On Sherry’s Demise

soleraDon Kavanaugh at Wine Searcher brought us some sad news last week. The fortunes of Sherry appear to be on the decline.

Looking back across the past five years, Sherry’s decline has been well signposted. Continuous decline in interest has been matched by apathy in the marketplace. Huge brands have been moribund; Tio Pepe’s average price has remained unchanged since 2014, while the number of offers has also remained constant. The only real change has been the decline in its search rank, moving relentlessly lower each year. At least it’s doing better than the fino sector generally, which has seen interest collapse by a half in five years.

It is sad because sherry is a distinctive wine that is produced using several distinctive production techniques that are not consistently employed elsewhere in the wiineworld. Fino sherries are the best known of the few wine styles aged under flor—a film of yeast that forms on the surface of the wine that gives fino sherries their distinctive nutty, bready flavor. And sherry is one of only a few wine styles that uses the solera method of fractional blending in the aging process. It is not a good thing when variation in the wine world is diminished.

On the one hand it’s puzzling why sherry isn’t catching on. The wine world is beginning to embrace oxidative winemaking styles with the recent interest in orange wine. And as Kavanaugh points out, somms looking for something a bit outside the mainstream have been encouraging people to try sherry for many years. But apparently it is all for naught.

On the other hand, it seems that sherry has an image problem. It’s never been able to shake its fusty image as the drink of choice of “maiden Aunts”. I also think it is incorrectly classified as a dessert wine. With the exception of Pedro Ximinez and the dreadful cream sherries, most other sherry styles are not sweet enough to pair with desserts. Fino, Manzanilla and Amontillado are in fact quite dry. There are vast differences between the different styles of sherry that prevent it from acquiring a distinct identity.

I think the most refreshing wine I have tasted was a fino sherry. After a long, taxi ride without air conditioning in Sevilla’s sweltering summer heat, we arrived at our hotel sweaty and exhausted. As we were checking in, the desk clerk first served us each a cold, fino sherry that improved our mood immeasurably. I’ve been a fan of fino ever since.

And nothing cuts through the fat of a thick slice of cabecero de bellota (loin cured for 90 days from pigs fed a diet of acorns) like a glass of fino.

I hope this report on Sherry’s demise is a false alarm.

3 comments

  1. There is a error in your piece when you say an orange wine is the result of an oxidative process. It’s the opposite. Skin contact is an impediment to oxidation and oxidation is avoided at every other step of the process.

    1. I disagree. Although extended maceration is not necessarily oxidative, many orange wines are made in open top fermenters and develop the nutty, sherried aromas characteristic of sherry. Which was my point. There are often organoleptic similarities between some orange wines and sherry. You can certainly make orange wines in a reductive style but many of them aren’t.

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