Today, March 17th, is St. Patrick’s Day and Irish people across the globe will be celebrating. But how many will be celebrating with a glass of sherry?
Ireland has remained largely untouched by the sherry revolution. We are mainly a nation of beer drinkers, and the closest many people will get to experiencing sherry is through the seasoning of whiskey barrels.
It hasn’t always been thus of course for, much like the United Kingdom, sherry was historically very popular in Ireland. If anything, Ireland and Spain enjoyed a more intertwined relationship, whether as a result of the legacy of the Irish wine geese such as Garvey, O’Neale and Murphy, or merely the traditional links between the two nations.
Spanish wineries featured prominently in the Distillers, Brewers, Mineral Water Trades and Licensed Liquor Trade Appliances exhibition held in Dublin in 1892. For the admission price of one shilling, guests could taste wines from over 20 bodegas. Although I’ve been unable to track down a full listing of the wineries involved, it seems likely that it was at this fair that Valdespino were awarded their Dublin gold medal that is still celebrated on their labels to this day.
Wines from Jerez also featured prominently at the Spanish Wine Fair held in Dublin in 1953. This fair was billed as the “world’s biggest yet Spanish Wine Fair” and the media coverage was so widespread that it probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a sherry event has never seen so many newspaper column inches since. I am most grateful to Mr. Peter Dunne of Dublin wine merchant Mitchell & Son who provided me with some of the fair’s press clippings collected by the late Mr Tom Noonan which included articles such as “Jerez - City of the Wines” and “How To Know Your Sherry”.
The 14,345 attendees could visit stands from Domecq, Gonzalez Byass, Garvey, Sandeman and Williams & Humbert and the fair generated a surprising level of public interest with The Evening Mail noting that they had received “a rather formidable flow of correspondence” and that many letters “paid tribute, rather enviously, in some cases, to the initiative of the Spanish wine interests in holding a wine fair in this country.” Between this and the dedication of the 1958 vendemmia to Ireland, surely there had never been a better time for sherry here.
Until now that is.
The reasons for the decline in sherry in Ireland are numerous and well chronicled elsewhere. Thankfully we are now seeing green shoots, and events supported by Wines From Spain and Fedejerez have generated considerable interest from a public who are reaping the rewards of years of hard work of local importers. The most recent tasting I hosted featured wines from Valdespino, Gonzalez Byass and Williams & Humbert amongst others, providing everyone with a gentle reminder that maybe some things don’t change much after all.
The western seaboard of Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way, with its plentiful supply of fresh fish and shellfish should be the ideal rallying point for sherry’s Irish revival. When visiting Galway, I’m often reminded of the quote from Christopher Fielden and Javier Hidalgo’s book ‘Manzanilla’ that “whilst Guinness is the traditional liquid choice at the Galway Oyster Festival, manzanilla would be just as fitting a partner!”.
So on this St. Patrick’s Day, raise a glass of sherry to Ireland and remember, the La Gitana Galway Oyster festival may not be a pipe dream after all.
Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of El Consejo Regulador.
17 March 2016