Travel Guide to Portugal

Sherry in London

By Guest Author


On a trip to London last week, I tried to get a feel for how consumers might see sherry. Just ordinary consumers,not the sorts who buy wines from expensive West End merchants.Of course, this exercise was totally unscientific. In between errands and meetings, I dropped into as many shops as I could to get an idea of what a potential sherry drinker might experience. I stupidly forgot my camera at home, and the pictures my phone produced are simply not up to scratch for this post. So you will have to do with this picture of Tio Pepe and the amusing advert down below.

Anyway, the value wines account for the largest part of the steady decline in sherry sales and since most sherry in the UK (largest sherry market)is sold through the the supermarkets,these were necessarily my main ports of call.All the supermarkets I went into had house brands, which seemed to be fully representative, even including Amontillado and Oloroso wines (this surprised me). Tio Pepe was ubiquitous with Croft Original and Harvey’s Bristol Cream popping up in most places, including even smaller off-licenses (bottle stores), but not so much in the off-license chains, like Oddbins and Majestic.I’m certain if you ask any Briton to name a sherry, one of these three brands above will come up.

Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket, has their house brand produced byZoilo Ruiz-Mateos (part of Grupo Garvey). TheTesco packaging did nothing for me (nor did “Bodega Jerezana” at Waitrose and Sainsbury’s “Taste the Difference”) but I was not really expecting own-branded goods to do much. I’m sure the wines in these own brand bottles are very good but I could not help thinking that buyers own brands can’t be doing sherry any favours, as people will associate these good sherries with all things “cheap”. On top of this I was struck by the confused message Joe Bloggs might get seeingwines like Tio Pepe and possibly La Gitana (posing as light whites) on the same shelf as Croft Original and Harveys Pale Cream (posing as sweet fortifieds). The Harveys bottles put me in mind of Port more than anything else. This confusion can’t be doing any good to the “sherry” brand.

The off-license chains had more up-market wines, as you would expect. Emilio Lustau was well represented. The bottles (posing as sherries this time)were usually dusty, on low shelves and behind counters. I came away from my little tour of London sherry shops feeling slightly downbeat.

Why is it that, almost to a man, the UK wine trade loves sherry, but consumers just don’t seem to get it?Is it because the sherry trade is not selling through to their consumers and potential new converts? I get the feeling the sherry trade might have lost touch slightly…

Thankfully I’m already converted and there is no need to preach to me and on a more positive note: If you ever find yourself in London and feel like a copa or two of decent sherry, head to one of the restaurants below, as they have a great selection of sherry on their wine lists.

Moro – 34-36 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE (just down from Sadlers Wells, off Skinner Street).

Friends took me to Moro. We had afun time and ate great food. The staff really know their onions, especially when it comes to sherry. I enjoyed a glass of Matusalemin lieuof pudding. Conveniently, I was able to hop on the 38 bus, which whisked me into the West End in no time.

Barrafina – 54 Frith Street, London W1D 4SL (Soho).

You can’t book here, so turn up early to make sure you get a spot.I was last there in February 2008andate Navajas (Razor Clams), Gambas al Ajillo and Tortilla. The Tortilla was made from scratch right in front of me and tasted delicious, the Gambas were nothing an Andaluz would recognize, a bit “Anglo” with their garlic portions, but tasty nontheless.My tipple, a glass of Valdespino Tio Diego. The food was great. They were a bit rude, but that wouldn’t stop me going back.

Fino – 33 Charlotte Street, London W1T 1RR (entrance around the corner).

The last timeI went to Fino was a while back. We enjoyed some tapas at the bar andquaffed Manzanilla.

Cigala – 54 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London WC1N 3LW

Two of my London mates have recommended this place. I have yet to go, but their sherry list looks promising.

Hasta la proxima!

Justin Roberts


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