Time to take a punt on Sherry

Sherry has been the project of ambitious wine sellers, wine writers and enthusiasts the world over but for some reason it's just never taken off

Wine importers Febvre have made a leap of faith by taking on a new range of sherries. Sherry is a wine which has seen an inexorable decline in its export markets. The cash cow is still branded cream sherry, dominated by Harveys Bristol Cream, A Winter’s Tale and Croft Pale Cream.

Efforts to promote sherry have had mixed success. Recent sales drives promoting sherry with tapas did draw attention to the product but it seems to have been a casualty of the economic slowdown. In the USA, a promotion last year saw sales increasing from 320,000 litres to 480,000; interestingly, and encouragingly, the biggest single rise was in the amontillado category.

Marketers have recently been promoting Harvey’s as a long drink, with lemonade, fruit and ice. This is based on research indicating that 78% of those who had been offered it had enjoyed this drink experience. No doubt; but this promotion may be directed toward a somewhat fickle audience and hard won sales may not stick. There is evidence that progress is being made in sherry’s niche markets of fino, manzanilla, amontillado and oloroso. These dry styles are not a quick fix but they are quality products and the taste for them, once acquired, is hard to shake off. At present, given the expense of their production methods, they do not really deliver a satisfactory profit margin to makers but if a steady growth in their markets were achieved, increased demand could support some price rises.

It is against this background that Febvre has taken up the challenge presented by Valdivia, and its range of independently produced quality sherries. Export director Tim Holt doesn’t look old enough to have spent 20 years in the sherry business, but so it is. He paid a flying visit to Dublin recently to attend sales meetings with some Irish retailers and I managed to catch him in transit.

“We are actually pretty pleased with ourselves,” he told me. “Valdivia is the first new sherry house since the 1970s and all styles are being produced. However, I think the best long-term future is in manzanilla and fino and we are also focusing on a Pedro Ximenez dessert wine. We are targeting a slightly younger consumer and encouraging them to think of fino and manzanilla as food wines.”

He appreciates the need for hand selling and that retailers may need to be supported in that. “In the UK we tended to focus on bars and other outlets that show an interest in sherry. Often staff need education in the product, that it’s best bought in half bottles, kept in the fridge, that fino and manzanilla be used soon after opening, that it can be served with food, especially canapes, nuts, salted foods and various starter courses. In fact, fino and manzanilla should be treated pretty much as a regular white wine.”

Holt also sees amontillado as a “snack” wine, excellent with appetisers. It will keep for longer than fino after opening (but use within a couple of weeks), and oloroso, an oxidative style, will keep significantly longer again.

Febvre have the dry wines in stock now, as well as the Pedro Ximenez sticky. All will be ideal bottles for the run up to Christmas, with the Pedro Ximinez the perfect companion for winter and Christmas puddings – not to speak of its merits when dashed over some vanilla ice cream!

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