To come to Jerez is to be able to delight in a privileged region, in which the purest essence of the character of Lower Andalucía is concentrated: the light, the sea and a landscape of gentle white hills. It is from this background that the Consejo Regulador of the Denominación de Origen (DO) Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, Manzanilla de Sanlúcar and Vinagre de Jerez exercises its influence. Its president is Beltrán Domecq and we have been able to speak with him to find out in depth what role an entity such as this plays nowadays.
Introducing Beltrán Domecq
His name gives it away: a lifetime in the Sherry trade from the cradle to the point where nobody else would be suitable to preside over an entity of such calibre. He has dedicated his life to wine and particularly the wine and brandy of Jerez.
He has known and tasted many of the world’s wines, having started at Williams & Humbert and going on to work at Pedro Domecq. He came to be president of the Consejo Regulador after a long professional life, of which he is rightly proud.
What does a Consejo Regulador do?
The Consejo Regulador of Jerez has a series of very important functions, the first being to defend the name of Sherry throughout the world, fighting against any imitation or false use of the name. It also exercises strict control and certification of production, both at vineyard and bodega level, controlling the quantity and quality of wines produced in the DO. Every bottle sold carries a Consejo Regulador seal which certifies that the product comes from this DO. Another function is that of generic promotion of our products in the various countries in which they are consumed.
There will be many objectives for the coming years. What are they?
To keep up the work I referred to and if possible to improve the message about Sherry consumption, since the wine of Jerez is just that, a wine, and as such it should be drunk from a suitable glass, at a suitable temperature and matched with suitable food given that the different types of wine produced, Finos, Manzanillas, Amontillados, Palos Cortados, Olorosos, Creams and Pedro Ximénez, have an enormous diversity of organoleptic characteristics which make them ideal for any type of dish, thanks to their sheer versatility.
Jerez and its wine; the best in the world?
You wrote a book “Sherry and its Mysteries”. What mysteries does Sherry have in general terms?
As an oenologist I would say that Sherry is a wine with unique characteristics. There are wines from the very pale and very dry, to the very dark and very sweet with everything in between. For example we can produce five different wines from the white Palomino grape: Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado and Oloroso. The difference between these is 2% of added alcohol. The style of wine also depends on where it comes from in the triangle formed by the three cities of Jerez, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. It depends on the chalky white “albariza” soils, fundamental for quality wine, and naturally, the ageing in the cathedral-like bodegas so typical of this area.
Let’s talk about Sherry and its levels of production.
The Sherry production zone has 7,000 hectares of vineyard which grow the authorised vines which are Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel, of which the Palomino is by far the most important being responsible for the dry wines, the Finos, Manzanillas, Amontillados, Palos Cortados and Olorosos.
Total sales of Sherry are some 50 million bottles and the biggest sellers are Finos, Manzanillas, Mediums and Creams. The latter two are sweet wines. It would be true to say that Jerez has suffered variations over the last forty years, both in terms of vineyard area and of production.
But in fact we are now in a stable situation, producing the necessary wine to supply the markets, and we are selling more of the higher quality wines.
Some say that Sherry is the great unknown, only enjoyed by foreigners when they visit Spain. What is happening here with us Spanish?
The consumption of Sherry in Spain is growing year on year. It gives us cause for optimism since until very recently the largest market was Great Britain. Consumption here is basically Finos and Manzanillas, so we have to do more promotion of wines like Amontillados, Olorosos and Creams to offer more diversity to the market so Sherry is not consumed just as an aperitif but with meals. Actually Sherry is currently in fashion, praised by the great Spanish sommeliers and chefs who are the best in the world.
Is much Sherry drunk in Jerez?
While the really large consumption is during the various local ferias, a lot is also consumed in the traditional Jerez tabancos and in the magnificent tapas bars and restaurants that we are lucky to have. The people of Jerez, thanks to the pride they have in their wines, are great connoisseurs and know how and when to enjoy them.
