Sherry: Needs a new course

24 October, 2018

The purists should check sherry’s history, for it’s not the first time that Jerez has gone off-piste to boost sales. Pale cream sherry broke the mold back in the 1960s when International Distillers & Vintners used the name of its port subsidiary Croft to sell sherry from the old Gilbey soleras. The new product, Croft Original, was revolutionary – a sweetened fino, fortified to 15.5% and blended with concentrated sweet Palomino must, resulting in a tooth-tingling 110gs/litre of sugar. The wine was an immediate success, challenging Harvey’s Bristol Cream for the top-selling UK position.

Harvey’s Bristol Cream is still on top. “Harvey’s Bristol Cream takes 30% of the total UK sherry market and we’re continuing to invest in the brand,” says Jen McCormick, head of sherry at Whyte & Mackay. With the cream sherry category taking an impressive 44% of the total UK market (4.1m litres, June 2017-18) it’s evident that a sector often pooh-poohed by many aficionados is playing a major role in keeping the UK sherry market afloat.

It’s interesting to note that cream and pale cream sherries are a ‘UK thing’, for surprisingly they hardly register elsewhere. The US, cream sherry’s second biggest market, takes a meagre 620,618 litres. A marketing opportunity for Jerez?

Croft Original is still part of an important pale cream market that accounts for 24% of total UK sherry sales (2.2m litres, June 2017-18), meaning the cream and pale cream sectors together take an impressive 68%. Now as then, the wine trade waxes lyrical about fino, manzanilla, palo cortado, amontillado and oloroso while Joe and Josephine Public plump for the sweeties. It’s a brave man who suggests cream sherry as the new flagship but…

Gonzalez Byass is looking to kickstart the sluggish sherry market with the introduction of a new product, Croft Twist. A pre-mixed, slightly sparkling fino-based wine with an English ‘twist’ of elderflower, lemon and mint and a lightweight 5.5% alcohol by volume, it’s a reflection of Rebujito, the famous Andalucian ‘long fino’ that’s also benefitting from the cocktail boom. Breaking news: rumour has it that Fino & Tonic is edging favour with the Gin & Tonic brigade.

Hats off to those pushing boundaries to find new expressions of sherry for a new audience. Fino as the flagship isn’t working. It’s time for change and to build on a cocktail revolution that’s throwing a lifeline to a struggling sector of the global wine market. It’s a big ask but, sadly, if it doesn’t navigate a new course, sherry is set to continue its depressing journey.


Dominic Roskrow

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