Hugh John­son

‘As ap­pe­tiser-sharp­ener and flavour-en­hancer, fino has no ri­vals’

Decanter - - CONTENTS - Hugh John­son OBE is a world-renowned wine writer

It’s the sad­dest vine­yard sight I’ve ever seen: swathes of empty coun­try where vines used to grow. the gen­tly rolling land­scape, with scarcely more con­tours than the Mé­doc, fawn and grey, some­times star­tlingly white, tree­less but crowned here and there with white farm build­ings, is bare.

there were 22,000 hectares of sherry vine­yards. Now there are 6,000ha. In this boom­ing wine world, only one an­cient clas­sic re­gion has def­i­nitely gone into re­verse and be­come a com­mer­cial catas­tro­phe. You can blame cyn­i­cal or silly takeovers for some of it, but the real cul­prit is fash­ion. two hun­dred years ago sherry and Port slugged it out for supremacy in the north­ern euro­pean mar­ket. In the past 30 years or so it has been sherry ver­sus ‘light’ wines: Chardon­nay at first, then the tsunami of sau­vi­gnon Blanc.

I love sherry. Most days I have a glass (a lit­tle tulip co­pita), usu­ally a man­zanilla. a sip be­fore lunch and sev­eral with my food. as ap­pe­tiser-sharp­ener and flavouren­hancer, it has no ri­vals. It’s not a thirst-quencher; if I’m hot I’ll make a spritzer with any slightly fruity white wine and sparkling wa­ter. In my trade I in­stinc­tively fight shy of al­co­hol, and a co­pita holds very lit­tle. at 15% al­co­hol, mod­ern fino has about the same as most New World Chardon­nays – and you drink con­sid­er­ably less – far less than from those huge glasses that pubs rou­tinely fill to near the brim.

‘sip wine; swal­low wa­ter’ is my motto… or rather my prac­tice. and if you’re go­ing to sip, you want some­thing with a real hit of flavour; hence fino.

Fino, I say; not sherry. sherry is too broad a cat­e­gory, and is still dis­mally marked by as­so­ci­a­tion with vi­cars and aunts, and luke­warm, semi-sweet, brown fluid from a dusty de­can­ter. there are mar­vel­lous, even mag­nif­i­cent, old sher­ries, like mouth­fuls of nuts or dates; amon­til­la­dos, palo cor­ta­dos, olorosos – and of course the trea­cly PX. You can’t blame their mak­ers for want­ing you to try them.

I ar­gue, though, that the cat­e­gory is too blurred for mod­ern use. Let ‘sherry’ be the brown stuff. Keep the pre­cious word ‘fino’ for the pale, fresh, dustily aro­matic and bone-dry wine that lives un­der a du­vet of yeast un­til the day it’s bot­tled and rushed to your ta­ble. No wine any­where is drier. the flor has been feeding on ev­ery mol­e­cule of sugar, con­vert­ing it into savoury umami, the very essence of ap­petite.

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