Tim Sykes was thrilled to take over as buyer for sherry, a region whose wines he loves and has long championed but never bought in his professional capacity before
When I stepped down as Head of Buying in March 2017 in order to focus on wine buying, I had no idea which regions or countries my successor Pierre Mansour would assign to me in my new role. So I was thrilled when Pierre suggested that I take over the sherry category from him. I have been a sherry-lover and advocate of these amazing wines for many years, but in my 25-year career as a wine buyer I have never had the opportunity to buy it on a professional level.
So last October I spent just over three days immersing myself (not literally, sadly) in the region and its wines. I was pretty up-to-speed with the theory of sherry production, but as with most things, reading the books is no substitute for 'on the ground' experience. I was primed and ready to go.
Even without the allure of its fabulous wines, Jerez is a beautiful city to visit. The magnificent cathedral by night
Logistical let-downs (the bits people really want to hear about!)
President of the Consejo Regulador Jerez, the
charming and urbane Beltrán Domecq
Buying trips, particularly the logistics of getting to, around and back from wine regions, are rarely completed without some kind of hitch. My flight to Sevilla was delayed by nearly three hours, so I arrived after sunset in the lovely town of Jerez, considerably later than expected. Beltrán Domecq, the charming and urbane President of the Consejo Regulador Jerez, the body charged with raising the profile of sherry and setting the rules surrounding the production and marketing of the region's wines, was waiting patiently for my arrival.
A taste tour of the region
Beltrán immediately set about giving me a fascinating, in-depth look at the region and its multifarious wine styles, from the crisp dry, rather neutral white table wine made from the palomino variety (the grape used for the majority of sherries), through the dry manzanillo, fino, amontillado, palo cortado and oloroso styles, to some of the sweetest, most intense dessert wines from the pedro ximenez variety. I couldn't have asked for a better induction.
A tasting at the Consejo of sherry in its multifarious styles – a great introduction to the region
After the presentation, Beltrán took me and his son-in-law, Peter Dauthieu (who supplies us with several of our sherries) to dinner at a restaurant called Albala, one of the few open on a Monday evening in late October. It has a superb range of sherries available to try by the glass, so we set about matching sherries to the many plates of tapas that found their way to our table. The food-matching versatility of sherry is quite astonishing.
Dinner at Albala restaurant where we put various styles of sherry through their food-matching paces!
The restaurant was almost full by the time our bill came, and looking round the room I was dismayed to see that we were the only table with sherry on it. Therein lies the challenge of the Consejo Regulador!
Where to go next?