What does Jerez have to produce such a great wine that other regions don’t?
Wine has been produced in Jerez for more than three thousand years and during that time many cultures have come and gone which have helped make this wine unique.
It is thanks to that that we have such a broad range of styles with very different characteristics, something which can complicate our message when explaining how we make our wine. Firstly it is a fortified wine, that is to say we add a certain quantity of pure alcohol to the wine in particular amounts to produce biologically aged wines, the Finos, Manzanillas and Amontillados, and traditionally aged wines like the Olorosos and Palos Cortados.
The Moors taught us this technique of fortification 1,200 years ago. Our winemakers use it to give the wine more stability and protect it on long journeys to export markets. The wines are aged in American oak butts heavily pre-seasoned with Sherry, and we use the system of soleras and criaderas which serve not only to age the wine but also, over time, to produce it with a uniform quality.
Does the rebujito (Fino Sherry with lemonade) damage the image of the product?
It has been publicly suggested that we make a break with orthodoxy and go for cocktails like the rebujito. The essence of the wine isn’t harmed is it?
Obviously it breaks with orthodoxy but at the same time the customer is always right. If they prefer to drink their Sherry with ice because they want it colder, want to mix their Fino or Manzanilla with lemonade or like their Cream with orangeade, that’s fine with me since the result has agreeable and refreshing flavours.
I think that orthodoxy has its moments and soft drinks and cocktails have theirs. And I believe that this does no harm to the image of the product at all; quite the reverse. It offers more drinking possibilities.
The wines of Jerez are not excessively expensive. Does the price influence people to drink it more seriously?
I believe that Sherry is undervalued in the market. A wine like the ones we have mentioned which has gone through a classification, a selection, and prolonged ageing should have much more value. I would say the same about the value of the grapes produced in this unique microclimate which has three thousand hours of sunshine annually and the albariza soil which is a miracle of nature since it stores rainwater during the dry summer months. Therefore I think we should increase the value of the grape and the wine.
Gastronomy, tourism, wines and food
The love affair with gastronomy is a great support for the recovery of Sherry. In fact matching it with food is one of its great pleasures. What dishes would you recommend with which wine?
At the Consejo Regulador we have produced publications which contain typical matches of dishes with their corresponding wine. Everyone has their own tastes but I always have different styles of Sherry depending on the dish. For example, what would we drink with gazpacho or a vinaigrette salad? A Fino or Manzanilla would be perfect. With an Amontillado we would have a consommé or grilled chicken, or perhaps an Oloroso with a fillet steak with foie gras. Cream goes well with apple tart or a marmalade and cheese tart. Pedro Ximénez is great with a brownie or ice cream.
Let’s talk about wine tourism. Is it the definitive solution to promote the trade?
It is one of the avenues we have been exploring lately because we have a wonderful legacy of routes through the vineyards as well as guided visits to the magnificent cathedral-like bodegas. It is also important to do tastings of the different wines we produce, wines we can use at home or at restaurants to accompany dishes, not necessarily local wines, even those from other countries. Another important thing we have in Jerez is the range of tapas bars, tabancos and restaurants. The area is surrounded by unique countryside, be it mountains, oak forests or beaches with white sand.
Leaving Jerez for a moment, which other wines are you fond of?
I grew up with not only Sherry but many wines from many parts of the world including Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, wines from Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Italy. Personally I like all wines, above all, those which are genuine and well balanced.
Sherry is a prestige wine but what will its future be like?
Sherry has a very promising and prestigious future. But I insist that we need to do more promotion, be it at a generic level or at brand level, because a better, more civilised wine does not exist. It is a wine for “those who understand” but also for the general public. There is always a Sherry for every moment of the day, a Sherry for any tapa we might be having, and for any main dish we might be enjoying at our meal.
Article written by Iván Guillén Cano 25/1/17 for ABC de Sevilla Ver artículo original
25 February 2017