Where did you grow up?
In the Gonzalez Byass winery in Jerez! I was actually born there as my father was head of production and lived above one of the cellars. I have lived and breathed the air around the vineyard since the day I was born.
What did you aspire to be when you grew up?
Tio Pepe is in my blood. I owe my father not only my life, but also the way I was brought up…born, raised and immersed in the winery. I saw my father work from a very, very young age in the winery and whilst I had aspired to be a journalist as a young boy, in my heart I knew I would work for Gonzalez Byass!
What does it entail to be a winemaker?
A lot of tasting! But also a passion for the wine and for the spirit of Jerez. We are continuing a tradition born in Jerez hundreds of years ago. I still regard it as an honour to produce wines for Gonzalez Byass.And because nearly all sherry is non-vintage, as a winemaker, I have to identify the barrels which will combine to produce a consistent, and consistently perfect, sherry. It requires a very well-trained nose and tastebuds!
Can you tell us a bit about the history of the Gonzalez Byass bodega and the sherry it produces?
The history of the bodega begins with the creation of our most iconic sherry, Tio Pepe.
Here in Jerez in 1835, Manuel Maria Gonzalez Angel, an ambitious 23 year old, began the journey to create Gonzalez Byass. Young Manuel was mentored in this by his uncle, José Angel de la Pena, (affectionately known as Pepe), who was knowledgeable about sherry and was an aficionado of fino in particular. As a thank you for the help that José Angel had given to Manuel, he gave him the keys to the first fino bodega, so he had somewhere to go with his friends and enjoy his favourite wine, his own personal cellar.
Manuel sent a couple of barrels of his uncle’s favourite, dry wine over to his London agent, one Robert Byass. The future company partner was sceptical, but the beautifully dry taste of José Angel’s wine proved a great success and in 1849 Manuel named Tio Pepe after its creator, tio being Spanish for uncle.
What makes the bodega’s Sherry so special in your opinion?
I think that 180 years of passion, dedication and fine-tuning speak volumes! This is all we know, and all we have known since the beginning. We know the tiny factors that affect the flavours in our grapes, like the warm wind ‘Levante’ or cool wind ‘Poniente’ that blows across the vineyard, or the fact that we only ever pick grapes for Tio Pepe by hand because this is what gives us the best Fino possible.
We also have an attention to detail that goes beyond all realms or normal. Every three months, I taste every single one of the 22,000 barrels of Tio Pepe. The wines are like my children – they need to be loved and nurtured as young grapes, but you cannot ignore them as ageing adults, you still need to check in on them!
Why do you think there has been a resurgence in the popularity of Sherry in recent years?
The younger audience has recently discovered that there’s more to sherry than just the sweet styles and that the dry styles are surprising – you serve them chilled (as cold as Champagne) and enjoy them with food.
Sherry is a wide range of taste, smell and flavours and in this wide range, people are beginning to realise there is complexity and variety. And in the UK particular, the sherry revival has gone hand in hand with the huge food movement that’s happened. People have become a little more open-minded and willing to experiment, and they now realise that you can drink a fino sherry while snacking on almonds or olives or eating tapas, or enjoy Oloroso with a rare steak.
What interesting trends/themes are going on in the wine world?
The idea of pairing more than just white or red wines with food is captivating a lot of minds at present. Pairing fortified wines with food has been unimaginable in the past but now it’s taking on a world of its own. Again, it’s the link to the food movement that we’ve seen in recent years. People are willing to experiment.
What are your FOUR ultimate sherry and food pairings?
Tio Pepe Fino (100% Palomino, aged for minimum 5 years) | Pairedwith salted almonds. The dryness of a perfectly balanced Fino provides the perfect partner for a handful of salted almonds. Although, try stopping at one handful! Tio Pepe is often described as a palate cleanser because of its unique freshness and savoury qualities. So you can basically drink it with almost anything and right the way throughout a meal, tapas especially!
Alfonso Oloroso (100% Palomino, aged for 8 years) | Best paired with rare steak.No need to add flavours to your steak. The nuttiness from the Palomino grape and a little vanilla from American oak barrels work perfectly with lightly seasoned red meat.
Leonor Palo Cortado (100% Palomino, aged for 12 years) | Goes extremely wellwith aged Manchego.It’s hard to go wrong with a hard cheese like Manchego and any dry style of sherry but I particularly like powerful toasted nuts that come alive in this Palo Cortado with a big chunk of aged Manchego.
Nectar (100% Pedro Ximinez) | Is an incredible partner forice cream.Nectar has a very high sugar content and so for most palates is too sweet to be paired with anything – it is a pudding on its own! But I love it with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream to round off a meal.
Find out more about Antonio Flores and theGonzalez Byass winery here…