Martin, manager at Oddbins in Leeds back in the early years of this century, used to refer to a morning sherry as a sharpener. There is nothing quite so refreshing when hungover as an 11am Tio Pepe. That is what is often forgotten about sherry especially in its fino form – just how deliciously moreish it is. One simply cannot get tired of it.
The marketing tactic for sherry these days seems to be based on how well it goes with fashionable Spanish food. It doesn’t seem to be working. Everyone is eating tapas at every meal and yet people are drinking less and less sherry. They need a change of plan. One way is to appeal to those interested in cult drinks. People will pay hundreds of pounds for a bottle of whisky from a single barrel especially if it is has an interesting story attached so why not the same for rare sherries. Lustau have been doing something like this for a while with their superb Almacenista range but now Navazos have entered the ring buying up distinctive barrels from within soleras to create designer sherries with packaging to match. I tried their La Bota de Fino recently; it’s an impressive drink, a fino with the flavours turned up to 11. This would normally have been blended into Valedespino’s finos; it is a rare treat to try it on its own. I also tried a single vineyard vintage unfortified Palomino Fino made in conjunction with Nierpoort, the Port people, an elegant wine that softly breathes the word sherry in your ear. It might be a bit subtle for my tastes. Even Gonzalez Byass themselves have got in on the act with an unfiltered Tio Pepe and I have noticed that the Wine Society now have a Fino Perdido (lost fino) in their catalogue.
Maybe the whisky model is the best way for sherry to survive, the single bottlings thrive whilst the big brands slowly contract. I think this would be a shame. The big sherry brands, La Gitana, La Ina and Uncle Pepe himself, offer astounding quality for the money. Containing immeasurable quantities of very old wines, they really are fine wines at everyday prices. Instead of trading on the Iberian food boom, Gonzalez Byass should put up massive posters saying ‘it’s never too early for sherry’ and then handing out free snifters of Tio Pepe to disgruntled commuters. That would reverse the decline.
Tio Pepe, Gonzalez Byass. Widely available for around £9
Tio Pepe Fino en Rama, no idea where you can get this from. Perhaps El Pepito sherry bar in King’s Cross, London
La Gitana, Hidalgo, widely available for around £7
La Ina, Lustau, widely available for around £9
Lustau Almacenista, prices vary, widely available.
La Bota de Fino, £27.50 Equipo Navazos
Nierpoort Jerez Blanco £20
Both from Bottle Apostle in Hackney
Fino Perdido, £7.95, the Wine Society