Hands up all those who have enjoyed a copita or two of sherry in the last 24 hours? Good.
One hand up if you have a glass of fino or manzanilla in your hand now? Enjoy.
Hands up all those who are enjoying finer, older, aged, more sensual sherries than your usual tipple? Excellent.
Social distancing is still in place, which hardly allows for that great sport, social climbing, to be practiced. There are no dinner parties to fret about, no one to see your latest frock, no one to chat up in the Club. And no one to whom you can show off your smart wine label.
This is the perfect scenario for enjoying the sherry ladder, which we all can climb together in harmony. There is no shame in enjoying a glass of sherry at any time of the day, solo or with your locked down soul mate. Right now it is ‘En Rama’ time – when the better manzanillas and finos are bottled straight from the cask – though I am told that wild gulls’ eggs (a perfect accompaniment) are not being collected this season in the UK, as their main outlets, the finer restaurants and clubs, are closed.
‘En Rama’ is really the first rung on the sherry ladder. A first gentle step would be to try Tío Pepe fino En Rama, which gently lifts the aromas and tastebuds.
Simply put, it means that the best wines of the sherry solera are extracted from their hiding place, the butt, and bottled straightaway with no (or minimal) fining and filtration. The results transport you straight to Jerez, as if you were drinking sherry right in the heart of a cool, airy bodega, ‘au naturel’. These wonderful sherries may throw a sediment, and perhaps cost a few extra pesetas, but who the hell cares when you’re drinking the real McCoy?
For the adventurous climber, the ultimate ‘En Rama’ manzanilla (not that it actually says so on the label, the top bodegas are far too modest) for me is the mighty Alonso Vela Flor. The ‘sea salt’ characteristics of all manzanillas are ideal for those of us who long for the seaside this summer. Not for the faint hearted, Vela Flor will take you beyond sandy beaches to indulge in a spot of scuba diving, if you dare. A glass of manzanilla maybe the nearest I get to the seaside this year.
May in Jerez is always my favourite month. It is the month of the lively Feria del Caballo in the González Hontoria Park. There have been fairs or ferias in Jerez since the Middle Ages, but the current format has been adhered to each year since the Domecq family introduced it in 1955. Over one million lights and over 200 arches cover the 52,000 square metres of park, whilst attractive English, Hungarian, Russian and Spanish horse-drawn carriages intermingle with equally attractive Flamenco dancers.
This year, as with the Holy Week celebrations, all was cancelled. The ensuing loss of visitors, who would enthusiastically have enjoyed millions of glasses of fino, has not been good for cash flows. The exciting news, however, is that the Feria has been rescheduled for October 10–17th this year. So I look forward to seeing you there.
The sherry ladder has many quality styles within its soleras. Price is always a factor, but the cost of climbing its rungs today is so much less than you’d find with a similar white burgundy ladder or a brand-conscious champagne ladder. And arguably the journey to sherry’s heights is more enjoyable since it is less well trodden and more for the adventurous. Again, the Wine Society, Waitrose, Fortnum & Mason and Tanners amongst others, will happily give you a leg up if you waver between VOS and VORS (very old/rare sherries) as you near the summit…
You can put your hands down now. It is time to indulge a wee bit more.