£5.29 for 50cl
There are many, very obvious reasons for patronising smaller, independent wine retailers, but there is one good reason for buying lighter, paler, more delicate styles of sherry from supermarkets which live and die by rapid stock rotation. Freshness is all with Fino and Manzanilla sherry. The need to drink them within weeks of bottling may have been exaggerated according to sherry guru Jesús Barquín but it is still good to know that the bottle of light, dry sherry you pluck off a shelf has not been there for many months.
I have just tasted four sherries specially blended by Barbadillo for Tesco's fortified wine buyer James Griswood for the Tesco 'Finest*' range and I was hugely impressed by the Tesco Finest* Fino, and the Dry Oloroso. One might expect the Manzanilla to be the strongest suit from this producer based in Sanlucar de Barrameda, the home of this style. But I found the Fino had just a bit more bite and tang - and very obvious bready/doughy flor character typical of the yeast that protects these wines and keeps them fresh. Perhaps Barbadillo, owners of the Solear brand of Manzanilla, have too many other calls on their Manzanilla stocks? I note that although Tesco Finest Dry Amontillado and Dry Oloroso bottling are available in more than 600 stores, and the Fino is supposed to be available in more than 470 stores, the Manzanilla is available in only 280 stores.
Bear in mind, incidentally, that all these sherries are labelled Special Reserve and the only Finest* indication is on the foil around the neck of the bottle.
Both the Fino and the Manzanilla are 15% alcohol and sold, like all these sherries, in half litres with the instruction 'drink within three days' on the back label. I think this may be overly cautious. The wines have enough guts to keep their freshness for a week in a fridge and the Fino especially is just so fresh and zesty with real apple-juice tingle on the palate. Take one large spoonful before meals... or with a dish such as the broccoli with anchovy bruschetta in the original River Cafe Cookbook. Delicious just now.
Griswood claims that these Tesco bottlings are 'completely different and exclusive blends and both are older than their standard Barbadillo counterparts. Finest* Fino average age is five years and it is aged in cellars with less flor activity, thus giving a slightly more pungent character (but always tending to a lighter modern style as most finos these days). Finest* Manzanilla is a combination of two different soleras. Average age is slightly more than five years. Part of the Finest* blend is a combination of the third and fourth classes of the super-premium Solear manzanilla and the other part comes from a fully aged manzanilla solera distributed as Muy Fina in Spain. Finest* Amontillado average age is eight years. It comes directly from the Barbadillo "Principe" solera, which is 15 years old when released. Finest* Oloroso average age is the same, eight years. It comes directly from the Barbadillo "Cuco" solera, which is just over 10 years when released.'
They also sell a Finest* Cream blended from the Cuco solera together with younger oloroso and some four-year-old PX for sweetening but I haven't tasted this. I did taste the Dry Amontillado, which I found a tiny bit coarse and smudgy but I was hugely impressed by the Tesco Finest* Dry Oloroso (which I don't think you have to 'drink within seven days' as urged on the back label). It's a paler tawny than the Dry Amontillado and very rich underneath although wonderfully energetic and ethereal - literally. Bone dry yet miraculously racy, it is amazingly delicate for its alcohol level of 19%.
All of these sherries are sold at £5.29 per half-litre cork-stoppered bottle but I couldn't help thinking that Tesco must surely have paid very different prices for these wines of such different ages? When I asked this indelicate question I was told firmly, 'sorry, we are unable to discuss anything to do with cost prices. However, our aim from the start was to have a range of premium sherries that offered exceptional value for money, allowing consumers who are interested in exploring the different styles of sherry to move across the range without having to pay a premium for any particular styles.'
I think it is fair to say that the Dry Oloroso is the real bargain in this range. But that Fino is just the job for sunny weather - both as an aperitif and with all sorts of tapas-like foods. Bring on the green olives, the salted almonds, the pata negra… (The image above, in which the wine is very much darker than either of the sherries I am recommending, is from Salt Yard's website; see London's sherry and tapas explosion.)
*I'm sorry that the Tesco bottlings are not internationally available, but cannot help noticing that, according to wine-searcher.com, Barbadillo Dry Oloroso can be found quite widely, from $7.44 a bottle in the US. It may not be the same quality as the Tesco half-litres but at this price it is surely worth investigating?