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Amaze Your Friends this Festive Season with Something Traditional but Underestimated.

See this feast of sweeter sherries that will work well for Christmas, starting with some gently priced High Street examples.

Unflattering reputations in the wine world seem to linger – often ossifying into long-term prejudices.

Such preconceptions are slow to dispel and it is hard work to make it happen – just ask Beaujolais, Vinho Verde and Riesling.

Consequently, many in the wine trade will wish a fair wind to this autumn’s major initiative on another negative stereotype – that surrounding sherry.

Dismissing the entire sherry category is completely illogical given the wide range of styles it encompasses.

So, to try setting the record straight, today’s post takes a detailed look at merely one part of the sherry spectrum.

Since they work so well with Christmas fare, that focus is on sherry at the sweeter end of the spectrum.

If that has your finger lingering over the “Off” button, bear with me, there are some tasty but inexpensive options ahead – just suspend judgement for a little while.

The plan is for you try different styles from supermarkets’ inexpensive ranges (several of which are pretty sound) and then consider staircasing up from there.

In the usual way, hyperlinks and pictures are used where possible to help you locate the bottle in question.

So what types are involved?

Starting in the middle of the road with Oloroso –  which oxidative ageing makes quite dark compared to others at the dry end of the spectrum.

Although it is still dry wine, without that yeast layer known as flor, it becomes richer and rounder than Amontillado or Fino.

Usually, it exhibits walnut and toast flavours and is probably the most suitable sherry to drink with robust (often meat based) food.

Moving along the continuum.

Next comes cream sherry – a style that spans the divide between dry and sweet sherries.

For context on sweetness, while Oloroso has a residual sugar level below 5 grams per litre, cream sherry often has 115 or more.

The trick is to balance things so that the sweetness is not so obvious.

Cream sherry is usually a blend of Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez through a practice called “cabeceo”.

This introduces Naturally Sweet Wines, or concentrated must, to otherwise dry sherries and, broadly speaking, creates the dividing line between dry and sweet sherry wines.

When made well, cream sherry delivers delicately controlled sweetness with traces of toffee and nuts.

Doubters should try cream sherry with ice and a slice of orange (and even a sliver of peel) as an aperitif.

The extra sweetness of cream sherry means that the ice cubes do not mute the wine’s flavours.

Finally on to those Naturally Sweet Wines.

Pedro Ximénez is at dessert end of the sherry spectrum – dense, rich and probably the sweetest wine in the world.

It comes from sun dried batches of the PX grape where the resulting evaporation increases the concentration of the must.

While pedro ximenez is not the only sherry grape to which this process applies, it is a common one.

The subsequent aging process used for these naturally sweet wines deepens their colour and increases their viscosity significantly.

The result provides an ideal ending for a meal; morever, you can substantially enhance even basic ice cream by pouring on PX.

Some claim it is a perfect contrast to, for instance, Roquefort cheese.

Now for examples

 While purists will no doubt hector me for being overly simplistic, a broad brush suits the purpose of this post – encouraging more people to try sherry.

My advice here is simple.

Buy small bottles of all three styles mentioned here and see which suit you best.

These styles of sherry can last a while once opened so finishing them up can be spread over several days.

Supermarkets normally have versions of all three styles, each usually with single figure prices.

Since most retailers’ ranges are reliable, one-stop shopping is possible, but I do have specific tips if you are prepared to shop around.

My top choices from the High Street.

Taste the Difference Oloroso Sherry (£9 for 50cl at Sainsbury’s and 20% abv):

Chestnut brown in colour with dried fruit aromas, this neatly supplements sherry’s classic bruised apple and slightly saline flavours.

What make this a great option is its fresh acidity and suggestions of fudge within a warm, long but surprisingly light texture.

Co-op Cream Sherry (£11.25 for a litre and 17.5%):

Smooth with just the right richness, this brings us a neat combination of brazil nut, toasted almond and gingerbread flavours.

