I have just purchased one of the earliest books about tasting wine, Professor George Saintsbury’s classic Notes on a Cellar-Book published in 1931. Today’s wine enthusiasts may be surprised to note that of the five chapters it devotes to wine, the first is entitled ‘Sherry and Madeira’. The others respectively are ‘Port’, ‘Claret and Burgundy’, ‘Champagne and other French white wines’, and ‘Hock, Moselle and the Rest’. This is real old world stuff, sitting right alongside stiff collars and the Great Depression. A time of gaiety if you were ‘Upstairs’ and could summon the Butler to go ‘Downstairs’.
George Saintsbury’s opening salvo about sherry, almost 90 years later, is remarkably prescient of today’s world: ‘I have always thought that manzanilla and the other lightest growths and shipments of Xérès and San Lúcar…receive far too little practical attention in England. The Spaniards, I am told, drink them in large, tall beakers, like our old-fashioned beer glasses; and I can strongly recommend the practice.’ How wonderful is that?
Two years later, the Autocar magazine ran a promo ad with Williams & Humbert in which they stated that a glass or two of sherry will never render a motorist unfit to drive his or her car. Presumably the tall beakers concept had still not taken off…
Another statement was recorded as: ‘Good sherry is not spoilt by jolting about in a bottle or flask.’ Which is still true enough today: if you are wanting to travel by car or aeroplane with a bottle as a gift for your hosts the other end, sherry is a good bet. I find that a bottle of unusual sherry taken to a friend’s house is always received with pleasure. It revives happy or amusing memories for those that have forgotten about sherry; it intrigues the minds of those who are already on the sherry curve. Almost everyone, of a certain age and below, has a story to tell about sherry. Let’s hear them please!
I am told that the 2019 harvest in Jerez is underway and that my book Sherry – Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent is now printed, so we wait with bated breath for these to arrive on our shores!