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  • Writer's pictureJason Millar

How To Sell Sherry

Gearing up for a BYO wine dinner to celebrate the return to restaurants, there was much to-and-fro about wine selections on our group chat. Many of the usual suspects were there, or at least the usual suspects of a highly nerdy and atypical group of wine lovers. That is, until we got a palo cortado. One diner, it turned out, wasn't a sherry fan.


I mean no flattery to say that this is someone of irreproachable taste in wine, so his rejection of sherry could not be taken with anything other than deadly seriousness. It was a reminder that sherry, even in the most engaged wine circles, is by no means loved.

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. This is the case with pungent, flor-scented fino and manzanilla, but particularly with old oloroso and palo cortado. The alcoholic strength is hovering around 20%, the flavour intensity is much closer to whisky than wine, and the barrel influence is much more prominent than that of the grape. As a masterclass in wood and ageing, not varietal expression, they're closer to whisky than wine in terms of experience, despite their base materials.


The comparison is apt in other ways. Drinkers of single malt have probably done more to keep Jerez afloat than all the tapas bars of London put together. Of the 60,000 barrels in Williams & Humbert's bodegas in Jerez, around a third are earmarked for Macallan (just one of over 130 distilleries) and Macallan's Master of Wood usually spends around half the year in Jerez - surely more than any wine buyer.


All this makes me wonder if trying to sell sherry to wine drinkers is much harder work than selling it to whisky drinkers who already prize sherry influence, seeking the flavours of sherry cask maturation through the medium of malt. Surely somewhere in Jerez there is a sense of frustration that mature sherry-aged whiskies can sell for over $1,000,000 per bottle on the international market, while equally old oloroso is consigned to seasoning sub-£50 blends.

For traditionalists, this will be anathema. But comfortable old tradition hasn't had much to offer sherry in terms of commercial rewards. It's the newly marketed en rama, the unrelated rise in the popularity of Spanish food and the legalisation of almacenista bottling that have been a shot in the arm for the industry.

Other categories with less pride have had to move with the times. Look at vermouth, still widely unknown by wine drinkers despite being an essential cocktail ingredient. Vermouth has found its home not with lovers of the vine, despite being made from grapes, but with the devotees of the shaker and strainer, the julep cup and the muddler. More vermouth is now sold in cocktail bars than independent wine shops. Why not the same for sherry? Why not move it to the whisky aisle and sell it with the spirits, or experiment with pairing sherry with Cuban cigars instead of olives and anchovies?


Times are moving on in Jerez. The nascent table wine movement pioneered by figures like Willi Perez won't result in a rejuvenation of the traditional sherry category, although it stands to gain a lot on its own merit. Perhaps the future of sherry lies elsewhere, such as with cocktail and spirits drinkers. It seems clear that, despite our best efforts, it doesn't lie with the sherry drinkers.


Originally published in Drinks Retailing, September 2020

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