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Sherry Amour?

2013 April 24
by Mike

Apologies for the silence last week. There were one or two things that I had planned to post, but with all the madness in Boston, I wasn’t in much of a mood to talk about fermented grape juice. Wine just seems very small at moments like that. True, between regular mass shootings, a steady supply of natural disasters, and assorted other mishegas, one is reminded of wine’s smallness all the time nowadays. But amid the carnage in Boston, one of my favorite cities, I found myself at a loss for wine words.

Others were not. The Wine Spectator ran an interesting two-part series last week looking at the newfound passion for sherry among American sommeliers and wine writers and wondering if their enthusiasm will trickle down to the chardonnay guzzling masses. “Does Wine Evangelism Work?” asked the Spectator. It is a great question, and sherry is an excellent test case. It is a complicated category, and the wines are not obvious crowd-pleasers. I’ve got more to say on the topic of wine evangelizing, but before I say it, I’m curious to know if all the buzz about sherry has reached your ears. Are you a sherry drinker? If not, has sherry’s sudden cachet tempted you to give these wines a try? Have you purchased any sherry recently, and what did you think of it? I’m eager, too, to hear from retailers: are you seeing heightened interest in sherry? The somms and the scribes are proselytizing furiously on behalf of sherry, but are they winning any converts?

18 Responses leave one →
  1. David permalink
    May 1, 2013

    I am not sure sommeliers greatly influence tastes in wine – sherry or anything else. (Nor why “sommeliers wield a lot more influence these days than they did 15 years ago”). I just don’t see sommeliers wiedling that much influence by table side consulting at resturants where they really could push sherry. I think the way they (and others) could provide some influence is by controlling what is on the wine list. I think Michael Maller made a good point: put on the list and people see it and order it. That is influence and it is real. (although it can be done by someone other than a sommelier such as a beverage director, etc.).

    I will say that I do enjoy sherry and I enjoying see it on lists more frequently, especially by the glass on dessert beverage lists.

  2. April 25, 2013

    Hi Mike -

    First, thanks for making the point that wine is small in the scheme of things.

    As the beverage director of a tapas bar in Durham, NC, I can tell you with out a doubt that “we” are making converts. We sell several cases of sherry each week but it isn’t because we are evangelistic about it. Sherry is proudly and prominently listed on the first page of our wine list so our guests cannot help but notice. We’ve found that people are eager to try sherry, and, once they try it with food, they are hooked. Will sherry reach the “Chardonnay guzzling masses” though? It might reach them but it will never reach that chardonnay status. Ordering chardonnay is too easy – many people will always do it out of habit. No matter how much sherry we sell, I doubt we’ll ever sell as much as we sell, for the lack of a better term, regular wine.

  3. April 25, 2013

    In the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada that is… I completely failed to mention that.

  4. April 25, 2013

    As the importer in Ontario of high-end sherries like Equipo Navazos, Fernando de Castillo and Barbadillo, we’ve had some success capitalizing on the new Sherry trend blowing over from the UK and NYC. A core group of sommeliers and chefs at some of the city’s top restaurants have recognized the value of sherry and are making an effort. Whether it is enough to see an overall increase in sherry consumption remains to be seen. In addition, with our government-controlled liquor monopoly we have other challenges in getting the general public access to good sherry, but slight progress is being made. I remain hopeful, although it seems like sherry will be a hand-sell and a definite niche-market for the foreseeable future…

  5. April 25, 2013

    Dave, that’s very interesting, and dovetails with Patrick’s comment. It sounds as if small, high-quality producers are the ones with the brightest prospects in a region that doesn’t have a particularly bright outlook at the moment. Hopefully, all this interest in the US can sustain producers like Maestro Sierra, Bodegas Tradicion, etc.

  6. April 25, 2013

    John, thanks very much for the comment; some great observations. I agree–the sherry boom, like the orange wine fad, is probably not going to extend much beyond the Hudson River or San Francisco Bay. But even so, all this attention in New York, San Francisco, etc., is a boon for some sherry producers, whose wines will undoubtedly win a permanent place on certain lists.

  7. Patrick Frank permalink
    April 25, 2013

    The new book on sherry by Peter Liem and Jesus Barquin, “Sherry, Manzanilla, and Montilla,” faces the problem of vanishing vineyards and diminishing interest head on. And they come to the conclusion that the sherry most likely to survive is the high-end type. Which, if it turns out to be true, will be good for us sherry lovers.

  8. April 25, 2013

    Howard, thanks for stopping by. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that you were so far ahead of the crowd on this one. I suppose the critical difference between now and 1998 is that sommeliers wield a lot more influence these days than they did 15 years ago, and also there is a new generation of wine enthusiasts who are much more receptive to offbeat/eclectic/esoteric wines than the previous generation.

