Anthony Rose: When it comes to sherry, the vicar's legacy endures here in the UK

 

Is sherry growing in popularity, or is the much-vaunted revolution a myth? This was the subject of a lively debate on Twitter recently, after one journalist tweeted to say he was appearing on the radio to talk about its growing popularity and another (OK, for the record, me) questioned the assumption.

On the face of it, the statistics are depressing. Sherry sales fell by 9 per cent in the UK last year and by 8 per cent worldwide. Those of us who trumpet the virtues of the refreshing dry styles beloved of the Spanish have to face the fact that here in the UK, the vicar's legacy endures: sales of pale cream, medium and cream sherries outstrip sales of fino and manzanilla by six to one. No wonder we're ambivalent about one of the world's great-value drinks.

There's encouragement, though, for those of us whose mouths water at the thought of a dry fino or manzanilla. Responding to the Twitter debate, both Waitrose and The Wine Society tweeted that their sherry sales were up over the past year. What's more, the proliferation of Spanish tapas bars in the UK has encouraged people to drink the finer-bodied sherries with a broad range of dishes.

The more forward-looking bodegas of Jerez are also innovating, adding modern twists to traditional recipes. En rama, for instance, has caught on big time: it is unfiltered and dry in style, making it particularly vital and fresh.

At the forefront of the change is the prestigious firm of González Byass, which launched its new Palmas fino range here two years ago. Most recently, it also released an extraordinary, limited-edition range of rare vintage sherries. Master blender Antonio Flores came to London last month to introduce six sherries from 1994-1967, on sale at Selfridges, and at the Connaught by the glass. The 1994 Palo Cortado, £155, was the youngest. It is a fragrant sherry with an intense toffee-richness turning to dried apricot and orange before finishing with a nutty dryness. The star turn, though, was the 1978 Palo Cortado, £199, an almost unbelievably complex sherry which is rich in violets, spices and a caramel nuttiness.

Obviously at prices like these, the wines are a rare treat for the well-to-do aficionado. If you want to see how undervalued sherry actually is though, try drinking the iodiney and refreshingly dry Sánchez Romate Bella Luna Fino, around £5.95, half, Great Western Wine, Bottle Apostle, Whalley Wine; the smoky, richly sweet-savoury, dry Fernando de Castilla en rama, around £9.99, half, Woodwinters, D Byrne, Noel Young Wines, Corks of Cotham; or the toffee and dried apricot-rich Pedro's Almacenista Selection Palo Cortado, £14.99, Majestic.

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