Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sherry vs. the California palate

The soil is dry in Jerez and the sun is bright and hot
Next week is SherryFest in San Francisco. It's the largest Sherry event ever here. I can already imagine the media coverage, because the wine media generally loves Sherry.

What I wonder about is whether there will be any lasting change in our drinking habits.

Don't get me wrong, like most wine geeks I enjoy a nice glass of Sherry, particularly fino and manzanilla. But there's no wine in the world with a greater ratio of media coverage to consumption by non-wine professionals.

In some ways, Sherry is perfect for the San Francisco style of eating. We like small plates, we like seafood, we like unusual flavor combinations, and we like wines by the glass. All of that screams "manzanilla!"

But there's a big obstacle: the California palate.

The solera system has some famous fans
There is a huge variety in California wine that East Coasties often don't give us credit for. But one thing almost every California wine has is the taste of fruit. You can't like California wine if you don't like the taste of fruit in your wine.

To me, Sherry is about as far from the taste of California wine as you can get.

The freshest manzanillas and finos, my favorites, taste like salt and sand and maybe some citrus pith. They're refreshing and dry dry dry. The more aged ones that many critics fawn over taste like floor polish. You can learn to like floor polish just like you can learn to like diesel; I am not put off by diesel as a descriptor for German Riesling. But older, heavier Sherries -- olorosos and palo cortados -- don't fit quite so comfortably on a by-the-glass list. They're not really for light appetizers, they're not really dessert wines.

Another thing that Sherry has going for it here is that its wines deliver something that California can't do itself. A maker of very fine Central Otago Pinot Noir once told me he had given up on the California market because if people were going to drink an expensive Pinot not from Burgundy, they would buy it from California or maybe Oregon. But there's no substitute here for Sherry, either in the taste of the wines or the history and the enticing stories of the solera system.

The question is, will several days of tastings and seminar, mostly for sommeliers and the media, be enough? Sommeliers and the media already love Sherry. Will the general public buy in?

The answer will come not in the many blog posts like this one over the next few weeks, but six months from now, in the number of Sherries on restaurant wine lists. Right now it's about as popular here as Hungarian dry Furmint. The sponsors of SherryFest are shooting higher than that.

SherryFest event listings are here.

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1 comment:

Bob Henry said...


Regarding . . .

"The question is, will several days of tastings and seminar, mostly for sommeliers and the media, be enough? Sommeliers and the media already love Sherry. Will the general public buy in?"

. . . I pose this response: Will the wine RETAILERS buy in?

More wine sales are influenced and consummated by wine store personnel "working" the sales floor than by sommeliers offering tableside service in restaurants.

So if consumers can't find Sherry on the shelf of their local wine store, then there will be no conversion into first time or repeat customers.

A similar anecdote.

Recently the Verdejo producers hosted a roof-top consumer tasting at an architecturally distinctive, restored 100 year old building in downtown Los Angeles.

None of the wine trade (retailers or restaurateurs or distributors or brokers) were invited as gratis guests.

My quick check of wine merchants in the greater Los Angeles area on Wine-Searcher found almost no one stocking that category of wine.

So what's the upshot?

A PR firm makes a nice fee conceiving and organizing an event labeled “Verdejo Days.”


The producers who come over from Rueda, Spain get a national government-subsidized vacation in the United States.

And the curious consumers who purchased event admission tickets, braved rush hour traffic on a Thursday night to get to downtown Los Angeles, and found wines they enjoyed had no place to "vote with their wallet or purse" and buy them.

So whose interests were served that night?

Welcome to the dysfunctional nature of wine marketing.

Any wonder the Millennials are adopting craft beer and grain alcohol as their libations?

~~ Bob