Anita Schillhorn van Veen | April 21, 2023

Why is El Puerto De Santa Maria Interesting?

On sherry, myth and innovation

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Bodega Gutierrez Colosía

A winery in El Puerto De Santa Maria known for its sherry production. Visitors can learn about the solera system and taste various sherries.

Bodega Osborn

A renowned winery in El Puerto De Santa Maria offering tastings of its fino sherry alongside jamon iberico.

Aponiente - Ángel León - El Chef del Mar
Aponiente - Ángel León - El Chef del Mar

A Michelin-starred restaurant in El Puerto de Santa Maria, offering unique dishes with a focus on marine life and sustainability. Chef Ángel León is known for his innovative culinary techniques including the use of aqua fluorescence from algae.

Anita Schillhorn van Veen (ASVV) is a friend of WITI and has a few other WITIs under her belt (Climate Tourism & Utopias). She’s a proud Dutch citizen who runs strategy at ad agency McKinney’s Los Angeles market, and writes her own newsletter, which you can read here.

Anita here. This is the city where I first fell in love with sherry. 

I once considered sherry as a drink for old aunties, a thick syrup poured from delicate crystal carafes after dinner. But the Jerez area of Spain, and especially El Puerto De Santa Maria, taught me about the wide array of sherries, from the bracing pale fino that’s served ice cold in small glasses in the afternoon, to the oxidized amontillados and olorossos that turn nutty and caramelly, almost umami, in their flavors, to the rarer palo cortado, an accident turned into a delicacy. 

The city is ancient, name-checked in the Odyssey as Menesthi, adopted by the Moors as Alicante, and finally taken over by the Catholics and given its baptismally long name of El Puerto De Santa Maria, El Puerto for short. Besides being strewn with legend, it lives on its sherry heritage. The town is covered in fat palm trees and low yellow buildings dating to the 1600s, and has beautiful Mediterranean beaches, bull fights, and other markers of Southern Spain. 

Sherry is its beating heart. The sherry houses are called Bodegas, and El Puerto is peppered with them. I visited Bodega Gutierrez Colosía, where sherry barrels were stacked and housed in dark, damp and spacious arched room that smelled faintly of yeast and vanilla. We learned about the solera system, a method of distillation built on gravity, barrels and the local yeast that covers the distilled liquid with flor, the magical carpet that protects it from oxygen. Heady with knowledge and sherry, I went to the Bodega Osborn after, to enjoy wisps of jamon iberico accompanied by Osborn’s fino, the ultimate combination of southern Spain

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But that’s not what drew me to El Puerto de Santa Maria in the first place. That’s Aponiente, The Menu-esque restaurant that sits in a canal that opens to the sea. It’s rife with the flourishes of Michelin stars—meticulous service, unique dishes, a visit from the chef to your table. But what makes this restaurant really special is the vision of chef Ángel León. Dedicated to the sea and all that it gives, a marine biologist comes to your table and discusses the marine environment for some of the dishes. A little detour takes you from your table to a dark room where you are poured a cocktail with aqua fluorescence from algae; not only a glow-in-the-dark party trick, there’s a partnership with a medical school to see how food-safe acqua fluorescence can be used in medical procedures. Now León is seeking to grow edible grains from seagrass, not only to augment his menu but also to protect and create value around an important and often overlooked part of the marine ecosystem. 

What I love about El Puerto de Santa Maria is that it houses history, myth and innovation without giving in to the global tourism trade that often turns the past or the future into cheap facsimiles of itself. It’s a reminder that a city doesn’t have to be world famous to offer a world of experience. (ASVV)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Anita (ASVV)

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