What’s in a name

I recently saw a post by Erik Burgess of MontillaMorilesWines.com  pointing out that “Andalucia’s oldest bodega”, Alvear, in Montilla Moriles, “can nevertheless not call itself sherry”. It struck me as an odd point and one that gave me pause for thought.

I must be honest my first instinct was to question the argument. (Frankly what does being in Andalucia and being old have to do with it?) But aside from petty snarkery it also made me think about an issue that has been bothering me for a while.

I am a “sherryblogger”. I like to think of myself as part of the “sherry revolution” (not the silent part). I often tag my tweets “sherrylover”, go to events called “sherryfest” and receive Christmas greetings where “sherry” replaces “merry”. “Sherry” is a big part of my life.

But, frankly, I can’t stand the name “sherry”, and I wondered why a famous old bodega like Alvear would want to saddle their lovely wines with such a moniker.

I have no doubts about the value of “sherry” as a brand, its historic importance, long tradition, and contribution to the “cause”. Neither do I doubt the value of the work put in over the years to protect the name from foreign usurpers. In fact the frustrated desire expressed by the above post shows the value placed in the name by those not entitled to use it.

But I dislike it. I prefer the slightly clunky but much more accurate “wines of Jerez and Sanlucar”, for a number of reasons. (In Spanish I occasionally use “Jereces” but even then under silent mental protest.)

First, and foremost, because I feel that “sherry” contributes to the widespread misconception that “sherries” are somehow a category apart from other wines, undeserving of a place in the wine list or even on the same aisle in the supermarket as the other wines. It is not the only culprit on this score – the lack of vintages, the lack of recognition of terroir, and much of the paraphernalia (the terrible “catavinos” glasses) add to the impression. There is also some truth in the fact that many (not all) of the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar are produced in a fundamentally different way and have highly distinct characteristics. Nevertheless, they are wines (fortified or not) and I strongly feel it would be better if we refer to them as “wines” rather than “sherries”.

Second, because the baggage accumulated over the years by the word “sherry” is not all positive. Not all the wines sold under the name have been as good as they should be, and even when they were, the term “sherry” has become synonymous with certain styles of wines and as commodities, without much room for distinction. If you did a word association with sherry back home I bet the first matching words would be “trifle” and “cooking”. (Yes sherry is great to cook with but it shouldn’t be on the same shelf as the vinegars.)

Third, because it does a misservice to the enormous variety of the wines produced in the region – finos, finos del puerto, manzanillas, manzanilla pasadas, amontillado finos, amontillados, palo cortados, olorosos, amorosos, mediums, creams – they are so different that when someone asks you to define “sherry” in few words you can only do it at a high level of abstraction.

Geographically too, “sherry” gives precedence to Jerez and neglects (or maybe subsumes) the other centres in region, in particular Sanlucar and el Puerto, but also Chiclana and others. This may be no more than historical fact, but I think it is a shame not to celebrate the diversity of terrain at least a little bit. (I also recognize that my “wines of Jerez and Sanlucar” is incomplete but look you only get 140 characters on twitter …) If I had my way in fact we would be talking about Miraflores, Mahina, Macharnudo, Balbaina, los Cuadrados, Carrascal, Añina, etc.

Shapesmoke swoon of avalon may once have said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, but I honestly believe that if you gave a wine enthusiast some of the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar they would like them more if you didn’t tell them they were “sherries”. In this respect just look at the guys at Equipo Navazos – in many respects the model to follow in terms of the marketing and promotion of these wines. They talk about “the traditional wines of Andalucia” and they celebrate their diversity like crazy (to the tune of 60 odd different wines and counting in just over ten years). You see the same at Emilio Hidalgo, with their “Vinos Genuinos de Jerez”.

So while I will keep on blogging, and drinking, and generally doing everything I can to further the revolution, I will not be killing in the name of “sherry”.


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