump up, four aged Sherries. These were (thanks to the Sandeman website):
Royal Ambrosante – A wine with a dark, opaque mahogany color, Pedro Ximénez 20 Years Old has a fragrant aroma. It is both smooth and sweet, combining lush ripe fruit and age in a perfect balance. The intense raisin flavors are complex with a very long finish.
Royal Corregidor –Also an attractive mahogany color and an appealing complex character with great depth. Notes of raisins offset the intense nutty aromas typical of very old Olorosos. Extraordinarily rich on the palate, it combines the complexity of old Oloroso with the lush ripe fruit of Pedro Ximénez in a perfect balance. It has a rich, velvet feel in the mouth, recalling all of its aromatic complexity and stimulating the senses with a very long finish.
Rare Fino – Yellow gold in color. Reminiscent of mature white Burgundy the full flavors are complex and powerful in the mouth and crisp in the finish.
Royal Esmeralda 20 years old – an attractive amber color with golden highlights, opening onto a complex nose, where the pungent notes of the original Fino have been gradually softened over the years, creating a deeper, more fragrant wine. On the palate it is clean and full, nutty, dry yet very smooth and light. Very complex with a long intense finish.
Let me just say here, that they were all of that and more. This tour of Europe and the various houses of fine wines and liquors had revealed to me how totally ignorant my palette is. Unfortunately, budget constraints will limit any intention I might have of becoming a connoisseur of the finer spirits. It’s a shame because these were truly delicious things to savor.
So, needless to say we “copped a buzz” and ever mindful of the speed limits, cautiously made our way to Gibraltar. The drive went smoothly and we found our way to La Campana, full of a day of horses and sherry. Honestly, is there any better way to travel?
Hostal La Campana: http://www.hostalcampana.es/
Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art: http://www.realescuela.org/en/
Palais Ganier: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palais_Garnier