As objective as we wine critics like to consider ourselves, the fact is that we all have our coups de coeur and our bêtes noires. I confess that until last year, although I didn't actively dislike sherry as such, I was in the take-it-or-leave-it camp.
I had already been to Jerez a couple of times and discovered that despite its old-fashioned image, sherry is one of the most complex cask-aged alcoholic drinks in the world. I particularly remember the famous sherry bodega of Hidalgo in the pretty Atlantic coastal town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, and not just for watching the owner Javier Hildalgo pounding along the beach as 5-1 favourite on his mount, Quiet Jaldun, in the annual seaside horseracing feria.
Showing me around the cool bodega, the venenciador, serving manzanilla from the cask, pulled out sherry after sherry of different vintages from the solera that made up Hidalgo's bestselling brand, La Gitana. Ladling it into the long-handled, curved steel venencia and deftly pouring it from a great height into my little sherry copita, he offered me the chance to do the same, whereupon I poked the venencia through the yeasty white duvet of flor that protects the sherry as it ages in cask, lifted it to a great height – and succeeded in pouring it all over my shoes.
Then last year, Gonzalez Byass celebrated its 175th anniversary with a first-ever, limited production of 175 cases of its Tio Pepe en rama. En rama is lightly filtered, unclarified fino taken from the middle of the cask during spring when the flor yeast is at its thickest; it should be drunk while the wine is at its very freshest.
I bought six bottles and couldn't get enough of its bone-dry, savoury-salted caramel tang. The launch was so successful that Gonzalez Byass have bottled a second lot of en rama and launched it on Thursday, at around £13, at independents such as Lea & Sandeman (020-7244 0522), The Wine Society (01438 741177), Adnams (01502 727272), Berry Bros (0800 280 2440), Tanners (01743 234500) and The Hanging Ditch (0161 832 8222).
Others have followed suit with en rama launches of their own, notably Equipe Navajos, which you'll find at independent wine merchants and in tapas bars such as Abel Lusa's recently launched London restaurant Capote y Toros. The explosion of sherry and tapas bars in the capital – with new bars Pepito and the Opera Tavern to be followed by ventures from Brindisa's Jose Pizarro in Bermondsey and Iberica in Canary Wharf – makes them the perfect place to enjoy refreshing fino and manzanilla sherries. But also for the more complex, darker styles of amontillado and palo cortado, such as the nutty Sánchez Romate Maribel Amontillado, £7.50, The Wine Society, and the complex, dried-fruits-rich Sánchez Romate Cayetano del Pino Cortado Viejisimo, £20, half-bottle, The Wine Society.
If you can't get along to one of the new tapas bars springing up right now, get in some manzanilla olives, salted almonds and a few wafer-thin slices of Iberico ham and enjoy with one of the excellent-value sherries widely available. The most summery style is fino and manzanilla, as in Tesco's Finest Fino and Manzanilla, £5.29, and Marks & Spencer's savoury Fino Pale Dry Sherry, £5.99, from Williams and Humbert (williams-humbert.com). Equally, Laithwaites' tangy Lustau Puerto Fino Sherry, £9.99, Laithwaites, the smoky, nutty Solera Jerezana Fino del Puerto Sherry, £8.19, Waitrose, are sensational appetite-whetters.Reuse content