I’m ashamed to admit that despite 27 years in the wine industry I had never visited the Jerez wine region. This has now been corrected and I can’t express enough the pleasure I have derived from seeing at first hand at seeing this historic place.
I’m acutely aware of the image that sherry has…. I can safely say that any preconceptions/concerns were blown away over the last three days.
While there’s no question that sherry’s heyday was 100 years ago followed by various mini-rennaissances and downturns, sherry went downhill in the 80s and has to seriously rethink.
There has been a lot of consolidation and many producers have gone out of business, but the sherry industry has emerged smaller, more compact, and highly focussed on challenging and changing the traditional views/prejudices. There has been some dramatic growth in global sherry consumption over the last decade.
Sherry had become more fashionable, education has become a core activity of the industry body, and its recent success has been fuelled by mixologists, greater awareness among sommeliers and the success of sherry being paired with sushi. Japan is the fastest growing market for sherry as a result.
Another area of development has been the promotion of the designations VOS (Vinum Optimum Signatum, or more helpfully, Very Old Sherry) and VORS (as before but with the addition of ‘Rare’), which are becomin important in showcasing the high quality that long-matured sherry can attain.
On our recce visit in advance of the tours I am running this October, Fliss and I visited traditional producers such as Valdespino and Lustau, as well as more recent entrants such as La Constancia, which has enjoyed a lot of success locally. Everywhere we went we met young producers (some from very old families) who were engaged, passionate and very enthusiastic about the future. And willing to experiment – Luis Perez, for example has submerged wine bottles encased in clay in the sea to see how their contents evolve.
A fascinating and relatively new bodega is Tradition who specialise in VOS and VORS wines, many sourced during sherry’s last downturn, and also have a staggering collection of Spanish art including Velasquez, El Greco and Picasso.
In Sanlúcar de Barrameda we had an intriguing visit a Hidalgo La Gitana, where we tasted Manzanilla from barrel, and truly understood the concept of how these wines ‘grow’, and gain their character, from the conditions in the cellar. We drove the triangle of Jerez, Sanlúcar and Puerta de Santa Maria, in glorious sunshine, and decided that there is no question that Jerez is the place to stay. The town of Jerez is pretty, vibrant, with lovely squares and fountains and great tapas culture. It metaphorically and literally breathed sherry – sherry is at the heart of the city. We found a wonderful mix of traditional and innovative tapas in the bars, and several great restaurants.
My October tours will be a fantastic opportunity to discover the delights of the world of sherry, and its homeland.