Sherry – book review

sherry julian jeffsThis is a review of the 6th Edition of Sherry by Julian Jeffs. I have a review copy of the paperback, published by Infinite Ideas earlier this year with an RRP of £30.00. I think the hardback version of this edition came out a couple of years ago. It has 262 pages and, like other books in this Classic Wine Library series, the general design and physical impression is good. Black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the book, including a map of the Sherry region. There is also a small collection of colour plates bound together in the middle of the book.

I already owned the 5th edition, and my first comment would be that the updates are relatively minor, so I wouldn’t recommend buying the 6th edition if you already have the 5th. In addition to making the book look a lot more modern and a number of editorial changes, the updates I spotted are: Equipo Navazos gets a few lines, as do a few other newer bodegas, and the Brandy de Jerez chapter has been ditched. Beware though, as The Twentieth Century chapter has been renamed The Twentieth Century and Beyond, but it doesn’t go very much “beyond” at all. While very limited, the updates are all welcome, and make the book generally more attractive. Regarding the mapping though, two very hard-to-read maps in an antiquated style have been replaced by one modern map that is even harder to read. Map regions are indicated by shading in white and four shades of grey, for three soil types, where the vineyards are, and something else. My issues are a) I cannot always tell which shade of grey is which, b) I have no idea what the “something else” is, but can only presume it is not relevant to Sherry, and worst of all c) the apples-and-pears colouring scheme makes it impossible to know what soils the vineyards are on, which is what you are most likely to want to know from such a map. Sometimes I despair – maps are meant to convey information, not act merely as decoration. Rant over.

On the positive side, I must say that this is probably the best specialist (as opposed to The Oxford Companion, for example) wine book I have read. It is a true classic of The Classic Wine Library. It is written well, and oozes authority that is backed up by a comprehensive section of sources and bibliography. Apart from the appendices and a section that gives a paragraph on each of the shippers, the book is roughly evenly split between history and production methods. There is no space given to tasting notes, which you may or may not see as an advantage. Whichever side of the fence you take, it is probably something that has allowed the book to work well across several editions.

But what about the excitement felt for Sherry by contemporary wine lovers? You cannot find it in Jeffs’ book. Even in the provincial North of England, where Sherry bars have not yet made much of an in-road, there are many enthused drinkers of Sherry in my circle of wine buddies. It is common to kick off an evening with a glass of Sherry, and sometimes to drink it at some point in the meal. Also perhaps a few sentences on en rama Sherry, currently gaining in popularity, would have been a good idea. Rama has an entry in the glossary (in the 5th edition too), where it is defined as wine bottled from the cask without further treatment. But that is the only mention I noticed and, even if strictly speaking the definition is correct, it is not necessarily what you always get if en rama is on the label. But maybe all this trendy stuff is a mere blip in the world of Sherry, and the weight of history, and large body of conservative imbibers, justifies its omission. If so, then there is definitely room for another more ephemeral Sherry book.

About Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast
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2 Responses to Sherry – book review

  1. Steve, have you seen “Sherry, Manzanilla and Montilla” by Peter Liem and Jesus Barquin (2012, Manutius)? I know this has not been as well distributed in the UK as in the US and Ireland, and I have to confess that JB is a friend so I’m not wholly capable of objectivity, yet I really think that book does convey excitement. Lots of it.

    Sherry has, as you suggest, undergone a small revolution, if perhaps confined mainly to wine aficionados more than the wider public (en rama, site specific sherries, small batches/bottlings like Equipo Navazos, new tapas bars like the Barafina chain etc). Jeffs is a long standing expert, once perhaps “the” expert. But if a book doesn’t explore the current scene I think it does the region a disservice. It makes the publisher a bit more dosh, but leaves the consumer feeling cheated by the author. A shame. Great review.

  2. Thanks for the comments, David. I am, just about, aware of that book. As I wrote the bit about there being room for another type of Sherry book, I googled and found it. Didn’t know you were a friend of Jesus! I’ll add it to my list of books to think about buying sometime, but it is quite a long one at the moment.

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