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200yr old Sherry

I was nearly blown off my sherry ladder last month. Reorganizing my wine cellar, I came across a neatly hand-written label stating ‘Mid 19th century Sherry’. Sourced via La Vigneronne, this piece of vinous history had kindly been given to me on my 50th birthday many moons ago. Crikey. Hands up who would like to share this almost 200-year old historic drop with me…?

Meanwhile, I made my debut on Instagram on June 18th. At the kind invitation of Carmen Aumesquet of sherry’s Consejo Regulador and with patient help from Belén Roldán Vega and Gyongyi Somlai, we happily chatted away for 45 minutes.

We covered the joys of Andalucía, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, how sherry’s quality is now reflected in ageing descriptions, how pagos terroir is becoming as relevant as bodega terroir and much, much more.

We also touched on the ‘Misunderstood’ part of my sherry book’s subtitle ‘Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent!’. I volunteered that the dastardly crook José María Ruiz-Mateos had obliterated a huge swathe of well known, much respected sherry brands in his quest to create the ghastly Rumasa corporate juggernaut. Harveys and Williams & Humbert were swallowed up; family bodegas such as Garvey, Palomino & Vergara and Misa did not survive. Many others lost their identity.

Sherry lost part of its rich history. That was unforgivable. Every great wine region needs pioneering families and ebullient characters to help create the brand names that give vital confidence to the enquiring consumer. To see these disappear brought great sadness.

Over the past four years, the dedicated José Luis Jiménez García has written some wonderful articles about sherry for the daily Diario de Jerez newspaper. Recently he highlighted some famous sherry surnames with history such as Sandeman, Domecq, Croft, Harveys and González Byass, and went on to remind us how these brands were projected to us, the consumers.

In sherry’s promotional heyday of the 1970s and 1980s, these and other brands were boosted by a raft of famous faces and names. Amongst them were such stars as PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster for Croft Original, Charles Dance for Dry Sack, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore for Harvey’s, Orson Welles for Domecq Double Century, Salvador Dalí for Osborne and Ursula Andress for Bobadilla 103. Top billing.

Which reminds me of my close encounter with Sharon Stone on behalf of Royal Tokaji. Jack Daniels (co-founder of the prestigious California wine importer Wilson Daniels) and I were in Hawaii at the house of Shep Gordon. Shep was the film agent for, amongst others, Michael Douglas, Sammy Hagar and Sharon Stone. We were looking for a ‘face’ for Royal Tokaji. Shep took me on one side whilst Burt Bacharach was playing the piano. ‘What about Sharon?’ he suggested. He set up a meeting with Sharon and me in LA later that month, but film locations and commitments got in the way.

Two years later, I espied Shep walking down St James’s Street on his way to Berry Brothers. I crossed the road to thank him for all his trouble as above. ‘No’, he smiled ‘I want to thank you. You gave me a great idea. Wine producers are always looking for celebrities. I have the celebrities, so I began looking for wine and spirit producers’. Sammy Hagar had just created the Cabo Wabo tequila brand, which he sold for $11 million a few years later.

Thought for sherry: which celebrity will come forth and create their own sherry brand? My son suggests Margot Robbie to carry on the good work.