Wine: How to make the most of a good sherry


- Credit: Archant

Half drunk bottles in warm rooms aren’t best suited to salty manzanilla, says Liz Sagues.

Not that many years ago, half-finished bottles of sherry languished for weeks on shelves in warm living rooms. Perhaps some do still: calamity. Sherry, and especially the dry, lighter styles, is a perishable product needing to be kept cool once opened and finished quickly, just as you’d treat a white wine. Sometimes, though, the emphasis on freshness is taken to unusual lengths.

But before I explain, a little background.

I first met Bruno Murciano when he worked for wine giant Bibendum in Primrose Hill and he’d just won the Best Sommelier in Spain award. Now, through their import company de Vinos, he and his partner Luis Sanz, a former investment banker, bring to Britain a Spain-wide catalogue of wines. Among them are the sherries of La Cigarrera.

The name and the illustration on the label commemorate the women who once sold cigarettes on the streets of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the seaside town which is the centre of manzanilla sherry production. The sea breezes wafting into the bodegas where this fine, food-welcoming wine matures are said to give the appetising salty edge to its flavour.

Until the last decade or so, La Cigarrera sherries were sold in cask to bigger sherry houses – Lustau and Barbadillo, for example – but now they’re bottled under their own name. The manzanilla is a classic, bright and salt-tangy, a perfect aperitif that can carry on to happily partner starters and many, ideally fishy, main courses. It’s absolutely typical of the kind of sherry that must be drunk fresh.

And that’s what Murciano ensures for his customers. In Spain, the wine is bottled on demand every Saturday, an operation small enough for de Vinos to specify each week how many bottles it wants. These arrive in London three or four days later – and are in the hands of buyers within a week of leaving the cask.

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Though most of the importers’ business is with restaurants, consumers can buy direct from La Cigarrera manzanilla is £10.50 and there are plenty of other well-chosen wines on the site to make it easy to reach the £50-minimum order for free delivery – you don’t want to compromise the manzanilla’s newly-bottled freshness by leaving it lingering too long, even unopened.

If Murciano’s favoured label lady is the cigarette seller, for Peter Dauthier it’s “my gypsies”. They adorn the Cayetano del Pino bottles that Dauthier, the ultimate sherry enthusiast and a man able to source excellent wines, supplies to The Wine Society. These are not manzanilla but palo cortado, still a dry style though a deeper-coloured, richer delight, intensely nutty in flavour – the Solera (£14.50) is wonderful, the Viejisimo (£21, half-bottle) an extraordinary, infinitely memorable experience.

Dauthier is also responsible for the very good Pedro’s Alcemista sherries in Majestic.

Back to manzanilla... recently I tasted many of those readily available here, and the one which for me has the strongest taste of the sea and is mouth-wateringly enticing is Barbadillo Solear. Conveniently, to ensure its qualities aren’t dulled by time, it comes in half bottles (£4.75, Waitrose, Tesco, and independents).

Ever-tempting, too, is Hidalgo La Gitana (around £10, widely available) – and with its label, we’ve returned to the gypsies.