Sherry: the Spanish wine only a mother could love

by mary on March 11, 2013

Talking with wine geek friends, so many of our top Spanish wine experiences, those exquisite wine moments, are from old and rare sherries. I’ve religiously dragged out my favorite bottles to every social event, served it at every one of my meals, trying to to convert my “normal” wine drinking friends and family. To no avail…I end up savoring and admiring it by myself…secretly a little happy because there’s more for me! Really though, it makes me sad…if I could just help them appreciate these wonderful wines. All these thoughts are running through my head tonight as I sip a real beauty, the Fernando de Castilla Antique Pedro Ximenez.

I was inspired to write this by an article about how under-appreciated Riesling is by Jamie Goode on Wine Anorak last week. It rang so true as Riesling is another wine obsession that my friends roll their eyes at.

Sherry is also a complex problem because there are so many styles and besides being generally unknown, it means different things to different people. For most Spaniards, it is a dry fiesta or aperitivo wine, either the fino or manzanilla styles. These are the primary drink at some of Andalucia’s famous fiestas, most notably that of Seville, and are always available cold, and usually fresh, throughout southern Spain. But they are largely disregarded outside of Andalucia. To people outside of Spain sherry has always meant sweet, or cream sherries, many of them very average in quality. That has changed a little recently, but the idea of sweet and cheap still dominates outside of wine aficionado circles.

The fact is, is that the average wine drinker does not like sherry…it is sadly an acquired taste. I started out serving fino dry sherry in my intro to Spanish wine classes and they were universally hated, except by a few French and Hungarian folk who had been exposed to wines made under a yeast or flor covering in a similar way. The rest of the students left convinced they hated sherry. After a long struggle, I gave up, only serving sherries to more advanced classes and groups who requested it. Wine teachers love putting fino in their intro to Spain class…they love it themselves and it’s cheap! But it’s another case of us, the wine experts, trying to cram a complex wine into a simple situation. Sherry deserves and needs more….we want new Spanish wine drinkers turned on, not off to these wonderful wines!

It takes patience and a more advanced setting to explain the wonderful and complex world of sherry. There is so much magic in the flor, the classiciation, the solera aging system, the “cathedrals”, the wondrous soils; once you understand what is behind that tangy salinity of a manzanilla, it’s uniqueness, it starts to come alive.

I attented the fantastic sherry educators class run by the Sherry consejo regulador with my then partner in Planeta Vino, Miguel. Miguel loves wine but is a very average Spanish Basque wine drinker who happens to have been exposed to some great wines. He had always disliked sherry and I was hoping this could be the truning point to bring him aorund to share my passion. the course is a dream for wine educators and sherry lovers: a three day total immersion into every aspect of the Jerez, with the added rigor of an exam at the end to keep you a bit focused on learning! Heaven! Every meal was matched with sherry inan eye-opening way, VOS and VORS tastings (old, rare sherries), extended time in the vineyards, lots of time with certified sherry experts to really clarify what is a palo cortado! I was in heaven!

Miguel went through this amazing experience and came out still largely disliked sherries. I came out of the course admiring and loving sherry even more and thinking what a marketing and educational challenge it is.

This Fernando de Castilla Pedro Ximenez has a deep amber color and a thick body, coats impressively the sides of the glass. It has a very complex nose of coffee, dried figs, hay and a touch of date and nuts. It enters the mouth surprisingly fresh and sweet at the same time, hay and coffee aromas hit first, then figs, raisins, dates. Coats the mouth like the glass, and the finish lasts at least a minute, with good acidity in the end as well. Sweet but the bitter coffee notes and the acidity an older sherry develops keep it in check…not at all cloying. A very special and complex wine that requires some special explanation. Not cheap for a 500ml bottle at 35€ or 40$, but fantastic value for a 20+ year old wine. Joy! ..they have it in the otherwise very ordinary Madrid airport duty-free wine section, where I always pick up a bottle at discount price.

I just want everyone to love sherry but I know it’s a lot to ask! The Jerez region of Spain offers such amazing consistently and quality at really amazing value, but it’s a hard wine to sell. It’s been great start to see the rising popularity of sherry themed wine bars in some towns or at least more sherries on offer at many wine bars.

In the article on Riesling, Jamie Goode says patience, better marketing, and improvements in the quality of the wines are all needed. For sherry, while the same patience and better marketing are definitely needed, also better education of the educators and persistent (if slow) conversion of wine lovers by the converted will eventually bring this great wine area back up on top.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Steven Ransom April 18, 2013 at 3:29 am

Awesome and comfortable site. Really look forward to experiencing your service.


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