Sherry: The Fino Things

02 January, 2014

Domecq, whose job it is to promote the sherry category, has been in his role for 18 months and says with genuine excitement that he is seeing “incredible interest” among the world’s more sophisticated restaurant and bar scenes. 

Domecq says that to “gently increase sales” there are two major action points: communicate sherry’s point of difference from other wines, its wide diversity and inherent quality and to raise its prices to a level befitting that description.

The UK

Ever since the UK started importing sherry in the 15th century (and struggled to pronounce the word Jerez so renamed it after the Moorish Sherez) it has remained, unremittingly, the industry’s top export market. It seems the two cannot be separated and sherry’s future could yet be shaped on whether London’s latest sherry trend fizzles out or ignites. 

Young, trendy Londoners have cast away the image of their grandmothers to embrace the drier sherry styles of fino, manzanilla, oloroso, amontillado and palo cortado. The consumer trend has been driven, perhaps symbiotically, by a group of sherry bars, eight of which were involved in last month’s Sherry Trail, organised as part of the Sherry Festival by the Sherry Institute. 

For a country that traditionally saw sherry through cream-filled glasses, this is a symbolic breakthrough. Domecq seems as surprised as anyone. “The fact is that fino and manzanilla have started to do well in the UK – people would never thought to sell these in the UK in the past.”  

Peering past the anecdotes of consumer media to the picture by numbers, we can see there is definite movement. Dry styles constituted 17% of all sherry consumed in September, which, for the UK, is significant. 

There are two readings of this. On the one hand as sweeter sherry drops in popularity, dry sherry’s share naturally increases, even if sales stand still. But also it could be argued that these are two distinct styles, drunk by distinct consumer groups, so any analysis of the category as a whole is flawed. Cream sherry’s decline could be masking dry sherry’s meteoric rise. 

González Byass, which sells more sherry in the UK than in Spain, has come to accept the sales decline of its Pale Cream Croft brand but Pedro Rebuelta maintains that is no reason to be downhearted. “There will continue to be a market for sweet styles in the UK. At Croft we are trying to maintain the typical 40 to 50-year-old woman who drinks sherry as a comfort drink. So we have to look at the new women entering that age. We are doing tastings in garden centres. The Green Spot is the slogan. These activities are to maintain rather than have a radical impact.” 

Meanwhile Rebuelta reports that Tio Pepe, its fino and flagship, is on the up in the UK. “It’s the sherry with the most international distribution, with 110 markets,” says Rebuelta. “We have worked very hard to have to have Tio Pepe in all the top restaurants and hotels worldwide. Of González Byass’s sherry brands it is the most important.”

Rebuelta says the group’s sherry volume and value sales are relatively stable. “Sherry will continue to lose volume but pick up in value,” he predicts. “Big volumes of cheap sherry will disappear and we will focus on the speciality, quality sherries. The UK market is driving this trend. In London the trend is still small but small trends open markets. We still have a way to go but it is only a question of time.”

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