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Wine

Where has all the sherry gone?

The few left, are indeed splendid and well worthwhile.

In 1963, the KWV exported more than 7 million litres of Cape sherry to the UK. Regarded by many as the best wine since the famous Constantias, the export company had to ration allocation. With a few months to go before local labels, in terms of the EU trade agreement, will no longer be able to carry the ‘sherry’ designation, the once-famous and beloved wine has virtually disappeared from our shelves. Why?

Only two local commercial producers are still making this originally Spanish-recipe fortified wine so adored by the British Empire in its glorious heyday. For the dwindling fan club these Cape sherries offer great pleasure and value. It’s a pity they are not more highly appreciated.

Like KWV, neighbouring Paarl outfit Monis (a Distell label) still produces sherry the classic way. Monis has a small range, starting with a delicate ‘fino’, concluding with a most delicious ‘full cream’, while KWV is phasing out ‘pale dry’, keeping ‘medium’ and ‘full cream’. (These traditional designations are deliciously eccentric, indicating sweetness. First-time punters will be surprised by the beautiful balance in some.)

The other well-known local sherry has always been that under the Douglas Green label, numbered 1 to 3 for sweetness. These DG sjerries are now, like in the past, acquired from KWV.

These are also delightful wines and partner well with a variety of food. (The tradition of  sherry as an aperitif seems to have boxed it in foodwise. Even the sweeter versions work well with rich dishes.)

While the local sherry market is shrinking, one must salute those producers who soldier on. The mentioned sherries are clearly not Spanish, but certainly good reflections of the original. (Palomino vines, those of classic Spanish sherry and originally employed here too, have also disappeared from our vineyard landscape. But chenin seems to work well.)

One plus is that the local sherries are well presented – packaging has not been skimped on. That they are ridiculously cheap (for wines that are seven years old and have been created with great care) is a sad indictment of fashion. (Even Platter doesn’t rate local sherries? Why not?)

One gets the idea that if it isn’t for those dedicated individuals, South African sherry will disappear. At KWV it is the quiet Australian master Richard Rowe and colleague Thys Loubser who are passionate about what they have in their vats. At Monis, Dirkie Christowitz is the devoted keeper of the criadera and the soleras.

Local sherry’s story is a fantastic one. The wine is central to our entire wine history and culture. Go and buy a bottle today.

Melvyn Minnaar

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