The UK’s love affair with sherry is long-standing and deep-rooted – Shakespeare is just one of countless British luminaries who refer to it in their writing with great affection- so why has it fallen from favour in recent years and is it true that a comeback is finally just around the corner?
Beginning at the beginning, there are records dating as far back as the 12th century of shipments of wine to the British Isles from ‘Sherish’, the Moorish name for the town of Jerez de la Frontera, in the heart of the ‘Sherry Triangle’. However, it took almost 100 years before the trade began in earnest, when the Spanish king, Alfonso X- having reclaimed the city from the Moors- entered into a bartering agreement with the English king, Henry I, to promote their respective national products: English wool for Spanish sherry wine. Business boomed and the Jerez vineyards became such an important source of wealth for the Spanish kingdom that a royal decree in 1402 prohibited the uprooting of even a single vine.
The export of sherry gave rise to some of the leading characteristics of this style of wine, notably fortification with grape spirit to prevent spoiling during lengthy sea voyages and, later, the unique ageing method known as the Solera system, which ensured a product that was consistent in quality and flavour year after year. Before long, sherry had become so popular in the UK that, as with port, British companies were setting up home in the region to oversee production. In 1796 an importer by the name of Harveys was established, before going on to blend and launch one of the enduring sherry brands in the UK market: Harveys Bristol Cream.
To this day, sweeter styles of sherry, such as the chestnut-hued Harveys Bristol Cream or the pale cream Croft Original, account for 85% of sherry consumption in the UK, though tastes are changing as younger consumers turn away from sweeter drinks in favour of crisper, fresher alternatives- nowhere to be seen more clearly than in the stratospheric rebirth of gin. Spain is, in fact, Europe’s leading market for gin, their elaborate ‘gintonic’ culture is an inspiration- but Spain has also how succeeded the UK as the largest single market for sherry, and it’s on the rise. The reason? Some 85% of sherry consumed in Spain is dry: bone dry finos and manznillas.
Fino sherry, like its cousin manzanilla, has all the hallmarks of a contemporary classic here in the UK too. A food-loving, appetite-whetting wine, it pairs brilliantly with traditional bar snacks such as nuts, olives and charcuterie, as well as heartier staples such as fish and chips and risotto. Naturally low in residual sugars (comparable to champagne), which appeals to the growing body of health conscious consumers, it is also far lower in alcohol than most consumers think, at 15% ABV.
The UK’s changing relationship with alcohol is demonstrated by the increasing number of drinkers looking for low- or no-alcohol options. As a fortified wine that is more robust that most white table wines, sherry, in general, and fino, in particular, can offer their services to a large number of fun and more elaborate low-alcohol spritz options. Soda, tonic, lemonade and ginger ale all work brilliantly with fino, and look delicious when properly garnished.
It’s still early days, but the tide is definitely turning as more and more younger consumers wise up to the richness of sherry, it’s history and its pedigree, but most of all its versatility.
By Beanie Geraedts-Espey
This extract is from The Good Pub Guide 2019. Get your copy here