At Long Last, a True Sherry Renaissance
After decades of decline, a new wave of winemaking emerges in Jerez.
Here at Everyday Drinking, much ink has been spilled on the topic of Sherry. I’ve certainly done my share to make Sherry happen over the years. I’ve sprained my prose muscles reaching for similes from the Victorian celery craze and from bullfighting by way of Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. Even Juice Box Beth weighed in on Sherry in the early days of this newsletter (OG fans will even remember us talking about Sherry on our short-lived podcast).
Yet all the efforts from those of us who love Sherry haven’t seemed to reverse certain trends. In the U.S., for more than a decade, people in the wine and spirits bubble have tried to make a Sherry revival happen, with little to show for it. How many normal everyday drinkers do you know who regularly enjoy, say, a fino or manzanilla or amontillado? Some in the industry have become salty about the lack of traction. “This is something that people in the industry don’t want to hear, especially those advocating for Sherry, but it’s never going to happen, man,” said author and bartender Derek Brown, who ran a high-profile Sherry bar called Mockingbird Hill, in Washington, D.C., at the height of the so-called “Sherry renaissance” in the 2010s.
Even back home in Spain, Sherry consumption is declining. The Consejo Regulador in Jerez found that more than 40 percent of the fino Sherry in Spain is consumed solely during spring and summer festivals throughout the country, mostly in rebujitos, a drink made with a mix of fino and Sprite or 7UP. By some accounts, vineyard land in Jerez has cratered from about 70,000 acres to around 15,000.
All this sounds bad, but I firmly believe there are brighter days ahead. There is very good news coming from Jerez right now, as I wrote about in my most recent feature for Wine Enthusiast (which I hope you will read).
In 2022, the Consejo Regulador finally took action to reverse these negative trends. A slew of new regulations went into effect for the Jerez D.O. that we all hope will chart a new course for Sherry. The most important change is no more mandatory fortification. Non-fortified wines can now be bottled as D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. This is huge, because some of the best and most popular wines coming from Jerez are non-fortified still wines.
Also, six local grape varieties will now be newly permitted— Perruno, Beba, Cañocazo, Vigiriega, Mantúo Castellano and Mantúo de Pilas—to expand beyond palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and moscatel. Finally, pagos (or vineyards) can now be stated on the label, signaling that terroir will become a more important facet of Jerez wines moving forward. Look for place names such as Macharnudo, Miraflores, and Carrascal as “grand cru” designations.
In my reporting, I visited some of Jerez’s new wave producers: Willy Pérez, of Bodegas Luis Pérez; Ramiro Ibáñez of Bodega Cota 45; Alejandro Muchada, of Muchada-Léclapart; Raúl Moreno; Fernando Angulo. I also visited some legendary classic producers such Pepe Blanco of Callejuela and Eduardo Ojeda of Equipo Navazos.
I found myself walking through several top pagos (as vineyards are called in Jerez) with a new wave of Sherry producers in Jerez—some of whom have formed a group called Territorio Albariza. This new generation sets itself in opposition to what they call “the blending culture” of the big Sherry houses, which they insist too often relies on cheap “neutral” wines, then fortification and wood to give these wines character.
In Jerez, terroir is a topic that’s not much discussed. “The idea that ‘Jerez had no terroir’ benefitted the big houses,” says Alejandro Muchada, of Muchada-Léclapart winery, a partnership with David Léclapart, the famed Champagne producer. This terroir denial, Muchada says, “gave the big houses power over the small growers and they could say, ‘Your grapes aren’t worth much.’”
Jerez will likely promote its coastal locale at a time when “Atlantic wine” has become a popular term in the Iberian Peninsula. “For us, the most important element is the Atlantic,” Ibáñez told me. “Now, in Spain, they want to say that there is Atlantic climate all over. But the Atlantic is here.”
I love the dynamic, creative tension that happens when a new wave of winemaking happens within an established, legacy wine region. It’s happening all over Spain, which is what makes the country’s wine scene so energetic right now. I wrote about this most recently in Rioja, for instance.
In Jerez, it’s not about throwing out the old. On the contrary, there’s room for both new and old waves. I love the beautiful traditional wines from Equipo Navazos and Callejuela. Valdespino, Lustau, and Barbadillo are big houses that still make exceptional wines. I just opened Valdespino’s single-vineyard Ynocente at a holiday party last weekend and it was amazing.
But the future of Jerez is going to include non-fortified wines and alternative grape varieties—as well as better viticulture, more organic and biodynamic approaches, lower intervention winemaking, and more focus on the best vineyard sites. Soon enough, people may call it grower Sherry, natural Sherry, or some equally vague buzzword.
There will even be natty winemakers attempting to make zero-zero Sherry. If you visit these winemakers, however, just be sure to keep your opinions on sulfites to yourself (as I learned this past spring)….