What swings it for me is the impressive way it integrates caramel, molasses and orange hints to secure a balance between delicacy and richness.

The Best Pedro Ximenez (£7 for a half bottle at Morrisons and 17%):

With aromas of coffee being roasted and a generous syrupy mouthfeel, this displays fig and date sweetness wrapped in ginger spiciness.

This really is a top example at this price.

It neatly allows balancing acidity to limit the effect of the wine’s viscosity without reducing its dark chocolate smoothness.

And moving up the market.

Noe 30-Year-Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Gonzalez Byass (£24.99 at Laithwaite’s for a half bottle and 15.5%):

Almost black with velvety denseness, this has smooth toffee apple, walnut, date and treacle toffee flavours.

The stardust comes from the way that richness is nicely lightened by touches of cinnamon and mango – all enlivened by an attractive twist of acidity.

And going upmarket with Oloroso

Alvear Oloroso Asuncion (£18.95 for a half bottle at Ultracomida and 19%):

To move upmarket with oloroso, I could not resist this delightful example which is actually from Montilla-Moriles rather than Jerez.

Consequently, it uses that region’s star grape (pedro ximenez) rather than the palomino frequently encountered in other olorosos.

The result is amber coloured and very smooth in texture with classy red fruit, coffee and candied fruit flavours.

Supporting components include traces of ginger, allspice, apple and vegetable aromas and citrus acidity.

Any of those wines would work perfectly for Christmas adding to a note of opulence and surprise to any gathering or luxury meal… Do give them a try.

More News from Eddie

Sainsbury’s Christmas Wine Offer have their latest 25% off buy 6 bottles running right now! It goes for an astonishing 5 weeks until December 19th. I can’t remember such a long promotion before.

Checking the website there are lots of double-dips to be had with many a shelf price already reduced.

This may be a time therefore to choose something a bit more exclusive and have a considerable saving on more expensive wines, 47% off in total in some instances.

Given recent inflation in grocery prices generally and changes in duty it’s remarkable there are such decent quality bottles still to be had around the £6 mark.

If it’s an Italian red of a less well known varietal this Nero di Troia starts at £9.50 and will be £6 …

Terre di Faiano Nero di Troia Organic Wine 75cl | Sainsbury’s (sainsburys.co.uk)

A quality Italian white is this very drinkable Gavi usually £10 but £6 on a double-dip!

Sainsbury’s Gavi, Taste the Difference 75cl | Sainsbury’s (sainsburys.co.uk)

They do come thick and fast these days!

Asda has announced that from 17th November until 13th December their Xmas 25% off buy 6 deal will operate.

Plenty of old favourites to choose from there and I can indicate a couple of mine once I see what might be their best double dip deals.

Always remember to check the details on all these offers to avoid disappointment.

The lowest price to which deals apply at all these high street retailers can be different!”

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21 Responses

  1. Great to see a post concentrating on sherry.My own favourite, at the drier end of the above spectrum, is Morrison the Best Palo Cortado £7.25 for a half bottle.A superb complex sherry and even at full price, something of a bargain.Serve slightly chilled as an aperitif or great with Dahl.
    For those fortunate to have the means and opportunity,may I suggest a three city Spanish train holiday? Fly to Seville and spend some days in that magical city with fantastic tapas and local wines.Then a short train hop to Jerez- the home of Spanish sherry- a must do -is the tour of Tio Pepe in the centre followed perhaps by an evening of flamenco and swirling red wine.Another short train journey to Cadiz for incredible sunsets,seafood and white wines you will never have heard of.Train back to Seville,fly home.
    Unlike the U.K. Spanish inter city train travel is cheap,fast,reliable,frequent,clean and comfortable.Something for us to aspire to.

  2. Yes Brian I hope your subscribers here are saving a lot of money when they can stock-up.

    And still it happens on the 25% discount front Brian!

    Since meeting your copy deadline earlier in the week I see now Morrisons and Tesco join the fray for their customers.

