Is sherry’s retro image ripe for a makeover? On public radio’s Marketplace

retro chic ornot
In August, I dropped by the Manhattan studio of the public radio show Marketplace studio and chatted with reporter Caitlin Carroll about sherry. She was interested in it since apparently the Sherry Promotional Council has a $1 million promotional effort under way to rehab the drink’s retro image. The story aired yesterday (listen here) saying that part of the campaign involves putting sherry in the hands of sommeliers and chefs to get people pouring the drink again.

The following weekend, I tried exactly that. We met up with some college friends at a Rhode Island home just a stone’s throw from the ocean. I brought several bottles of wine and threw in a bottle of Lustau fino that I had picked up at Astor Wine to try out on the guinea pigs–er, our friends. The hors d’oeuvres included some crab cakes but no marcona almonds, which are a great match.

The wine was universally panned. One guy wouldn’t even taste it saying, “It reminds me of my grandmother.” It then flooded him with memories of his grandmother and he regaled us with tales from his youth. But he still wouldn’t taste it. “Is there any Sauvignon Blanc?” someone else asked. Another guy soldiered on and almost finished his glass. Surprisingly, the crab cakes didn’t help the situation.

What do you think? Is sherry, the darling of wine writers and some sommeliers, poised to be retro chic or remain simply retro? Some of you have recommended a fino here in food pairings, such as gazpacho. Food really is key. Assuming people will even try it.

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21 Responses to “Is sherry’s retro image ripe for a makeover? On public radio’s Marketplace”


  1. What I’d like explained is why Lustau is so ubiquitous in the US when it’s such a generally mediocre brand …


  2. Sherry goes really, really well with sushi.

    As for why Lustau is so ubiquitous, I’d be thrilled to hear about a better sherry that’s available in that price range.


  3. equal parts fresh cheese, olive and sardine, all on a cracker


  4. As a keen Sherry (and real flamenco) fan, I think there are some aspects of the Sherry trade’s efforts to increase sales that are no the best thought out.
    After the “collapse” of RUMASA the trade went into freefall, with sales declining substantially; this led to a series of mergers and the disappearance or subsuming of some great old names.
    But, as the Sherry market has been declining for 40 years or so, the net result was that production was fairly close to demand and the prices fetched for wines were more in line with intrinsic quality. Trying to boost sales is not going to happen without downward price pressure which, I feel, is not a good thing.
    In terms of converting people to Sherry you need the following – knowledgeable trade (the trade generally treats Sherry appallingly badly), a dedicated (but smallish) consumer base, and a willingness on all sides to experiment. This is not easy to achieve.
    To get your mates to really love Sherry you have to get them to Jerez – in 1997 I was there for a flamenco course, with 80 women and 2 other men, none of whom was interested in wine or Sherry. By the end of the week, they were all walking out to the plane with clinking bags of finos, olorosos, dulces and vinegars and all looking forward to enjoying them when they got home. It is one of the few wines that really must be seen in its environment to be fully appreciated.
    As for Lustau, one of the finest houses with some of the best wines, recently bought by Luis Caballero, who is an excellent businessman as well as a great winemaker – I love them.


  5. Gonzalez Byass makes some outstanding sherries. I recently wrote a short piece about sherry in general, and their sherries, at http://www.chowmaineguide.com. And interesting that the sherry taster said that it brought back memories of his grandmother. I subtitled my story: “Not your grandmothers’ cream sherry.”


  6. I think Sherry is an acquired taste – and someday I may force myself to like it, especially after watching Grape Radio’s enticing video: http://www.graperadio.com/archives/2009/08/24/the-wines-of-jerez-part-1/


  7. I like sherry, but it took me a long time to warm up to it. I don’t know if Port-Madeira-Sherry is the best route, but it can help ease someone into the product.

    It might also help to ease in through things like a splash of sherry in soup, or the use of sherry vinegar in a dish…

    How much lighter red wine do you have to drink before you can get really excited about a bottle that smells like a barn and tastes like tobacco?


  8. I recently completed a 3 day Spanish wine course in which I was exposed to Sherry. I was so pleasantly surprised that I bought a couple of books about the history of Sherry and will be actively searching for it in stores and restaurants. I drink a lot of wine and had all of my misperceptions blown away from a tasting of Sherry. I’m sure others would do the same.


  9. Yep, food is key with sherry. I love a nice fino with olives, hard cheese or small fried fish.


  10. I’m not sure I would haves started with fino. It’s kind of a challenge. I’ve had pretty good luck introducing people to Amontillado, which I think is more accessible.

