Sherry is not just for Santa and grandmas

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sherry

Rumours are growing that Sherry, a favourite with Santa and
medieval kings but for years confined to the dark corners of old
peoples' drinks cabinets, is once again on the march.

Sherry, taking its name from the Jerez region of Spain where it is made, goes hand-in-hand with Christmas in Britain. Jerezians were reportedly sending bottles over as early as the 12th Century, and it has clung to its place in the national fabric ever since.

Long before Santa Claus got his kit sponsored by Coca-Cola, he became one of sherry's most high profile ambassadors, traditionally taking a tipple with a mince pie at each house he visited.

Another is Alexander Flemming, discoverer of penicillin, who said Sherry was the only thing he knew of that could raise human beings from the dead.

My Grandma, who is of an age she would not thank me for mentioning here, also loves a glass of Sherry. But, despite such an eminent list of backers, talk of a Sherry-fuelled night out would probably spark at least a giggle from most people born this side of 1950.

The truth is, liking sherry has become a bit of a dirty secret. Sales have been in decline for decades in Britain, sparking fears the traditional Spanish tipple had finally 'lost it' in what remains its biggest export market.

What most do not know, however, is that Sherry's revival may be just around the corner.

"The fortified wine category is crying out for innovation,"​ said Clare Griffiths, vice president of brand marketing at wine giant Constellation Europe, recently.

A female friend in her twenties, who knows her 'claret from her beaujolais', told me: "Traditional drinks like port are becoming cool again. Maybe it's because people like the idea of being a gentleman."

There may be something in this. A new marketing push by the Sherry Institute of Spain, entitled 'the perfect serve', plans to get quality, affordable Sherry into UK pubs and restaurants in 2007.

Spurred on by a 10 per cent fall in exports to Britain between 2004 and 2005, the Institute is aiming to bracket Sherries more as an extension of wine, rather than as an entirely separate entity.

Dry Sherries, such as Manzanilla and Fino, are ahead of the pack, according to a report in this month's Decanter​ magazine.

"Good Sherry is underrated and undervalued,"​ David Wrigley, of the UK-based Wine & Spirit Education Trust, told​. He agreed that 'real Sherries' were the unsweetened kind.

"They offer immense variety, from the instantly appetising zestiness of a yeasty fino to the dark, rich, nutty complexity of an oloroso. Just ask anyone in the wine trade - in terms of the quality you get for the money you pay it's one of our little secrets."

And, the evidence suggests Sherry is good for you. No, really, it's all about polyphenols, the same things that are believed to make moderate amounts of red wine and dark chocolate beneficial for your heart.

All four types of Sherry tested, Oloroso, Manzanilla, Fino and Amontillado, reduced overall cholesterol levels and increased 'good' HDL cholesterol in rats, in a study by the University of Seville.

That could offer Sherry makers a good way into the mindsets of health-conscious consumers, particularly in light of a newly published book, The Wine Diet, which is based on a growing body of evidence linking polyphenols and heart health.

And let's face it, if cider can come back from the alcohol graveyard, there's no reason why Sherry can't. Grandmas everywhere could be facing stiffer competition in 2007, and Santa may need to be a little quicker off the mark.

The London-based Wine & Spirit Education Trust runs sherry tasting qualifications from Intermediate to Diploma levels and also hosts consumer evenings as part of its Gastronomy Series. The next evening will take place in March.

Related topics: R&D

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