Spring is the time for fairs here in Andalucia, and kicking off the season each year is the mother of all Ferias – the Feria de Abril in Seville.
As the name implies, this is usually held in April, but as Easter was so late this year, and the Feria takes place three weeks after, the date slipped back into May.
Sherry is very much the drink of the Feria, although more manzanilla (from Sanlucar de Barrameda) than fino. On the Monday of Feria week, Tio Pepe held its tasting of Tio Pepe en Rama, the unfiltered version, at the Alfonso XIII hotel in Seville. This palatial establishment, which was indeed built for a king, as his and his family’s digs for Expo 1929, was a grand setting for presenting this wonderful sherry to a pre-Feria, super-excited audience.
Unfortunately, most of the attending bigwigs were so preoccupied by that night’s upcoming alumbrao that they didn’t listen to the wonderful presentation by the inimitable Antonio Flores, Tio Pepe’s Master Winemaker – this is the man who chooses which barrels to bottle as the special, limited run en Rama. A superb, lyrical speaker, he is hugely (and rightly) respected in the wine world as a man who knows his stuff – a talented winemaker, and a superb communicator. But Feria fever had taken its grip, and the chat volume was high – afterwards Antonio commented, with his customary politeness, that perhaps Seville didn’t have enough wine-lovers (myself excluded, naturally).
That night it was the noche de pescaito, when half of Seville packs into the casetas to dine on fried fish, and watch the portada lights get switched on. Noone wear flamenco dresses, but the atmosphere is mighty festive. The rest of the week was characterised by high temperatures – well, it is May, of mid-30s. I was a fair-skinned chicken, staying away until at least 8pm since before that, the sun was merciless and the casetas were like ovens.
The local press has reported that takings are down this year, but the recinto was heaving when I was there, so I can only assume many people didn’t spend much money, or less than usual. There was certainly more botellon - drinking in the street than previous years. Next up is the Feria del Caballo in Jerez, which starts tomorrow. Unlike the Seville Fair, all casetas are open to the public, which makes for a friendlier, more inclusive experience for visitors.
So pop a flower behind you ear, drape a fringed shawl over your shoulders, and sip a glass of chilled, crisp sherry. Ole!