    That said, I don’t know how Sherry makes a comeback. It’s definitely a learned taste, and most people don’t have the will to learn. It also is hopelessly attached to its (perhaps undeserved) effete image.

    Still, fashions come and go. Who knows what the future holds? Maybe there’ll be a hit movie where the hero waxes poetic about Sherry, and the next thing you know everybody’s drinking it. It worked for Pinot Noir.


  11. Well, I don’t know if sherry is going to sweep the nation, but there is a little movement here in San Francisco. I’m beginning to see sherry more often by the glass in certain places, and there is one restaurant in particular called La Gitane that is very devoted to it. They offer 20+ sherries by the glass and a rotating sherry sampler. My guess is that there may be a mini-comeback for the drink spurred by foodie cities like mine. How long it’ll take (or last) is anybody’s guess.


  12. In San Francisco, Gitane is the first stop on my Spanish Wine/Food walking tour called TapasWalk. I tell people to try a sip of Fino by itself and then try it again after a bite of Gitane’s Sardinas en Escabeche. Often the first sip makes them grimace (no fruit character, oxidized aromas, low acidity…just what you don’t want in most wines) but after a bite of food the second sip makes their eyes light up and the smiles spread across their faces. Not for nothing is this the original Tapas wine. Context is everything here.


  13. Sherry is indeed an acquired taste. And for those who make the effort a whole other world. The sherries from Lustau are first class by any measure and the fino excellent, but probably the most subject to issues like storage and freshness of the bottling. Anyone who has sat by the sea at Sanlucar eating fresh prawns and drinking fresh fino will know what I mean. Those who have any doubt about sherry should go and buy a bottle of a good Palo Cortado, a sherry mid point between a fine oloroso and amontillado. Then tell me your wine palates aren’t aroused. These are great wines swamped by the trend to dry wines, both drinking and press coverage. Do yourselves a favour and try a sherry before a meal. You may, like I do occasionally, drink the stuff through a meal, fitting the food to the wine.


  14. I really like the sherries of gutierrez colosia. since I’m in switzerland, I checked if they have a distributor for the states: here you go: http://www.gutierrezcolosia.com/distribuidores_ingles.html
    I think Lustau are solid products. I don’t drink wine from the same producer all the time, so why do that with sherry. it’s probably best to try out different brands.


  15. Interesting comment by Ms Drinkwell. A similar thing seems to be happening in London. I went to Kensington Wine Rooms recently and they had a great selection of Sherries to go with their Starter/Tapas menu.


  16. my husband and i had sherry for the first time at a tapas bar in san francisco two days ago. i was curious about it and tried it–both of us loved it! the waiter, an old spanish man, guided us to a few good pours for the dishes we had and they complemented them extremely well. however, i liked the taste alone, too.

    i was looking for information and stumbled on this article–interesting! we’ll be looking out for sherry in our home town (austin).


  17. Reworking the perception could be a start. People such as your friend and the tales of his grandmother are a lost cause. There’s no point changing his mind because he can’t. However, in a time where Millennials are just beginning to explore, where much of everything remains new, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have their first impression of Sherry differ from your friend.


  18. A lot of it just perception, that whole grandmother thing is way too common – of course part of the problem is that sherry is often left sitting around once opened and goes bad – yet still gets served, both at home and in restaurants. Personally, I love the stuff when it’s fresh (in particular finos and manzanillas), i.e., from a recently opened bottle. We’ve even planned dinners around it, and I’ve done that at other restaurants as well.

    http://www.saltshaker.net/20080707/hitting-the-sack


  19. Certainly Tio Pepe is always a nice place to start. San Domingo is good, too, when you can find it. I learned to drink sherry when I was a student in Madrid 20 years ago and if people here and now don’t like, that’s all the more for the rest of us, right? Seriously folks, there’s no better way to transport yourself to a smoky old bar in an ancient Castillian plaza mayor than to drink a small glass of fino and munch on some garlicky olives.


  20. I’ll second the recomendation for Tio Pepe, served nice and cold. But again, freshness is key. I brought a bottle with me on a vacation to our cottage, served it with crab cakes and it was delicious. The bottle says it will keep for about a month, but I finished the bottle with another dish a few weeks later and it was definately starting to go. Fresh is key, cold is better, and food makes all the difference.


  21. Even with my adventurous palate it took me a couple of times to turn on to sherry. Starting with Tio Pepe Fino was tough, it wasn’t until I had a Palo Cortado that I figured it out. I’m hooked now though.


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