    Tesco requires we present our Clubcard’s to get the double-dips of which there are many, running at least until December 3rd . Their exceptional Spanish Mucho Mas Tinto jumps out at a substantial £3.25 off at £5.25. They have a MM white too that I’ve enjoyed, at the same money, and a bottle of fizz just a little more.

    But then both Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have that MM red at £5.25.

    Morrisons just snook in yesterday with their 25% deal but mentioning only up to November 21st. Wouldn’t mind betting they change/extend that eventually.

    Again just to say check the ”small print” to understand the exact nature of deals and any exclusions.

  3. Excellent idea Paul – three days of glorious insobriety perhaps. Thanks too for the steer towards the palo cortado – a good candidate for a possible follow up review looking instead at drier sherries.

  4. As you say, these are coming thick and fast now, Eddie,so thanks for keeping subscribers updated. It begins to look as though shoppers are increasingly alert to the idea of riding these offers. Is it too early to conclude that a major shift is under way with many more people buying wine in sixes instead of slipping the odd bottle or two in with the main weekly shop?

  5. For some reason that does seem to be so but well worth checking the small print on any new offers as that may change with some retailers. I hope so as that would be a good way of trying them out.

  6. Brian,
    Well done on your web site. Sherry is very unfairly overlooked due to its “old fashioned” image. Do feature drier sherry when we have warmer weather. Tesco Finest Fino has to be one of the best supermarket offerings out there whilst the Wine Society have a great range.

  7. Thank you Donald – for your kind words and for joining the comments section. A “drier sherry” follow up is planned for next year all being well.
    The thinking that prompted this post is based around three things that exercise my mind:
    1. Sherry has a reputational struggle now because the quality of much of it sold here last century was, being kind, unimpressive.
    2. This blinded folk to the very high quality that more expensive options provide (baby and bathwater syndrome).
    3. A good way to ease drinkers towards those wines lies in the sound quality sherries most supermarket buyers acquire for their keenly priced entry level ranges.
    In short, let’s use point 3 as a staircase to the treasures point 2 mentions.

  8. Much though I appreciate 25% off 6 bottles offers every now and again, I really do hope supermarkets don’t shift so far to this model that buying a single bottle is no longer cost efficient. The differential between the single bottle and ‘mix six’ prices is the reason I rarely purchase from Majestic. I love dropping into Morrisons to buy a bottle of Verdeca or to Waitrose to check out their new Freisa. Surely the Wine Society is onto something with no minimum spend for free delivery? You can potentially submit an order for a single bottle!

  9. Absolutely Keith … and for others yet to join, the Wine Society definitely has it cracked and without doubt we can order as little as a single bottle from them and often have it delivered the next day that saves on transport money going out to do a physical shop!!

    Not only that, by comparison to much of what is on offer at the big 5 supermarkets I do find almost all TWS purchases as being way more interesting and more comprehensive … and … plenty there to go at under a tenner as well. OK, always a trade-off, it costs us £20 to be a member but since I joined over 12 years ago it seems I’ve used up that payment in value, convenience and might I say goodwill too, with their willingness to credit customers who are not happy with what they got delivered. But the supermarkets in their own way also have their place and not just these 25% off buy 6 deals but regular smaller discounts off usual shelf prices. A very favourite of mine at Sainsbury’s right now is the Primitivo Manduria usually £12.50 but currently reduced to £11 as a single bottle purchase, as you describe you enjoy having. That of course is even cheaper at £8.25 as part of a 6 bottle package.

    1. Many thanks Eddie for your ongoing input (and Brian !) and for the previous tip to try out ex Sainsbury’s Primitivo Manduria on double dip as was way above my modest pocket money budget normally.
      Tried a bottle, from the limited shelf stock and returned within two days for 2×6 more to see me through upcoming darker days.
      Likely contender for Xmas day red offering .

