Supermarket sherry. Do those two words conjure up images of cheap nasty stuff for Grandma’s trifle? Well I’m here to tell you that things have changed. There are some sherry superstars gracing UK supermarket shelves these days – you just need to know where to go and what to look out for.
Many sherry lovers would argue you should stay away from the supermarkets all together, and buy bodega brands directly from independent wine shops. The margins are better for the bodegas and it supports our local high streets. I totally agree that it is better to buy bodega brands wherever possible – the quality is tip-top, and I’d always rather support their businesses directly. But the reality is that many of us don’t have a great indie wine shop nearby, and even if we do, the selection of sherry might be pretty limited. But we ALL have a supermarket nearby, and there are some brilliant (and very affordable) sherries on their shelves. Whether you’re struggling to get hold of good sherry locally, or just want to try some more different sherries, then your supermarket is a great place to look. This article is the first of a series – over the next few weeks I’ll review the selection from each UK supermarket chain, and highlight my top picks from their stock.
A less than illustrious past
Don’t get me wrong – UK supermarkets played their part in the sorry tale of sherry’s decline in quality during the 70s and 80s, when the UK stores wanted cheap, high volume ‘own-label’ sherry to satisfy huge demand. Quality went down, and the wine’s reputation suffered. The bodegas suffered too, with their margins squeezed to the very bone.
There’s still a fair bit of the cheap own-label stuff about. If you look closely the bodega name is on the back somewhere, but usually in small print. The bodegas aren’t falling over themselves to advertise their brands on it, and at £5 or less for 75cl, you can bet it’s not the finest that the bodega has to offer. I don’t plan to waste any time or airspace on these in this article or series. Do yourself and the bodegas a favour, and leave them on the shelves.
Bodega brand heroes
All the supermarkets stock some bodega brands. There’s a preponderance of Harveys Bristol Cream and Croft Original, but you can usually pick up Tio Pepe too. And who doesn’t need a bottle of Tio Pepe in the fridge at all times?!
Standing shoulder to shoulder with those big sherry names, all the supermarkets have one or two other brands that are worth popping in the trolley. Sainsbury’s stock the spectacular Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada from Hidalgo-La Gitana, whilst Morrisons recently started carrying the fabulous Fino La Ina by Lustau. And in true supermarklet style. there are frequent special offers which knock a pound or two off the bottle price. This series of artciles will clue you in on who stocks what, and you’ll suddenly find you have more access to bodega brand Fino and Manzanilla than you realised.
Premium range own-label gems
Here’s where the supermarket sherry scene gets really interesting. In recent years, UK supermarket chains have done a different kind of deal with the sherry bodegas; they’ve bought serious quality sherry, often quite old or from selected soleras, and created premium own-label ranges. Sainsbury’s have Taste the Difference, Tesco has Finest, Marks and Spencer have Very Rare and Don Fernando. These are wines that the sherry producers happily put their names to, often with the enologo’s signature on the front of the label. A very different proposition from the old style cheap and cheerful offerings.
Lustau is the biggest player in this space, with premium ranges in Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. Others include Rey Fernando de Castilla, Williams and Humbert and Barbadillo. Understandably they will rarely tell you which solera system the wines come from, or whether they are first/second criadera or taken from the solera itself. However, taste them and you’ll discover that the wines are definitely not cast offs. They are good. Very very good. So much so that they’re winning awards all over the place, including the International Wines and Spirits Competition and Decanter World Wine Awards. Every single one of Marks and Spencer’s Very Rare range has at least one medal/prize to its name.