Although we like to think of our selves as serving the best tapas in London, what makes us unique is our passion for barreled cherries. Here is a little bit of history about this fantastic drink, and why we were inspired to incorporate it into our tapas restaurant.
The word ‘tabanco’ originated in Jerez de la Frontera (Andalusia) and described an establishment that mixed the social environment of a tavern with the commercial aspect of a wine shop. In such places, locals could taste sherry wines direct from the barrel, buy their chosen wine(s) in bulk or bottle, or use it as a meeting place to socialise with family and friends from the local community. There, they could enjoy each others company with a glass of sherry and simple food. Little has changed over the years, with traditions stoically maintained by the tabancos of today.
Sited in the centre of Jerez close to the Bodegas, tabancos initially sold mainly sherry, but to accommodate changing tastes they have carefully expanded their range of food and drink. Thankfully, this has been done without compromising the very essence and traditions of the tabanco. Drakes maintains this tradition in its entirety, but as with the tabancos of Jerez, it has an extended offering which includes a simple but select range of traditionally-made fine wines, award-winning organic craft beers and simple, delicious food that has been given a creative twist to meet modern demands.
There are several theories about where the word ‘tabanco’ came from. One theory is the name tabanco, or hangout, emerged in the 17th century and comes from the fusion of two words, ‘estancos’ (selling, controlled by the state) and ‘tabaco’ (new product of this century). Two other theories suggest the name ‘tabanco’ was born at the beginning of the 20th century replacing the word ‘taverna’, but the earliest reference sited, is in the poem ‘Journey to Parnassus’, written in 1614 by Cervantes, the Spanish novelist, poet and playwright, in which he mentions a Gypsy Girl and Tabanco.
The traditional, genuine system used for ageing sherry wines is known as the Criaderas and Solera System. This is a system by which wines from different stages of the ageing process are blended together in order to perpetuate specific characteristics in the wine which is finally sold on the market, which is a result of combining all the different vintages. The successful development of this ageing method requires a very precise arrangement of the sherry casks in the bodega according to the different levels of age, a process which takes place in what is known as the criaderas. Each Solera is made up of a various tiers, each in turn composed of a particular number of casks (butts). The tier that contains the oldest wine is at floor level (the term Solera derives from the Spanish word for floor – suelo). The tiers placed on top of this, containing progressively younger wine the further away from the floor they are, are called criaderas (nurseries) and numbered according to their closeness in age to the solera tier (the closest being the 1st criaderas, the next one, the 2nd criaderas, and so on). The solera, or tier pertaining to the oldest level of the ageing process, produces sherry ready for bottling. Every now and again a specific amount of the wine in each of the casks making up the Solera system is extracted, leaving them partially empty. This operation is known as saca (taking out). The space created in the solera (floor-level) casks is topped up with the wine taken from the next oldest tier, namely the 1st criadera which sits above the floor level casks. The space then created in the 1st criadera is topped up with wine removed from the 2nd criadera, and so onus to the youngest tier of casks, and the top criadera is topped up with wine obtained from the anada system (the newest of all the wines in the bodega). The solera system a very special dynamic on the ageing process and influences the nature of the wine in a singular way. It maintains the characteristics of the wine in the solera while eliminating the variations that occur between one vintage and another.
The miracle of the Flor
Flor is the name given to the yeast that grows in the Bodegas in the three towns where cask sherry is produced; Puerto de Santa Maria, Sanlucar de Barrameda & Jerez de la Frontera. The only other place known to produce this yeast is in a region called the Jura in France where they produce a wine similar to sherry called Vin Jaune. Flor grows best in Sanlucar due to the higher humidity caused by being close to the sea.
Flor grows on top of the wine in barrel and creates a protective layer so oxygen does not effect the wine and it can stay fresh under the flor for several years.
Fino – made in either Jerez or Puerto de Santa de Maria. Made from the ‘white’ Palomino grape. Made in the same way as normal wine except that grape spirit (brandy) is added to stop the fermentation process which results in the wine being 15%. The wine is then aged in oak barrel (there is a gap between top of the wine and barrel) whereupon flor (a natural yeast) develops on the surface of the wine and protects I from oxygen. This adds flavour to the wine but stops it losing its’s straw-like colour. It is then added to the Solera System.
