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Last Updated: Friday, 23 December 2005, 06:29 GMT
'Tapas effect' boosts sherry sales
By Will Smale
BBC News business reporter

Tio Pepe
Sherry producers would like you to drink from a wine glass
When your grandmother enjoys a few glasses of sherry this Christmas, don't for one moment think she is just being old-fashioned.

Instead your granny, or other elderly relative, is in fact being pretty cutting-edge on the drinks front.

Yes, after years - even decades - of sorry social exclusion, sherry is now very fashionable again.

Cynics may scoff into their pints of lager, but UK sherry sales have risen strongly over the past year.

Sainsbury's says it is now selling more sherry than ever before. And more importantly for the future prosperity of the Spanish fortified wine's producers, the sales surge is being led by younger people.

According to producer Gonzalez Byass, sales of its market-leading Tio Pepe brand among 35- to 44-year-olds have surged 80% this year.

Drier styles

The big increase in sherry sales is being led by dry, pale sherries, such as Tio Pepe.

Sherry production is centred on the town of Jerez

Unlike sweet sherries, they are made to be drunk chilled, and people are discovering that they make a refreshing aperitif.

And while it is highly unlikely that gangs of 18-year-olds are going to start ordering sherry down the pub in place of their lagers and alcopops, the "30-something" generation are now enjoying dry sherry at home or out for a meal in ever-growing numbers.

But why exactly have sherry sales, which seemed in terminal decline, suddenly taken off in the UK?

Wine experts put it down to a number of main factors, including cheap flights and something called the "tapas effect".

Jeremy Rockett, UK marketing director for Gonzalez Byass, happily admits that sherry used to have a bit of an image problem.

"When most people thought of sherry, it was a sweet, dark drink that was drunk by your gran," he says.

"It had a completely stuffy image that we had to shake off.

"We needed to make people realise that dry sherries are the complete opposite of this - they are light and refreshing and really complement food. And very importantly, they need to be chilled."

Long weekends

The sherry producers' need to change the perception of their drink was made much easier by the huge growth in budget flights over the past 10 years.

Old-fashioned sherry glass
How sherry used to be presented in the UK

Flights that enabled British holidaymakers to discover a Spain away from the British-orientated "bucket and spade" package tours on the Med.

"Suddenly you had UK holidaymakers discovering the real Spain, and going for long weekends in Barcelona and Madrid," says Mr Rockett.

"Here they discovered traditional Spanish tapas food, and the drink that best goes with this - dry sherry.

"At the same time, there has been a big increase in tapas restaurants in the UK.

"This has obviously been a great help, but we do like to stress that sherry goes with all good foods, not just Spanish cuisine.

"And you should drink sherry from a normal white wine glass."

Sherry recipes

Melissa Draycott, Sainsbury's sherry buyer, agrees that the big increase in the popularity of tapas has caused a knock-on rise in sherry sales - the tapas effect.

A wine fortified with added brandy
Dry styles include Fino and Manzanilla
Made in and around Jerez in south west Spain

"Dry sherry in particular has become more fashionable and is being drunk as a refreshing chilled aperitif or an accompaniment to Spanish food, such as chorizo and olives," she says.

"Increasingly, restaurants and chefs are recommending sherry to complement food, and developing simple and versatile recipes using sherry."

Waitrose said the situation was the same at its stores - so much so that it has launched its own tapas range, which it offers at in-store tastings alongside a number of its sherries.

"In the year to date, all sherry styles have seen sales increases, with medium styles growing 20% and sweet sherries growing over 10%," it said.

But before your grandmother starts smiling triumphantly, and telling you how young people don't know anything these days, there may be one thing she is doing wrong - sherry won't keep from one Christmas to the next.

Instead of putting the bottle to the back of the cupboard for next year, you need to help her drink it up.

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