  9. April 25, 2013

    Sherry may be coming into favor in among U.S. sommeliers, but it has problems at home. Sales in Spain are down. Vineyards are being converted to sunflower seed production. Manzanilla and Fino sherries are noticeably absent from fine-dining wine lists in Seville, replaced by fresh-tasting white Rueda, Albariño, and even Godello. Who would have imagined that temperature-controlled fermentation would result in Spaniards turning their backs on their country’s most distinctive wines? When I visited the La Cigarrera bodega in Sanlúcar, a lot of barrels had been removed to make space for a bar/restaurant.

    I hope that international interest in Sherry will provide enough volume for small producers like Ignacio Hidalgo and Doña Pilar (Maestro Sierra) to stay in business. Andre Tamers at De Maison Selections deserves credit for his “Sherry Revolution” campaign, as well as his efforts to have Manzanilla and Fino producers put “born on” dates on bottles.

  10. April 25, 2013

    Mike,

    The new wave of sherry appreciation, like other recent wine awakenings such as a growing interest in the wines from Jura, orange wines and the “new old-school” California movement, are spurred on by sommeliers and fine wine shops. However, their audience might be limited as most wine consumers will never get their hands on sherries other than Tio Pepe, Harvey’s and perhaps the occasional Lustau bottling. For those with access to the interesting and limited production sherries that are flooding the hip wine bars in wine cities like New York, the sherry “boom” has been revelatory as many experienced and curious wine drinkers didn’t know that these delicious and lesser known sherries existed. Will the interest in sherry within these circles subside or make it into the mainstream market? Doubtful wine drinkers in the suburbs of New Jersey or Connecticut will express the same interest in sherry as the wine cognoscenti of New York City, but the good news is that some of these wines have staying power on wine lists and shelves in wider markets. This news is uplifting as sherry is the perfect example of how preconceived notions of a category can be broken down and wine drinkers can enjoy delicious examples of style that was once reserved for their grandparents.

  11. Howard G. Goldberg permalink
    April 24, 2013

    Mike, although the recollection here is not immediately relevant to your question, I’ve been a sherry enthusiast for many years, as my New York Times bylines attest, and in 1998, when the paper introduced my long-running (now ceased) Sunday feature Wine Under $20, my symbolic choice for the opening wine of the opening piece was a manzanilla: http://nyti.ms/11RhXyB.

  12. April 24, 2013

    Donald, thanks for stopping by. That’s very interesting–I hadn’t realized that UK sommeliers were aboard the sherry bandwagon, too. Good point about Spanish restaurants, and I suspect that’s helping gin up interest here in the US, as well–the whole tapas thing is certainly conducive to sherry consumption.

  13. April 24, 2013

    Over here (UK) the sommelier led push for sherry seems to have finally borne fruit, with all my non wine friends now very enthused about drinking it. Though I think it’s been more to do with a succession of very good Spanish restaurants opening…

  14. April 24, 2013

    I don’t think they even hit any singles with orange wines. That was a Brooklyn/Lower East Side thing. There are indeed trend-makers and tastemakers, and sommeliers certainly seem to be performing that function these days. But sherry is a much tougher sell than, say, Gruner, and it will be interesting to see if the somms, with some help from a few wine writers, can help sherry gain a true toehold in the American market.

  15. Dan McCallum permalink
    April 24, 2013

    Ahh, but my point is not so much that there are trend-chasers, but that there are trend-makers. And, here and now in the 21st Century, their power is more leveraged than ever before. The Somms will sell some Sherry from venues far beyond their restaurants, and will continue that until the next big thing. Acquired taste? What was ‘Orange Wine’? They didn’t hit any home runs with that one, but a few singles here and there sufficed to win the post-Gruner game, until the switch to Sherry.

  16. April 24, 2013

    Hi Dan, thanks for the comment. Yes, there are trend-chasers in fashion, food, etc. I’m sure there are trend-chasers in wine, too, but I think it’s much more limited. Something like natural wines can generate a lot of chatter among the Kool Kids, industry insiders, and wine writers, but how much of that chatter filters out to the general public and encourages ordinary wine drinkers to seek out natural wines? I suspect very little. I’m sure the sommeliers have won some converts to sherry, but probably not many. And in contrast to, say, Gruner, I think sherry is a much tougher sell–it is truly an acquired taste.

  17. Dan McCallum permalink
    April 24, 2013

    Mike,
    To answer the question directly, yes they win converts. The same converts previously won by Gruner Veltliner, then by Txakoli, etc. Which is not to denigrate those wines, nor Sherry, just that there is a part of the wine populace that wants a part of what is presented as fashionable and trending. Soon enough it is fashionable and trending, and this phenomonon is hardly peculiar to wine.

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