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Passion for the Perfect Serve

On-trade operators must be made aware of the commercial benefits of treating and serving Sherry like any other white wine. Gayle Sullivan reports from the drinks business Sherry forum

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when it comes to cracking the Sherry conundrum – how to convert the passion felt for Sherry by those who produce, distribute and sometimes those who sell the product into buoyant on-trade sales – that two heads are better than one. Surely even better then, a number of interested parties, from brand owners to bar owners and brewery wine buyers, getting together to talk about the challenges facing the Sherry category in the on-trade at an event hosted by The Sherry Institute of Spain during the first day of the London International Wine & Spirits Fair. There was passion aplenty at the event, enough to fill dozens of half-fino bottle ice buckets, and a feeling that Sherry’s on-trade image can indeed be revitalised further by addressing issues of perception and positioning as well as the fundamentals of packaging, price and incentivising bar and restaurant owners to stock and serve Sherry well.

For the past three years the generic Sherry campaign has put its weight behind promoting Sherry to be drunk in the on-trade as a wine. “The Perfect Serve” is their goal. And whilst great progress has been made  there are still some challenges facing the Sherry category in the on-trade. Bibendum’s Willie Lebus kicked off the feel-good factor with his view that if you are to ask yourselves questions about the general quality of Sherry then the news is only good.

He began by asking, “Is Sherry up to it as a product? Of course it is, it has never been better and you just don’t come across bad Sherry.” For Lebus, there are issues surrounding the category but they are ones of “positioning, perception and communication” not problems with the product itself which he believes to be “excellent value for money”.

Lively discussions on the day centred on the need to persuade restaurants to pay attention to selling and serving Sherry in the “correct” way. The very diversity of the UK on-trade is what makes it such an exciting place to do business but all agreed with Lebus that the challenge is to communicate to bars and restaurants the commercial benefits of treating Sherry like any other wine, thus adhering to the principles of the “Perfect Sherry Serve”.

As marketing director of Gonzalez Byass UK Jeremy Rockett knows, “Serve Sherry like any white wine to maximise your margins: serve chilled, in a white wine glass, ideally with food,” he continued, “We’re spending a lot of time and money on the education of the on-trade and directly into consumer-facing activities.” Rockett would like to see top bars and restaurants presenting Sherry as well as they are serving Champagne or mixing an appetising Martini or G&T.

“Unfortunately we do see people stocking fino on their back bar who serve it warm in small glasses and leave
it there for six weeks or more,” explained Rockett.

Part of the challenge for the Sherry category as a whole is to address the lack of understanding of the product which results in Sherry being stored and served in less than ideal conditions. Lebus further outlined his point about incentivising the on-trade to serve Sherry like any white wine, “It is about highlighting the commercial benefits of selling your product in the right condition,” continued Lebus. “You may believe it to be the bar owner’s responsibility to store and serve Sherry correctly but you’ve got to make it worth their while. Brand owners should be looking at the packaging and supplying half-bottles to encourage sales of Sherry by the glass.” His advice to the brand owners and producers was, “Ask yourselves what incentives you are giving the on-trade to take your product and run with it?”

He also wanted to know where the restaurateurs and bar owners are positioning Sherry in their marketing materials in terms of their wine lists? “Are they putting it on a Sherry page or are they being more innovative and putting Manzanilla on a ‘White wines that are crisp and fresh’ page?”

Ralph Wright, wine buyer for Greene King liked the idea of a fino or an amontillado on a wine list, under a heading of “Wine” not “Sherry”. As for sales incentives for Sherry, Wright agreed that half-bottles and Perfect Serve information would help busy and financially-challenged on-trade marketing departments and bar tenders to concentrate some of their resources on selling Sherry by the glass, the by-the-glass option being a growing bar culture phenomenon.

In terms of the positioning of Sherry on the wine list, the general consensus was not to try to hide the fact that a delicious oloroso or sweet Pedro Ximénez (PX) are Sherries but instead to emphasise that Sherry is a natural product and a wine – not a spirit to be kept for a while and sold at £6-plus a glass – and, finally, that it deserves some respect for being a unique and special drink.

One person to succinctly get across the special nature of Sherry as a product was Bosco Torremocha, executive director of Fedejerez, who spoke of why he believes there exists such a passion for Sherry in the UK. “Sherry is a special wine, unique in the way that it is produced,” explained Torremocha. “I have observed how the UK’s bar culture has grown into the diverse and busy marketplace it is today,” he said. He talked about how consumers on an evening out in the capital and elsewhere want authenticity and quality when they choose a glass of wine.

“Sherry connoisseurs know that these are the two weapons that Sherry has. The half-bottle size is an important step forward for some producers and it is an issue we should be addressing better as a sector,” said Torremocha.

The words “Sherry” and “connoisseur” were also linked together early in the discussion by Sam Surl, a market researcher specialising in premium brands and operations director of Rising Star Leisure. Surl’s research has revealed that Sherry is increasingly the drink of choice for “connoisseur men” who have “no desire to share the well-kept secret of their Sherry drinking as it demotes that connoisseurship”.

