My Sherry Amour


These days, Hong Kong and the top tier mainland cities seldom lag far behind when it comes to adopting the very latest international drinks trends – with one notable exception. To date, there are few signs that the Sherry revival – a staple of the London scene a season or two back – has made any real inroads more locally.

By contrast, gin – which underwent its own renaissance at around the same time – has received a ready welcome in the Asian markets. Sherry, though, is still languishing on the dusty shelf of last resort for many of the region’s tipplers.

That is actually something of a pity as it means many local connoisseurs are missing out on a whole range of superb expressions of one of the world’s truly great styles of fortified wine. One man, however, is on a mission to remedy this – Tim Holt, regional sales director and international ambassador for Bodegas Barbadillo in Sanlucar de Barrameda.

Holt, an Englishman by birth, is currently settled in Sanlucar, a city in the semi-autonomous Andalucía region of southern Spain. He arrived in the Sherry business by something of a circuitous route.

After completing a degree in Ecological Science at Edinburgh University, he first tried his hand at cattle ranching in both Australia and Argentina. He then graduated to crocodile and fish farming in Kenya.

Returning to the UK, he then found himself in something of a more mainstream job, working for one of the companies ultimately subsumed into Diaego, the multinational drinks company. It was here that he fell in love with both Sherry and Spain.

In 1990, he was offered a job with a small Sherry producer in Sanlucar. Swift to seize the opportunity, he immediately relocated. Set on the left bank of the Guadalquivir River, the city is the centre of production for Manzanilla, a hugely popular fino sherry.

The city also has something of a buccaneering tradition. It was the Atlantic port of departure for many of the Spanish conquistadores, with wealth from the Americas flowing back to the town for several generations.

In 1821, Don Benigno Barbadillo y Ortiguela, a Spanish nobleman, sailed into Sanlucar, fresh from making his fortune in the Americas. Finding suitable premises in an old building in the town centre – a site still standing today – he founded Bodegas Barbadillo. He then set about making Manzanilla.

While ever mindful of its heritage, the company – still owned by the Barbadillo family – is also one of the most forward-looking in the Spanish wine industry. Today it manages16 bodegas [storehouses for maturing wine] in the centre of Sanlucar, as well as owning vineyards in prime areas around the town. Its most well-known Sherry is the best-selling Solear, but  it also produces a full range of other fortified wines, including Amontillada, Olorosa, and  PX Sherries.

In terms of quantity, it is by far the most important of the Manzanilla producers, making more than half the Sherry that bears that name. It has also diversified into making a number of non-fortified wines. It was responsible for developing Castillo de San Diego, Spain’s best-selling white wine, and it also has interests in several regions outside Andalucia, including Ribera Del Duero.


Holt joined Bodegas Barbadillo in 2011. His brief was to develop the house’s business in Asia, as well as to work on the launch of several new top-end Sherries. Much of the business he has succeeded in growing is related to Barbadillo’s non-fortified wines.

At present, Spanish wine is growing in popularity in Hong Kong and China, thanks in part to the success of a number of Spanish-themed restaurants – notably 22 Ships and  Ham & Sherry in Hong Kong, and Shanghai’s El Willy, a development underlined by the growing passion for tapas in the region.

While a clear link between Spanish food and Spanish wine is easy to establish, fitting Sherry into the equation has been a little more problematic. According to Holt, this is a little surprising; in Andalucia, Sherry is the tapas accompaniment of choice.

Emphasising its suitability for pairing with Serrano ham, chesse, scallops, croquetas and more, Holt says: “For me, Manzanilla is the classic wine match for all kinds of tapas.”

Could it be that the Sherry category just doesn’t have sufficient glamour to find success in this part of the world? If so, Holt and his team at Barbadillo are more than keen to change that particular perception.

One of the reasons for his recent visit to Hong Kong was to introduce the Barbadillo Vesos 1891 – probably the most luxuriously-styled bottle of Sherry ever produced. Its presentation has clearly been strongly influenced by the deluxe decanter style packaging pioneered by a number of the cognac companies. It has also learnt a lesson or two from several of the single malt whisky producers – most notably The  Macallan’s Six Pillars decanter series.

Bottled in fine hand-carved crystal, with gold-leaf and platinum paint highlights, this most regal of Sherries comes lovingly presented in a finely-crafted Spanish leather box. Only 100 of these bottles are to be produced, each one retailing for around £8,000 [approximately HK$89,500 but dropping notably in these post-Brexit times]. While a proportion of this is clearly going towards the presentation, Holt is surely right when he says it is the quality and rarity of the sherry that truly justifies the price tag

A truly fine Amontillada, the sherry has been sourced from a cask gifted to Manuel Barbadillo in 1891 to mark the occasion of his birth. A family member and, later, a  bodega director, Manual went on to win a considerable reputation as a local poet.


Explaining the choice of this particular cask, Holt said: “We wanted to share this slice of our history and put the spotlight on one of the great wine regions of the world. Hopefully, this will be something of a wake-up call.”

Hold describes the colour as “deep mahogany” was insisting the palate presents “intense nutty, woody and rich dried-fruit flavours, indicative of its age.” For those lucky enough to sample this fine sherry, it would be difficult to argue with any of that.

As to whether it’s actually worth £8000 a bottle, well that rather depends on whether you regard that sort of sum as a serious investment or not. It is entirely possible that it will appreciate over time, acquiring an enhanced value for collectors, similar to the way rare whisky decanters have done in the past.

This, though, is something of a first, so could be seen as a shot in the dark by many of the more wary investors. There is, however, at least one form of reassurance on offer…

Buyers can rest easy that any bottle they purchase comes with a 100 per cent guarantee that it is tamper-free. This comes courtesy of a smartphone readable intelligent seal, which can instantly confirm as to whether or not an individual bottle been opened, giving an unarguable assurance that its contents remain pristine and unadulterated.

By the standards set by the whisky in crystal range, £8000 is not a huge sum. Similarly, given the remarkable scale of the Barbadillo operation, the £800,000 likely to be raised from sales of the entire special edition is hardly a game changing amount/

Far more significant, however, is the collection’s role in changing overall perceptions of the value and desirabilityof fortified wines. In the end, the success of this particular special edition will depend on just how much it makes wine lovers reassess this most neglected incarnation of the grape.

In Hong Kong and China progress is already being made, with Holt reporting particular success among Shanghai wine lovers. Despite this, one huge obstacle remains – the seemingly inerasable image of Sherry as that unremarkable bottle left gathering dust on a shelf some six months after being opened.

As a fortified wine, it is widely – and wrongly – assumed that you don’t have to keep Sherry chilled. For some reason, many default to believing that it will remain drinkable – or equally undrinkable – months after it has been opened.

Given that kind of treatment, it will inevitably taste pretty dire. In order to try and dispense with that particular images, a number of Barbadillo’s Sherries are now available in half-bottles.This intended to send out a clear signal – This is a Drink Best Finished in a Single Session.

For Holt, the message is clear: “Next time you open a bottle of sherry – the good stuff – you should feel free to throw away the cork”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *