06 Sep JEREZ SHOULD GIVE THANKS
It cannot be denied; wine is the new rock and Sherry is the new star, the David Bowie of wine, reborn after a long period of lethargy to finally be acclaimed as the King of rock, the King of wines.
There are good wines in many parts of the world, because advances in viticulture and oenology, the study and the improvements in technology have made it possible that up to a certain point, man has been able to master the environment, battle the vine pests, minimize the climate risks and to select and take full advantage of the grape varieties best suited to the different resources.
But there is a small group of wines which are exceptional, which are so because they emerge in regions where viticulture or wine production is very difficult, or simply because a series of factors come together which result in wines which are unrepeatable, impossible to reproduce in other parts of the planet where this conjunction of circumstances does not exist.
The wine of Jerez, Sherry, is the greatest of the wines that have ever been produced in Spain; it is unrepeatable, as is Champagne or the Port wines of Oporto, regarding Port wines, this was so in the case of those long matured, incredible Vintages, Tawny Ports and LBV which melted in the mouth. Now, money rules and the producers of the Douro have taken to flooding the market with inferior sweet wines for the Grannies to have with their pastries or reds that scratch more than a pan scourer.
The wine of Jerez is a great wine because it is unique in style, strength and complexity. Many of them are great wines which no other wine can eclipse, born in unique circumstances: climate, soil, production and history. The climate in the Marco de Jerez, -the area circumscribed by the nine towns which make up the D.O.- pretends to be dry, but because of one unique factor it is not: it comes under the influence of two seas. The Atlantic, with its Poniente wind brings freshness and humidity furthering the growth of the vines, and the Mediterranean with its Levante wind provides those dry winds so necessary for the maturation of the grapes.
The best soils are those of “albariza” a type of chalky soil with a high calcium content and as white as snow, they retain the humidity below the surface so that life can be nurtured in the driest moments of the year. The quality of the albariza soils was described by the Romans two thousand years ago.
Finally, the production, for which Man has had to prepare for centuries, how to manage the native yeasts which here come to life and form on the wine in cellars whose features have nothing in common with any other cellar in the world. In Jerez, the windows of the cellars are covered with sack cloth instead of glass and the floors with albero sand instead of concrete or resin. All this together with the old casks create an environment in which the wines are formed and where they mature. The wine of Jerez is the great blended wine, from wines which are blended one with another year after year, in the same barrel so that over time they become complex, expressive and rounded.
Yes, friends, finally Sherry triumphs, but it’s easy to follow the fashion now that it’s been blessed by the High Priests of gastronomy, those that are constantly searching for new heroes who last as long as a tweet
Sherries are the new rock star, and their rise is unstoppable because although they are difficult to describe they are easy to drink and versatile like none other in gastronomy. Finos, manzanillas, olorosos, palos cortados, dulces or amontillados, a family which adapts to any palate and can accompany practically any dish. In fact, Sherries dare to take on food which is actually anti-wine, fried dishes, fatty, vinegary, spicy and acidic, they take them on, trap them, neutralize them with the delicacy and flexibility of their textures, Just as a fly is trapped by a spider’s web.
The Jerez wines have always stirred passions, from the Phoenicians to the present day passing for the Romans, who sent back to Rome a wine which was nothing like the present wine, but which was created in those same albariza soils. The wines of Jerez were sold in England from the XII century, and were for centuries the most admired, so much so that many of the traders set up in Jerez leaving their mark which persists today, recognizable in surnames such as Garvey, Humbert, and Williams. In 1587 Sir Francis Drake attacked the city of Cadiz and carried off three thousand casks of wine; now that is a real pirate, which is how he is regarded by the Spanish, and not the over the top caricature played by Johnny Depp. Shakespeare mentions Sherry in many of his plays, and everybody should read Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado a story which shows the importance of Sherry in 19th century England.
People are going crazy about Sherry, there are theme bars in New York and Tokyo, areas reserved in the best restaurants, Japanese who come here to learn how to use the venencia –a small cylindrical steel cup at the end of a long flexible shaft, traditionally made of whalebone which is used to pull the Sherry directly from the barrel to the glass -, the greatest gastronomic gurus talk and write about the prodigious wine in the best magazines of the sector, there are congresses, meetings and themed tastings all organized around Sherry. Social media is alive with the photos and comments of the wine freaks; everyone wants to be trending, super cool, and mega cute showing off the latest sherry tried, or being one of the exclusive guests at the Fashion Sherry Super-cool Meeting of Piluca…
Yes, friends, finally Sherry triumphs, but it’s easy to follow the fashion now that it’s been blessed by the high priests of gastronomy, those that are constantly searching for new heroes that last as long as a tweet. You don’t have to look further than what’s happening with the chefs: Madrid needs a new chef superhero who can take on the Catalan and Basque super-villains and the high priests whip out from under their sleeves this guy with a mohawk who says pretty strange things. Before there were other candidates to be the Madrid super-hero chef, but because they were good boys who didn’t swear or get dirty, they took the super-apron away from them and sent them off to Krypton to grind saffron. I guess Madrid’s new super-hero chef will soon shit in his own kitchen as an example of an extreme performance of the molecular deconstruction of wild hare with rice.