  10. Yes, an interesting discussion you two are prompting. My instinct is that more people will use “Buy Six” offers than ever bought in bulk before in order to save money. Equally, supermarkets will see it as a way of increasing market share and possibly volumes.
    However, those for whom price is not critical will continue with wine shopping as part of the grocery run. I guess that much will depend on – as Keith’s point about “cost efficiency” suggests – how much more it costs to buy single bottles – and whether having bottles available mean one drinks (and, thus, has to buy) more.
    On sending out single bottles, given that posting a letter now costs 25 bob, that must mean the (inevitably higher) cost of sending an £8 bottle of wine is substantial. Nevertheless, as you both say, The Wine Society do, and don’t forget Waitrose Cellar can do so too.

  11. Hi Brian

    I enjoy a variety of wines and particularly Italian and Portugese reds. The Primitivo Manduria has been out of stock this week but I’m hoping to get some long before the 25% off 6 discount offer ends. I’m currently drinking a Spanish Red called Mucho Mas from Sainsburys and it’s a blend but quite drinkable.

    I look forward to the next installment of your column.

    1. Thanks for getting in touch Colin and good hunting for that primitivo. That Mucho Mas (in several suppliers at the moment) is also getting a lot of love from subscribers and the white version is winning friends too.

    2. Hi to you Colin from me too.

      Stick at that trying to get the Primitivo Manduria. You’ll see from Richard from Leeds’s comments above he has it nailed and for quite a substantial purchase too. And thinks it will make a bottle ”for Xmas Day” that says even more about his opinion and the quality of this lovely wine.

      OK, it’s certainly not the cheapest bottle on the shelf even on a double dip. It’s distinctive in the fact it’s not bone dry and the fruit has sweetness attaching. If you like the Spanish Mucho Mas Tinto then they are a very good, similarly matched pair in style, with the latter coming in just now at £5.25 at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons.

      So if you enjoy Italian wine I opened a bottle of the Terre di Faiano Nero di Troia Organic red at the weekend. You can have it at Sainsbury’s for £6 and I bet you’d really enjoy that one too.

  12. I think it is Hugh Johnson who uses the terms Summer Sherry and Winter Sherry. In the summer a Fino or Manzanilla is just perfect with a casual outside lunch. At the moment, not so well matched! So we now (mostly) move to “Winter Sherry”, and enjoy the various Oloroso or Amontillado style wines – and have also recently re-discovered Cream Sherry. I too find the Morrisons’ half bottles excellent, as are the various offerings at the Wine Society. (I also very much enjoyed the Wine Society’s Full Rich Madeira.) Waitrose often have a clearance rack of sherry bottles – reflecting the niche, rather than popular, appeal. For example Lustau’s “very rare Oloroso” was reduced from £18.99 to £9.49, and their Rich Cream produced in partnership with Waitrose was also considerably reduced. For those wanting to go “off season” I notice that Tio Pepe Fino is on offer (with Nectar card) at Sainsbury’s for £10, I also find the Morrisons’ basic fino is good value, as is the WS Society’s Fino at £7.25. We, like the Spanish, like to have just a small glass – say a third full copita, so a bottle can last a while, so even greater great value!

    1. Good point, Richard, about Summer and Winter sherries. Cream sherry was the last of the sherries to be “re-habilitated” but – with the juice and peel of a quarter of an orange and ice cubes – makes a great aperitif. Going further, a “quantity controlled” glass of various sherries (as you describe) before a meal is a great way to inject extra class into an ordinary lunch or supper.

  13. I also enjoyed a visit to Jerez, in my case flying direct, but had spotted that going via Seville would be the way to go next time. We too got the train to Cadiz, plus caught a return bus from Jerez to Sanlúcar de Barrameda – to pay homage to Manzanilla! We were there first week in October, and, boy, was it hot! Train travel in Spain is so enjoyable – as it is in Portugal. We organised a train tour there – 2 nights in each of Faro, Lisbon & Porto, and trains between. A highlight was the High Speed train Lisbon to Porto with lunch served at our table, fantastic!

  14. Pleased to have helped lighten dark days but all the credit belongs to Eddie who has been a strong advocate for this wine for some time.

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