Jerez de la Frontera is a city for romantics, its drink a drop for lovers of the vine. And the greatest lover of them all – Shakespeare – was madly in love with Sherry.
The story of Shakespeare and his ‘sherris sack’ – as it was known in his time – begun when the young playwright moved from his rural Stratford to London. Arriving to the metropolis, Shakespeare would have quickly become acquainted with the rowdy taverns fuelled by the fire of the ‘sack’. This sack, they speculate, was probably an oloroso ; the only option in an age which had not yet developed the solera system of aging wines, thus relying on fortification and oxidisation for preservation and transformation. Finding the sack, Shakespeare found his inspiration, a new muse.
But from what spring bubbled forth Shakespeare’s sherry? Why was London awash with it when he arrived? Just before the Bard began his new life in London, the infamous privateer Francis Drake – known as El Draque to the Spaniards, pronounced with clenched teeth and clenched fist – had made a daring strike on the southern port of Cadiz, the neighbouring city to Jerez. Supplied with ships and crew by Queen Elizabeth, Drake sunk the unprepared Spanish navy and seized its merchant fleet, thieving from Cadiz thousands upon thousands of barrels of sherry. Thus depriving Spain of both its fleet and its sherry, El Draque mockingly declared that he had “singed the beard of Spain’s King!”.
And so just as London’s thirst was being quenched by Drake’s haul, Shakespeare got to writing. And it seems that the relation between Shakespeare and sherry was love at first sight: by the end of his career, the Bard had cited the drink some forty times across eight of his titles. In Henry IV Part II, Shakespeare, speaking through his character Falstaff, accurately describes the effect of sherry on the ‘organism’:
“A good sherris sack hath a twofold operation in it. It ascends you into the brain, dries you there all the foolish and dull and curdy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes, which, delivered o’er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The second property of your excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood…the sherris warms it and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extreme: it illuminate the face, which as a beacon gives warning to all the rest of this little kingdom…”
Falstaff concludes his treatise by declaring: “If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack!” meaning, essentially, get merry with sherry. That dedication to sherry is perhaps the most famous ever made, and as such it has been inscribed into a stone ode to William – carved in 1956 by the artist Francisco Pinto Berraquero – giving voice to the two tipsy figures carved into stone above it; one, a man, mask in hand, offering the cup to his languid lover, the other, casting away her tunic, careless, the amphora wine jug rolling around beneath them.
The same stone scene will be re-enacted and re-interpreted in life until the monument erodes into dust. Beltrán Domecq, President of the Consejo Regulador and lover of Shakespeare, told me once that “there is nothing better than drinking sherry to communicate between people…”: something Shakespeare toasted to when he wrote in Henry VIII; “Good company, good wine, good welcome, can make good people”. Salud, Shakespeare!
First published on Sherry.Wine as a Guest Blogger post
Seduced by Sherry?
If you want to read more on Shakespeare’s drop, here are some of the articles you can find in the Sherry Series section: