A few months ago there was a tasting in one of London’s top Indian restaurants. For someone brought up on drinking lager with a curry, the thought of sherry as an accompaniment to spicy food was intriguing to say the least.
The lunch and tasting at the Cinnamon Club, close to London’s Houses of Parliament, was in honour of the new president of the Denominations of Origin ‘Jerez-Xérès-Sherry’ and ‘Manzanilla – Sanlúcar de Barrameda’ (Consejo Regulador) – the governing body of sherry. The organisation represents and looks after the interests of sherry producers in Spain’s south western corner and protects the name of one of the world’s most famous fortified wines.
Beltran Domecq is different, as his name suggests, from his five predecessors, who were either bureaucrats or politicians. Cynically, for some it was probably more of a sinecure than real job. But Domecq is a winemaker and his surname more than hints at a rich heritage and highly relevant parentage.
His great-grandfather on his mother’s side was from the Williams & Humbert family, another famous name in sherry. On his father’s side, the Domecq family fled the French Revolution and ended up in Jerez, the home of true sherry.
Pedro Domecq is possibly best known for commercialising Fundador in 1874, the first Spanish brandy brand.
The Domecq business was eventually swallowed by the British food and drinks giant Allied-Lyons, to form Allied Domecq. That in turn was carved up by Pernod Ricard and Beam in 2005 with the Domecq part of the business going to the American company.
Domecq’s father’s mother was a Gonzalez, as in Gonzalez Byass, the company which is probably doing the most to put sherry back on modern wine drinkers’ repertoire.
“I was brought up drinking sherry,” Domecq says. “There is sherry in my blood. These days there are not many who claim that.”
Summer holidays were spent visiting famous wine grape-producing regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cognac and California. Domecq starts to quote Falstaff’s famous eulogy about sherry, or sack as it was once called, from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2 (see panel). “As an eight-year-old I had to learn it off by heart,” he says.
So it is no wonder the Consejo Regulador of Jerez was unanimous in making Domecq its next president. The man is a sherry thoroughbred. “I believe that sherry is the most incredible wine in the world,” he pronounces.
Steeped in winemaking, Domecq got a masters degree in chemistry at Madrid university. He then went to work for Williams & Humbert. That company was taken over by Ramasa which instigated a massive and ultimately disastrous expansion of vineyards and production, creating a sherry lake and a fall in quality and prices. It was a terrible time for sherry and Domecq winces at the memory.