Visiting sherry, drinking sherry and selling sherry
Try as we might, Sherry remains resolutely unpopular with most modern wine drinkers. I recently visited the region to research the most unfashionable subset of an unfashionable category: ultra-sweet, thick, sticky Pedro Ximénez sherry.
It comes as a surprise to see how ubiquitous sherry is in the city of Jerez. At every bar at every hour, locals are drinking small copas of sherry of every kind, usually accompanied by a few tapas. Here, it is woven into daily life.
Of course, such a culture can't be transferred. But experiencing it first hand is undoubtedly the most powerful way to convert people to the attractions of sherry. This was ably demonstrated by my wife, whose opinion on sherry abruptly reversed from indifference to love within hours of arriving there.
Most wine trade people would agree that sherry deserves better fortunes than it currently enjoys - a feeling firmly reinforced by witnessing how decrepit and empty many of the bodegas and fields in Jerez are nowadays. The golden age of sherry in the second half of the 20th century is an increasingly distant memory. What was once a booming viticultural area of 25,000 hectares has shrunk to around 7,000 today.
But that doesn't mean that people aren't still doing a great job there, producing fantastic wine and championing the cause as best they can.
But what about Pedro Ximénez? This very sweet style of sherry is pretty much considered a lost cause, it seems to me. Whenever it is mentioned in the UK, it is invariably accompanied by the advice to pour it over vanilla ice cream. Hardly the noblest destiny for a fine wine.
Great Pedro Ximénez wines deserve to be taken as seriously as any other sweet wine. There is no other wine like it, and the best examples can be truly stunning - black, glutinous, extraordinarily sweet yet with remarkable flavour range - liquorice, treacle, prune, varnish.
The vineyard pictured, owned by Gonzalez Byass, above has 27 hectares of PX. One of the wines this crop eventually goes into is their VORS sherry called Noé. (VORS is an age classification indicating the oldest, rarest and usually highest quality sherries). Whereas most PX is grown as a sweetening agent for cheap commercial sherries, this is one of the few vineyards destined for higher things.
Tasting Noé is a superb example of how profound sweet PX sherry can be - it is a revelation. But that doesn't change the fact of its chronic un-trendiness. The night we returned from sherry, we tried serving a small measure of Noé to my wife's sister and mother - and they both refused it point blank.
Finding a way to sell the story of PX sherry is critical to ensuring its success. Right now, it would need to be something convincing enough to overcome its apparently immutable un-fashionability.
Otherwise, it risks being lost forever.