National treasures at risk

Returning from the sherry region after a visit with a group of Australian wine writers, it seems a good moment to put into perspective the future of the region. The Jerez denomination of origin (DO) was the first ever to be authorised in Spain (Rioja was the second) and it was the first wine to be exported. The Aussies were of course aware of this, and did their best to increase their knowledge further by enjoying liberal amounts of delicacies such as manzanilla La Kika, fino Cruz Vieja en Rama, amontillado Cuatro Palmas, oloroso El Maestro Sierra, palo cortado Colosia Solera, etc. - wines which, looked at from any point of view, are among the very best in the world.

However, and as is usual, the visitors came with the fixed idea that all sherries are blended wines that go through a solera system. These days, however, there are many excellent single vintage wines, such as the recent issue of the Finos de Añada of González Byass and the new Vinos Finitos of Tío Pepe, as well as those produced by the smaller bodegas.

The real problem of the region is the conservatism of the regulatory body, the Consejo Regulador, that covers both Jerez as well as the manzanilla zone of Sanlúcar. The big bodegas want to control all the others, regardless, so the smaller ones are under a regime that mainly works against their interests. And while there are no buyers of fino and amontillado, everyone wants tankers full of cheap manzanilla and the sweet varieties. Box wine is not permitted and grape prices are the lowest in Spain. The prestigious old wines currently being bottled and sold in limited quantities add enormous prestige to the region, although financial benefits are inadequate.