From the magazine: Rare Sherry

What else is available? González Byass bottles Tio Pepe En Rama once a year, and the splendid Palmas Sherries every autumn. Might there be more? “It’s a matter of time,’ says Martin Skelton of González Byass.

“We see the market coming back, but we need to be confident we can obtain a good price for century-old wines. These Sherries have an emotional value to the family. We don’t want to sell too much too fast: we might kick ourselves in 30 years’ time. I’m not holding my breath.”

The market may indeed be coming back, but one shipper I spoke to was scared off by a prospective price of £400-£500 per bottle for some ‘spectacular’ palo cortado; he’d wanted to put it on the market at £60-£200 per bottle. The wine remains unbottled, indicating that there is a price ceiling.

Barbardillo’s next tier down from Versos, Reliquia, sells at around £900 per bottle, but there are just 30 bottles of each style per year. Andrew Hawes of Mentzendorff reckons up to £100 is OK for Sherry drinkers. And after that price point?

“£100-£150 is the fine-wine market. Over £150? Hmm. It depends how much you’re trying to sell.”

Mentzendorff recently released La Gitana Amontillado Pastrana and 225th Anniversario La Gitana Pasada Pastrana, both single-vineyard expressions; prices are around £35 and £100 respectively. “You do no favours by pitching it too low,” says Hawes. “It must be correctly priced: you have to build demand.”

Eduardo Davis of Bodegas Tradición says: “€2,000 a bottle is not something we would think about. We’re not aiming to make Sherry unreachable. We have some super-rare wines, maybe 500 bottles a year. Collectors would pay a lot for these bottles. But they usually don’t reach the market. They tend to go into the private reserves of restaurant owners and our partners.”

GOOD SERVICE

So in marketing terms, what’s the point of bottling them? “People talk about them, tweet about them, brag about having an 80-year-old Amontillado.

It does a good service for us, for Bodegas Tradición and for Jerez, and for the normal wines. We’re getting good value from them, or we wouldn’t do it, even if it’s only the good value by our partners having a good moment. It’s a way of sharing something that is disappearing little by little.”

He concedes that the company does not make money from these wines. “Sometimes they’re poured by the glass and used as attraction for connoisseurs, but we make more money from the current wines.”

The trouble is that it will take more than a few happy tweets to expand the market for rare Sherry – if that’s what you want to do. VOS and VORS prices haven’t really shifted since the categories were introduced – “people don’t understand them”, says Hawes. “Port has 10-year-old, 20-year-old, or a vintage, and it’s easy.”

The Wine Society, says Mansour, doesn’t use VOS or VORS on its list. Equipo Navazos doesn’t use them. Peter Dauthieu of Viniberia and Ehrmanns says that if VORS is in supermarkets that don’t have the right consumers and the bottles don’t move off the shelf, then the price doesn’t move.

“To see a high-end product gathering dust is bad for the retailer and bad for the product”.

The ‘special jewels’ that Dauthier is releasing – vintage Sherries from Williams, for example (currently 2001, 2003 and 2009) – are “aimed at the fine-wine drinker, which Port never departed from”. How long, then, before rare Sherries can match rare Ports in price? Dauthier says: “We’re not so elitist, not so show-off.” Hawes adds: “We’re moving in the Port direction, though probably not all in one go.

We have to edge Sherry prices up to the correct level, so that it’s properly valued. There’s room to manoeuvre without compromising Sherry’s amazing value. The secondary market is important and needs to be developed; we need to make sure rare Sherries appear at auction.”

John West of Emporia Brands points to travel retail, which helped malt whisky. “Good promotion would pay dividends,” he says. And being properly valued would do Sherry no harm at all.

 

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