I recently moved into a shared house in London – the sort of home typical of late twenty-somethings in the capital priced out of the next stage of life by billionaires snapping up investment pads.
My four new housemates were initially complete strangers to me, and I have learned all sorts of fascinating things over the past two months.
Among the most curious discoveries was that one of them – we’ll call him Bill – is rather partial to a drop of dry Amontillado sherry.
What was interesting, was not so much that Bill could appreciate a delicious and refined classic wine style, but that it came as such a surprise to me. It wouldn’t have fazed me to discover Bill was a big fan of Russian imperial stout, dry London gin or even Hungarian Pálinka – but somehow, sherry jarred. The fact is, fortified wine is the last category of alcoholic drink to gain any contemporary street cred.
And yet sherry (and to a certain extent Port) is perfectly placed to become the tipple of choice for drinkers in search of something new.
This week I spoke to Charles Metcalfe, chairman of the International Wine Challenge, a vast competition designed to recognise the world’s best wines across every region and style. Charles was full of praise for the great work done by the UK’s supermarket wine buyers across the board but was especially glowing about the Sherries entered into the competition, which he pointed out were not only of exceptional quality, but highly affordable. Both Tesco and Morrisons won gold medals for their Amontillados, which retail for just £6 and £6.99, respectively.
“The future for sherry is bright, but right now we’re in a golden moment where the really good ones aren’t that expensive,” Charles told me. “Historically they haven’t been able to get good prices because the image of Sherry was so low.”
We’re talking about a sticky bottle, left at the back of grandma’s booze cupboard since last Christmas: the drink is rarely associated with class in this country.
But if this seems like an irredeemable image problem, take a look at gin. Ten years ago, the spirit was synonymous with bingo halls and possibly certain members of our ruling clan. Today, it is the drink of the zeitgeist, and more than 25 distilleries have opened their doors in the UK since 2012.
Charles thinks the growing popularity of tapas could give sherry a lift, as consumers become familiar with drinking it as an accompaniment to food. But there is also an opportunity for retailers to sell the drink on its own merits. In October, The Grocer asked branding agency Coley Porter Bell to give sherry and port a makeover – a quick look at the beautiful, contemporary bottle designs they came up with shows what a brave producer could do to the category.
With prices like those seen above, there is little barrier to entry for curious consumers, and with the right strategy, sales could boom in no time.