Tuesday 13 January 2015

Book review: “Sherry” by Julian Jeffs:

Very few books on Sherry in English compare to this work. Now in its sixth edition and fully revised, it is still a pleasure to read and still essential in a Sherry lover’s library. The quality and clarity of the language is exemplary, explanations precise and clear, and now there are some colour photographs as well as a useful diagram of Valdespino’s soleras. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

Really it is just an update of a classic. Much of the book is a history which naturally remains largely the same, but it has been extremely thoroughly researched, and one can easily see why Sherry has evolved as it has. The descriptions of winemaking, the solera system and blending are unsurpassed: he really understands it all in depth and explains it clearly and there is an excellent glossary of terms.

As an English gentleman, and one who worked for a spell at Williams & Humbert, there is a noticeable emphasis on the British shippers and market. Perhaps this is forgivable in a book aimed at English speakers, but the British play a very much reduced role in the Jerez of today, and perhaps more could have been said about the Spanish bodegueros of the present time.

There is a welcome new section giving information on the bodegas and their best wines, but unfortunately it goes into very little detail, something I for one was really hoping for. Many bodegas are simply mentioned, but with nothing more than their contact details, and not much is said about the almacenistas. Some in fairness have become shippers since previous editions of the book – but not all. In the section on Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo he describes Fino Panesa as “very good” – which is something of an understatement for one of the absolute treasures of Jerez.

The historical export statistics appear again, but fascinating as they are, they need qualification and I would be more interested to see the more modern, relevant ones - though they would, unfortunately, show how sales of Sherry have dropped over the years.  “The chemical effects of plastering” is another outdated inclusion. A welcome exclusion however, is the “padding out” of the book with food matching or cocktails. As the title suggests it is simply about Sherry itself.

Much is happening in the Marco de Jerez, such as a growing table wine industry, which though not “Sherry” obviously, has a direct relevance in terms of bodega profitability. Little is said of it or the “boom” in En Rama wines, or the likes of Equipo Navazos – though they are described briefly. A few words on the Sherry seasoning of whisky casks would also have been interesting.

In the end this book like any other has the odd small flaw, (a few spelling mistakes for example) but if one thing shines through, it is the sheer love of and deep understanding of Sherry and all it stands for. If you are not tempted to give Sherry a go after reading this, then Heaven help you. But if you are, and only buy one book on Sherry, then buy this one – it’s the only one you need - sit in a comfy chair and read it thoroughly with a nice glass of Oloroso.

Published by Infinite Ideas Ltd. and widely available.

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