Undeservedly unfashionable - Sherry is due a revival

The Society’s Sherry Buyer Toby Morrhall makes an impassioned plea to help reverse the fortunes of Sherry, one of the world’s most underrated and unique fine wines.

In Jerez in April I was shocked to hear just how far sales had declined, 40% in twenty years. So low is the demand for grapes it is cheaper to buy them than produce them. Many vineyards are for sale. While Sherry has long been subsidised by the brandy which most houses produce, some houses have diversified into water and ham which are more profitable than Sherry.

In fact, I should not have been surprised as our own sales have followed a similar pattern. But, despite the decline in sales, I have lobbied hard to increase our Sherry range in the current List adding new wines in a bid to stimulate a revival. My head is on the block so I’d appreciate your support!

Try Sherry if you do not know it: great quality, variety and maturity

For many Sherry seems outmoded and remote, belonging to another era with associations of maiden aunts, vicars and PG Wodehouse – a comic museum piece. But we encourage anyone who has not tried proper Sherry to give it a go, for it is a most rewarding experience. Just one sniff of an old Oloroso, whose magnificent, intense, walnutty aroma perfumes a whole room, is enough to astonish and delight any wine lover. Its incredible, vivid intensity is of the here and now, not the distant past. The very low price for the quality is a further reason to get to know these wines.

Its variety is another. I think it was the great Hugh Johnson who suggested Sherry’s flavours span a range as broad as lemons and dates. From the water white, bone-dry, appley Manzanilla or Fino to the jet black, viscous, intensely sweet, fig-flavoured Pedro Ximénez, made from raisined grapes, there is a Sherry for all tastes and to match most foods. Sherry must be a minimum of three years old before sale and the 30- year-old wines can sell for just £25 a bottle. No other wine in the world offers such maturity at such a keen price.

Sherry is perfect with food

We encourage confirmed Sherry drinkers to drink more Sherry with food, not just as an aperitif at Christmas. Confined to the sideboard or drinks cabinet, Sherry will never prosper. It should also be enjoyed on the table with food. Fino has scarcely more alcohol than many New World chardonnays, 15% as opposed to 14–14.5%, yet is rarely consumed with food. This is unthinkable in Spain where wine and Sherry are never drunk without some sort of food, and not just tapas (canapés or appetisers) but raciones (main courses) too. Once in a while we would encourage you to enjoy a bottle of Fino with a meal of fish and seafood. It goes well with cheese too. Serve it as you would a white wine, chilled in large wine glasses not copitas. Our Sherry sales peak at Christmas but a cool glass of Sherry is lovely in summer too!

Enjoy the variety of Sherry with all food courses

To experience the gamut of flavours try La Ina Fino, which has the most intense flor nose of all Finos, the apply, bready scent derived from the floating veil of yeast which gives Fino its characteristic flavour. It is about four years old. Try with smoked salmon. Move on to Fino Perdido, a very mature, golden-coloured wine about eight years old. It still has the flor scent but has become broader and richer with barrel maturation and might be called a Fino-Amontillado. Ideal with griddled prawns or a crab gratin.

An Amontillado starts life as a Fino, but then the flor is allowed to die off and the wine deepens in colour. Botaina is the Amontillado produced from La Ina, and is a superb example, probably about 12 years old. It is a better match for hard cheese than most red wines. Scale the heights with Domecq’s 30-year-old Sibarita Oloroso. If Botaina is hazelnutty then Sibarita is more walnutty, with a powerful concentration that can almost ‘sting’ the palate. Again this is lovely with hard cheese. Finish with Don Marcelo PX, a wine about 18 years old, with aromas of fig and mocha and one of the sweetest wines in the world (a rich Sauternes has about 140 g/l of residual sugar, this PX has about 400 g/l). In Jerez they dribble it over vanilla ice cream. It is also one of the few wines that can stand up to chocolate.

New initiatives

Much Fino is bottled with excessive fining and filtration in order to remove the flor yeast, but it also removes much of the flavour. Encouraged by the success of selling Tio Pepe En Rama earlier this year (‘En Rama’ means minimally treated) we have bottled Fino Perdido, described above, from a wonderful solera owned by Sánchez Romate, with minimal treatment to get the maximum flavour into the bottle. It is possible the wine may form a slight haze, or deposit tartrate crystals, but we think this ‘cosmetic’ inconvenience is a small price to pay for the extra flavour. We have also made some special bottlings from almacenistas, stockholders of Sherry, in half bottles including the very fine Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Viejissimo 1/5, again with minimal treatment, and in the Fine Wine List we are offering a superb Oloroso called Miguel Fontádes Florido Single Butt Oloroso 1/1

We have changed supplier and improved the basis of our range with a new Society’s Fino, we think it has greater depth of flavour than previously and now sports a new label.

(Nov 2010)

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