With news that for the first time since the 1970s sherry sales are on the rise, I take a look at what might behind the (modest) boom.
The first article I ever wrote for this blog was on sherry back in 2010. At the time there was a lot of stuff in the press about how sherry was now cool for the first time since about 1920. I think it was the confluence of Gonzalez Byass doing a big PR push for Tio Pepe and the arrival of some proper Spanish restaurants in London like Fino and Barrafina rather than the brown earthenware dish plus microwave that typified most tapas places in England. Unfortunately, the great sherry revival never really went beyond the features pages of the Observer; sales continued to decline and wine writers continued to lament that nobody was drinking sherry. Even in these trendy new Spanish restaurants most people were drinking Albariño or Rioja.
Now, however, things really do seem to be changing with the Co-op, Majestic and Nielsen all reporting that sales are up in an article on the BBC website. This is put down to the ‘tapas effect’, people wanting to recreate the tapas experience in their own homes. From talking to restauranteurs like Jose Pizarro, apparently younger customers are more receptive to sherry so there’s definitely something in this but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.
It was always the received opinion among enthusiasts that if you treated sherry like a table wine, serve it chilled in big glasses and make sure it’s in the wine section of menu, then people who loved Albarino or Godello would migrate to sherry. Jason Millar from Theatre of Wine wrote a very good article recently for
Off Licence News Drinks Retailing News on how this was the wrong approach because sherry does not taste anything like a modern. He writes: “In my experience, the greatest barrier with sherry is that despite the efforts of many to make us treat it like a table wine, it does not behave like a table wine.” He goes on to say how sherry is really more like whisky.
I think this gets to the root of the sherry revival. Sherry might taste peculiar for palates brought up on New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc but if you’re a whisky, vermouth or cocktail drinker, then sherry doesn’t taste strange at all. I’ve noticed this as I now write mainly about spirits and whisky fans tend to be very receptive to sherry partly because whisky is often aged in old sherry casks so learning about whisky involves learning about sherry, but also because the two drinks share certain similarities. Darker sherries like amontillados and olorosos often have flavours of nuts, dried fruit, orange peel, brown sugar and toffee, just like a good whisky. The spirits comparison is useful for thinking about the time to drink sherry too. Yes, it is a great food wine, but it’s also an excellent aperitif, after dinner sipper and indeed cocktail ingredient.
The other drink that did well during lockdown was port. Adrian Bridge from Taylor’s told me that the British market grew with sales of white port particularly strong. What’s interesting is that as the market for wine declines, fortified wines are bucking the trend precisely because they are perceived to be more like spirits than wines, and spirits are cool. It’s taken a ten years but sherry might finally be coming back into fashion.
Link here to something I wrote for BBC Good Food magazine on my top ten sherries.