Yes, finally Sherry has triumphed, but it wasn’t always like that; it wasn’t so long ago that Sherry, the wine of Jerez was neither elegant nor modern, and many identified it as a drink for the elderly and the toffs, associating it with an image of Spain both archaic and right wing What happened to Sherry is what is happening in the present day to the Brandy of Jerez, to Cognac, to Calvados and to Armagnac; now almost nobody drinks them despite them being almost always exquisitely distilled from excellent raw materials – apples, grapes- added to the number of years of aging that is needed for their maturation. Instead of this people prefer to get plastered on the mostly crappy gins and vodkas that the high priests of the scene try to ram down their throats. But of course these junk tipples made by distilling cellulose or in the best cases potatoes or beets, cost the earth to buy and are dirt cheap to make, so they leave a lot of dough along the way…..
Fortunately, during the dark times, many people were working both inside and outside Jerez to avoid the extinction of these wonderful wines. Inside Jerez were the winegrowers and winery owners, proud of their heritage; and outside were those who never stopped believing that Sherry was our most exclusive wine.
At last Sherry is triumphing, of course it is, but it wasn’t always like this. There was a time, not so long ago, when they almost laughed at you if you said the Sherry was one of the great wines- another day we’ll talk about the classic Riojas- , or the director of a wine guide would tell you that you didn’t need to score a Sherry so high, “because later nobody drinks these wines, nobody’s interested in them”. There was a time, and not so long ago when your boss looked at you suspiciously if you included in the wine collection of the shop or the restaurant where you were working a sherry that cost 2,500 pesetas the bottle- and in case we’ve forgotten 2,500 pesetas are 15 Euros-, and there were times when many in the Jerez wineries gave up on Sherry, but thoroughly trained their sales teams to sell other drinks which they imported from outside Spain; gins, basic whiskeys or soft drinks, which they bought dirt cheap and sold for a fortune.
It was not so long ago, that many of those who now strut their stuff and proclaim themselves the guarantors of the treasures of Jerez, tore up vineyards and exhausted the stocks of some of the best wines, selling them off at giveaway prices or mixing them with other wines of terrible quality to create something which they sold to the grannies to accompany their pastries or to the stall holders who then mixed it with soft drinks and sold it for a fortune. A sweet deal for all but paid for through the destruction of Sherry.
Fortunately, during the dark times, many people were working both inside and outside Jerez to avoid the extinction of these wonderful wines. Inside Jerez were the winegrowers and winery owners, proud of their heritage; and outside were those who never stopped believing that Sherry was our most exclusive wine and one of the great wines in the world. People who never stopped drinking Sherry and wine professionals who swam against the tide when the easy way out was go for those other wines that the high Priests insisted on ramming down our throats. Defenders of Sherry such as Lorenzo Dueñas, Pepe Iglesias and Augusto Berutich, who less than two decades ago had a shop in Madrid where he sold hundreds of examples of Sherry, the greatly missed Cava de Estrecho; which in its time went both unnoticed and unsung, but which today would be a place of pilgrimage for fans of Sherry. Also Paz Ivison and Paco del Castillo, a gentleman who through his teachings has transmitted his knowledge of and passion for sherry to generations of wine tasters and other wine professionals, whilst asking for little in return.
Sherry is the new rock star, and now it’s where it should be, I believe that it would be good if the world of Sherry gave thanks to those who from outside stood by Sherry when the High Priests of business and booze looked the other way. It wouldn’t hurt to help many more people to understand and to value Sherry. In times like these when rock stars fall like ninepins; Sherry’s position must be upheld.
Meanwhile, you, dear readers, go to a good wine store, one of those that doesn’t appear to think it’s selling underpants and actually gives advice to its clients, there you should buy a bottle of Sherry, cheap or expensive, it doesn’t matter, open it and think about Francis Drake. You won’t regret it.