“La Gitana” (the Gypsy woman) is actually the name of the most famous wine produced by the Hidalgo Company in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, about 15 miles West of Jerez. The Hildago family began the business in 1792, and it’s now run by the eighth generation. Making Solera-system Manzanilla fina from the 19th Century, it now constitues about 80% of their production and the cavernous, cathedral-like Solera-stores house over 4,000 barrels of Manzanilla.

Here’s a slide show of some of those barrels:

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The name La Gitana emerged in the the later 19th Century when an otherwise anonymous Gypsy women used to travel to Sanlucar from Malaga to source the Manzanilla most popular at her wine bar. It is thought most buyers came to refer to this wine as “el vino de la Gitana”, though perhaps the connection was amplified by a love affair between this woman and a member of the family. Either way a painting of her still adorns the wall in the old office among late 19th and early 20th Century ledgers.


The name and the image have adorned the bottles ever since.

Pale sherry, aged under a protective covering of flor (a yeast that seals out air from the fortified wine and allows biological rather than oxidative aging) is commonly called Fino in Jerez – but Manzanilla in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The differences most commonly identified are a gentler overall profile to manzanilla, but higher saline mineral components. These are usually attributed to sea influence, but are sometimes thought to be in the vineyard. However the wine makers claim this is not the case – many Palomino grapes for Manzanilla are grown nearer to Jerez. The sea influence is thought to happen in the winery where the very old solera barrels sit. They are on land that was once below the Estuary of the Guadalquivir river, and salt water is within a few metres of the barrels, cooled (relatively compared to Jerez} by Atlantic breezes and usually at about 70% humidity. This leads to thicker flor, softer development and salt tinges.

A La Gitana barrel with the flor clearly visible.

I’ve often wondered how barrels of Manzanilla (or Fino) are topped up without disrupting the flor, and Elena, the La Gitana guide, explained it to us. A finger-thick closed steel pipe is plunged through the flor to the middle of the barrel and wine added through small (shower-head type) holes in the last few centimeters of the pipe, now well below the flor. When the proper level is reached the pipe is withdrawn quickly and straight through the flor and the small rupture seals itself quite quickly…

There are apparently two stories how the name of Manzanilla originates. One is that the colour of the wine resembles Chamomile (Manzanilla in Spanish); the other is that local shortages of grapes used to result in buying them in from a town called Manzanilla, some miles west in Huelva.

The solera system for La Gitana, founded in the early 19th century, is made up of 14 tiers, with a high refreshment rate and an average bottling age of around 4 or 5 years.

The Solera system of making sherry may be familiar to most readers, and to explain is is worth a post on its own. So if you want to know more click on this link: Solera System Explained to the excellent Food and Wines of Spain website!

We tasted 6 wines:

La Gitana Manzanilla – Light, with floral, saline and  nutty notes a hint of apple and a clean mineral finish. Very clean and precise.

An En Rama (bottled when the flor is thickest and less filtered) version of the same wine – Cloudy but with more complexity and fruit

Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada – A single vineyard version with about double the age of La Gitana – More substance though no less salt, dried fruit – especially lemon, herbs and salted nuts, warm acidity at the finish. very good and nearly my favourite…

Napoleón Amontillado – 15 year old amontillado, with warm flavours of fruit, peel, nuts, floral hints and warm saltiness. Moreish, balanced and versatile with food, just a great wine – my favourite!

Alameda Cream – a cream sherry made with 30% PX in it. A reverse version of the English favourite derived from Drake’s sacking of Cadiz and taking 3,000 barrels of Oloroso to England, where it was found too dry and was “creamed” by adding caramel. Actually this is a bit creamy and has some caramel but the sweetness pitch makes it seem too simple and a bit one-dimensional.

Triana PX – This is a full Pedro Ximénez. Though, in company with all the house’s wines, less intense and a little more elegant than most examples. It isn’t really as much a wine as a syrup and I’d eat it as part of dessert rather than drink it with dessert. That said it drinks more easily than most…

A lovely tasting and tour. Thanks to Carrie for her company and to Elena of La Gitana for her information.

Hasta la vista…

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