Getting Serious About Sherry

In the last six months I’ve become enthralled by the world of Sherry. I don’t just enjoy the delicious product in the bottle but I’m also fascinated by its history and its production methods. Apart from the odd glass of PX, my previous sherry exposure had been confined to what I now know to have been fairly limp Fino and, to be honest; it just all seemed a bit boring. This all changed when I tasted a wide range of the Fernando de Castilla Sherries earlier in the year – Boom! I was hooked.

Sherry still has an image problem in Ireland. We haven’t been part of its revival in the same way London has and as far as I can see that’s not going to change for a long time. The press in Ireland does their bit to plug Sherry but I question what influence the mainstream wine press has on a younger audience. When a wine writer goes on about how Sherry isn’t just for Christmas or just for oul’ dears, does it result in anyone actually going out to the shop to buy a bottle or do younger people just conclude: ‘yeah Sherry isn’t just a drink for my grandparents, it’s also for my parents’.

At the 2011 “Wines From Spain” fair in Dublin, I understand that Sherry was given pride of place in a number of masterclasses and as part of a tasting competition. For the 2012 installment of this fair, I could only find five Sherries amongst the hundreds of wines at the show – not really a ringing endorsement of Sherry’s reported trendiness.

The number of tapas and wine bars in Dublin has increased significantly in the past three to five years. You’d think that, similar to London, the popularity of these bars and restaurants would lead to a Sherry revival amongst the 25-35 age group. Not a chance! In the wine menu of one chain of tapas bars, the Sherry descriptions mix-up dry Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez. This tells me two things; firstly, nobody in the place gives a toss about the Sherry menu and secondly, new customers aren’t trying these Sherries, as surely if they were to order on the basis of the description in the menu, there would already have been a flood of complaints and the menu would have been changed by now. More worrying is the situation at my local tapas bar though where the wine list showcases wines from Spain, France and Italy but doesn’t find room for even one Sherry. Compare that with the list at Capote y Toros in London which includes 15 Finos, 16 Manzanilllas, 18 Amontillados, 18 Olorosos, 12 Palo Cortados, 8 sweet Olorosos and 16 Pedro Ximenez, many of which are available by the glass and in different bottle sizes. I know these are extreme examples, but it’s hard to find anywhere in Dublin that lists more than a handful of Sherries. (Outside of Dublin, Cava Restaurant in Galway has a nice Sherry list though.)

Retailers certainly have to take some of the blame too. As I mentioned earlier, I’d still be in the Sherry wilderness had I not been able to taste the Fernando de Castilla Sherries at a trade tasting. Since most people don’t get to go to tastings, if retailers want to sell more Sherry, why aren’t they opening a bottle as part of their weekly in store tastings? The Sherry portfolio in many Irish wine retailers isn’t great either. Some independent merchants buck this trend, but for every good merchant, there is another like the one who looked at me quizzically a fortnight ago when I asked if he had any Sherry for sale. He offered to sell me a Vin Santo instead.

Here are my two cents – Sherry is great value and of all of the bottles I’ve tasted in the past six months, almost all were of high quality and certainly none could be described as boring. Other than for selfish reasons, I couldn’t care less whether the Sherry revolution takes off in Dublin or Ireland but it does seem like the trade is missing a trick here which ultimately means that many people are missing out on the delights of Sherry.

As it happens, I’m visiting another tapas bar tomorrow in the hope that it bucks the trend – I won’t hold my breath though.

Image 1 – Sherry Solera (El Pantera, Wikipedia)

Image 2 – Sherry barrel with transparent front so visitors can see the natural development of flor (El Pantera, Wikipedia)