Andrew Polmear

Sublime Sherry

Philip Reddaway, The Whistler’s wine columnist…

How do you picture the typical sherry drinker? Is it your mum-in-law sipping a small glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream at Christmas – a bottle bought five years ago that hangs around at the back of the cupboard, oxidising nicely, awaiting its annual outing? It’s true that no ‘fine wine’ suffered such a calamitous fall in fashionability as sherry through the very same decades that the UK public were discovering wine drinking. Is it on the way back? Not really, global sales have slumped over 20% since the early 90s and in 2008 UK sales continued their long-term decline with a 3% downturn. With over 40% of sherry drinkers over 65 the producer Gonzalez recently commented “we need to recruit six new consumers for every Sherry drinker that dies”. A bit of a stretch for even the most resourceful marketeer!

All the more surprising then, that in Decanter magazine’s recent feature on “What’s your desert island wine”, two of the twelve world wine experts quizzed opted to take an Amontillado sherry.

The truth is the cognoscenti of the wine world have never turned their backs on sherry. The reason: if you invest just a pound or two above the most basic supermarket generics it’s usually delicious; it’s a drink that covers a broad gamut of styles for every drinking occasion from aperitif, via food accompaniment, to sublime pudding wine; and, most importantly in these straightened times, it’s the best value fine wine in the world, no question. Compared to the £100 + La Tâche Burgundy and the vintage Krug selected by some of those Decanter article wine experts, sherry is outrageously cheap – you would be hard pressed to spend £20 on a bottle and the great sherry brands are available at £7-£10. What’s more, if you’re concerned about the alcoholic strength, well consider this: in these global warmed times a fino sherry has no more alcohol (15%) than most of the Cotes du Rhone I drink here every evening.

My personal favourite style is bone dry Manzanilla from the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, light and fresh, with just a touch more flavour than a fino, very tangy, clean and crisp with just a hint of saltiness. I’m also very partial to a very different style of sherry, dark as molasses and unctuously sweet – Pedro Ximenez – made from the grape of the same name – goes brilliantly with home-made vanilla ice cream. My top buys would include: The Wine Society’s Maribel amontillado at just £7.50, or buy a selection from Waitrose, surely Britain’s top sherry retailer. I’d go for their La Gitana Manzanilla at only £5.69, if you buy a case, or the classic fino Tio Pepe at £9.01 for case buyers, or best of all – my desert island sherry – the top bodega Hidalgo’s Pasada Pastrana single vineyard manzanilla, superb complexity for just £10.21 per bottle. Enjoy! And if you’re ever our way, in Provence, please do bring me a bottle, it’s impossible to buy here, the French don’t get it at all.

If you are interested in one of our Provence based wine holidays please visit www.rhonewineholidays.com, or if you just want a fabulous place to stay as you drive through France we now do bed and breakfast – see www.bighouseinprovence.com.

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