Manzanilla – is a fino but from Sanlucar de Barrameda. It is made in exactly the same way as fino. The main difference though is that the flor grows more easily in Sanlucar due to the humidity as a result of being closer to the sea. The flor is thicker and therefore they say the wine is fresher than a fino from Puerto de Santa Maria or Jerez as less oxygen can get to the wine. people also believe the wine tastes ( in a good way) more salty. They also say that the fino from Puerto is fresher than the fino from Jerez due to a more substantial layer of flor. Typical tasting notes are almond, green apple, toast.
Amontillado – this wine starts life as a fino or manzanilla and aged under flor for (and it varies on account of the producer and their style, tradition etc) approximately 3 months at which point a second lot of grape spirit is aged which kills the flor exposing the wine to oxygen. This wine is now 17% alcohol and is aged oxidatively for a period of years, again changes from one Bodega to the next. The result is a wine with tasting notes such as hazelnuts.
Oloroso – Olorosos are fortified from the outset with a level of alcohol that prevents the growth of flor, so they only age oxidatively. Flor consumes glycerin, so Olorosos always have a texture richness that’s absent in Amontillados.
Palo Cortado – this is a rare form of sherry that is designed to be an Amontillado, so made in that way but for one reason or another develops into a wine with characteristics more a kin to an Oloroso. Walnut is a strong flavour note.
Pale Cream – this is a sweetened fino or manzanilla. Think wines that have given sherry a bad name such as Croft Original or Harvey’s Bristol Cream.
Moscatel – sweet style of sherry made from the grape with the same name. This wine is lighte in style and less sweet due to the Moscatel grape containing more acidity, the result is a fresher, sweet wine.
East India – made by Lustau with a blend of Oloroso and PX wine.
Pedro Ximenez – sweet style of sherry made from the grape of the same name.
Sir Frances Drake (‘the pirate’) said to have been a merchant out there in Andalusia and had a bust up with locals. Travelled home and picked up his boat to come back to nab a whole load, nearly 3000 butts of Sack, headed for the Armada. This got everyone on to Sack and really opened up the market for full scale import into the country. You can see why he would have had a bad press back in Southern Spain but he ended up helping them!
No apostrophe because back in his day there weren’t any…is that right?
Traditionally the tabanco is a sherry ‘shop’. Where locals come to fill up empty bottles of sherry with liquid gold from the barrel. Almost an extension of a Bodega…could be a part of one of the buildings of a Bodega…but house wines from different Bodegas in very close proximity. The likelihood is that the owner of the tabanco would sit and have a copita with punters as and when they came shopping. This idea developed in tabancos situated in the centre of the city where it would still be a shop but some might serve some very basic cold food with a copita of sherry.
We sure as hell can call it a tabanco as all the elements of a tabanco are incorporated in Drakes, we are just making it better.
The idea came from having two bars already and falling in love with sherry and feeling the inner passion for this world class product and the urge to go on a mission to bring sherry into more people’s lives.
People need to know what they are missing out on!
I think Nigel’s first experience with dry sherry was at Barrica, opened in 2009 with over 25-30 sherries. We didn’t get the publicity but we were open before Pepito and Capote y Toros. Fino, Salt Yard. Nigel certainly got the bug and he got in touch with me through an old colleague Guy Seddon (now at Corney and Barrow doing Master of Wine) as he enjoyed his experience at Barrica and the rest is history. We both feel more people need to experience sherry, served in the right way with the right food in a lovely setting. Bring the Bodega to the high street with minimum intervention…same ethos goes through the small selection of other drinks we serve…from soft drink to beer to wine.
We picked the location as the types of people that live and work in and around Fitzrovia are free thinkers, creative, intelligent people who will try things and are developing a love for sherry. At Drakes it will be sherry that goes with food not tapas as such.
Simply…like any capataz or sherry bodega owner will tell you…sherry is at it’s absolute best when drunk straight from the barrel. Not poured from bottle into barrel incidentally (what Gordons Wine bar does) but unfiltered, not stabilised wine from barrel, with all it’s complexities intact.