At the other end of the scale, Surl mentioned the top bartenders who need to know much more about Sherry as a product and how it can be a margin enhancing option. These people are the converted who are eager to spread the word but don’t have the knowledge they crave. “These barmen are where we should concentrate our educational efforts first. They consider themselves to be at the top of their game but, although they may have encountered manzanilla or fino, they do not have a clue about most Sherries,” said Surl.

Next to offer some insights into attracting new drinkers was Catherine Murden, wine development manager for St Austell Brewery. For Murden, it’s all about accessibility: “You would have thought that down in the southwest where we are based, the bars on the beach would be ideal territory for Sherry to do well.” Murden painted a picture of putting tapas on an outside table with a delicious bottle of fino Sherry in an ice bucket, accompanied by two decent-size wine glasses and went on to say, “This is how fino ought to be consumed. This is the “perfect serve”. The restaurateurs in our area like the idea of this but they are unsure how to proceed. They need to be armed with the right bottle size, the ice buckets and the product knowledge to feel comfortable and convey that feeling of comfort to their customers.”

Rockett pointed out that a growing number of non-Spanish on-trade outlets within London are recommending Sherry, “People trust them to recommend good food and wine and they can convey their interest in Sherry to their customers.” The issue now the panel admitted was to get the consumer turned back onto Sherry outside of the capital which raised the question how can you get mass market sales on the back of all this positivity?

Murden replied that advertising works and supermarkets work in attracting large numbers of new consumers to Sherry. She suggested a new campaign around placing Sherry on white wine lists, and Surl agreed that, although on-trade education is key, some consumer-facing activity is needed to get consumers excited and enthralled by Sherry. “After all, they need guidance to appreciate the taste of ‘flor’ in manzanilla, for example.” she said.

Encouraging a better understanding of Sherry is the aim of Matt Arrowsmith and his team at The Sherry Institute of Spain. He began by agreeing that the bottling issue has come on leaps and bounds and helped the Perfect Serve message that Sherry served in wine measures at wine prices can increase sales and profitability in the on-trade. The pressing issue for him is the education of bar tenders, who want to be confident about the product in order to up-sell consumers a fino rather than a Champagne.

His colleague Robert Phillips urged those present to look to those who are already passionate about selling Sherry, like leading chefs Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adriá at their respective restaurants, The Fat Duck and El Bulli.

Another leading Sherry producer talking about education was Matthew Hudson, managing director of John Harvey & Sons. Having had a recent experience of tasting Sherry with over 20 young, professional wine drinkers, he was shocked at their lack of understanding of the Sherry styles on offer. He later made the point that much is being said about the marriage of manzanillo and fino with tapas but added, “The nation’s favourite food is Indian cuisine and cream Sherries are the perfect partner to spicier dishes.”

On asking the audience what opportunities are out there for Sherry in the on-trade, David Furer, The Sherry Institute of Spain’s on-trade educator, picked up on Bosco Torremocha’s earlier point that “there are 12 different styles of Sherry wine. It’s amazing: Sherry has the very driest and the very sweetest wines in the world and this diversity is a unique selling point, representing a challenge in presenting these wines to the on-trade but also a wonderful opportunity to celebrate their diversity.”

There is opportunity through that diversity, agreed Torremocha. “Sherry can be served at the beginning, through the meal and after the meal, and this is a strength not a weak point,” he argued.

Lebus summed up the possibilities open to the Sherry producers to capitalise on the major bar culture currently taking place in the UK: “It seems to me that the young are eating and grazing, and we need to turn them onto Sherry before we run out of our traditional core drinkers.” But he concluded that producers need to make it commercially attractive for bars and restaurants to stock and serve the product correctly by supplying half-bottles and educating on-trade staff.
Above all, it was agreed that those with a passion for Sherry need to share their passion for the product and spread the message of the Perfect Sherry Serve.   db May 2006


The Sherry Institute of Spain has been working on the Perfect Serve initiative for the past three years. The key objectives are to encourage a better understanding of Sherry, to kick start staff and consumer awareness of certain Sherry styles as a wine, to encourage the sevice of Sherry in 125ml glasses, to educate further on Sherry’s partnering possibilities with food and to highlight the product’s money-making potential. 


Fino should be served well chilled and in 125ml wine glasses and priced as you would a white wine to maximise profits. By serving in wine measures, at wine prices, you allow for a greater turnover, fresher stock and more satisfied consumers. Both manzanilla and fino should be offered as an alternative to white wine in the Spanish Wine section of your wine list and drunk especially with all kinds of fish and seafood. Fino is a brilliant aperitif and could be offered as an alternative to Champagne or Martini. Store in a fridge and use within two to three weeks – it must be served fresh!

This is an aged fino and should be served lightly chilled. It is a great aperitif but works best served with bar sundries like chorizo and salted almonds, or with “gastro-style” dishes like bangers and mash and steak and chips.

Serve at room temperature. Sweeter versions are an ideal addition to the dessert wine list and pair well with dishes such as creme brulée, treacle tart and bread and butter pudding.

As an alternative to Pimms why not serve cream on the rocks in a tumbler with a slice of orange.

Pale cream is a great refresher simply chilled and washed down with fresh strawberries.

db June 2006

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