Tuesday 13 September 2016

Buying Old Sherry

The amazing prices achieved by wines at the glamorous auction houses of Christies and Sotheby’s (among many others) are most often great vintages of Claret and Burgundy. Fine wines from other places are more of a second division, and Sherry is rarely seen. When it is, the prices are usually pretty reasonable by comparison.

There was one exception: “Massandra Sherry de la Frontera” 1775, sold by Sotheby’s for $43,500 in 2001, was the oldest and most expensive Sherry ever auctioned. The Massandra winery in Crimea which has the world’s largest wine collection has been planning to sell another bottle, hoping to raise a million euros. The wine was widely publicised and Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi widely criticised when they drank a bottle while visiting. There are those who dispute that the wine is really genuine Sherry, and not the product of Crimea itself. Maybe we could consult those politicians!

The Massandra Sherry

The Reliquia range from Barbadillo (Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and PX) which are extremely old wines, sell at £500-700 a bottle and their oldest of all, Versos, sells at £7,000, all these in the UK trade. In 1999 Christies arrived at Williams & Humbert to taste their collection of vintage wines and persuaded them to auction some of these “Glorious Wines”, as Christies’ director Thomas Hudson put it. They sold for an average of 250 euros per bottle in 2006 and at up to 600 euros at later sales in London, New York and Los Angeles. So the value of old Sherry is in the low hundreds of pounds unless it is exceptional or extremely rare.

These Pemartin Berisford Solera 1914s bottled 1980s were sold as vintage for £120

These are all top notch Sherries, easily the equal of many of the record breaking Clarets and Burgundies in terms of quality, and often much older, so amazing value. But this age thing is a problem. Most fine wines carry a vintage date so one knows how old they are, but Sherry very rarely does, and one comes across it for sale with the solera foundation date mistaken for the vintage, and a price to match, even though the word “solera” appears on the label! A quick glance at the bottle would tell most people the wine could not possibly be that age – I saw an “1830” with a plastic top! I believe it is generally ignorance rather than dishonesty.

I have seen González Byass Solera 1847 (retail price @ 7 euros) for sale online at 1050.00 euros! Okay, it is an older bottling, but not more than 20 years old. Osborne PX 1827 is another example; retail price about 9 euros, and offered online (maybe a 30 year-old bottling) for 1030.00 euros! The same site has Williams & Humbert’s Dry Sack and Canasta Cream, both still available, and again older bottlings, at 810.00 euros. They are listed as 1877 – the year the bodega was founded. I got in touch about these – twice –but nothing has changed, and I only mention a few wines from the list. I would be interested to know what was paid for them.

Another problem is that some people seem unable to distinguish Sherry from Montilla (good though it is, Alvear PX Solera 1830 is not a Sherry – and it was also priced as a vintage). Neither is the excellent Toro Albalá, also Montilla, and De Muller Tarragona is not Sherry either. It is red for a start! If it is Sherry it will say so on the label, and if it doesn’t, then it isn’t. And worse, there are still websites selling imitations as “Sherry”, and some products from South Africa, New Zealand and the US still carry the S word on the label. There is a huge amount of work still to be done by the Consejo Regulador to protect the name Sherry, and as far as buying old Sherry online is concerned, be VERY careful and shop around, it is amazing how prices vary. Caveat emptor.

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