A couple of weeks back The Vine‘s Sherry-Crazy Derek Kranenborg partnered with Wine Writer Peter Liem to host Toronto’s inaugural Sherryfest. Simply corralling the agents involved (The Vine, Philippe Dandurand Wines, Noble Estate Wines and Spirits, Majestic Wine Cellars, Terra Firma Brands, PMA Canada, Woodman Wines and Spirits, 30-50 Imports, Charton-Hobbs) is a gargantuan task in itself, but the three day event turned out to be a tremendous success and the crowd was most enthusiastic about the oft-overlooked treasures of Jerez available for tasting.
And as well as interviewing Derek about his Sherryfest experience we also managed to grab a few minutes on video withPeter Liem.
Good Food Revolution: So what inspired you to bring Sherryfest to Toronto?
Derek Kranenborg: Sherry has always been a personal favourite and a wine I am real passionate about (I lived in Spain briefly at the end of the ’90’s when I was working for a bank and I really fell in love with Spain, Rioja and Sherry).
When I joined The Vine we began importing Barbadillo and Equipo Navazos as it is clear these are real wines of quality and I felt they were worth trying to bring attention to. In the UK and NYC specifically, dry sherry at the premium end of the spectrum was gaining momentum and last year there were two great sherry events in London and NYC (see my blog). We had some success with Equipo Navazos and I felt there was a real interest in sherry with several somms and chefs, even if they thought it would be hard to sell.
After attending Sherryfest in NY, I really wanted to try it in Toronto and see if we could pull something off here. I contacted Peter Liem and the Consejo Regulador in Jerez and both were interested in giving it a try. So there you have it, the largest ever sherry-only event in probably all of Canada. It’s hard to bring in high-end (old and rare) sherry through the LCBO (see another post on my blog) but I feel this wine just deserves more attention.
If you are having trouble viewing this video please click here.
GFR: And you spun over the course of three days… apart from the grand tasting at The Gardiner, what else was going on?
DK: We organized a kick-off cocktail event at Cava on the Wednesday night : “Tio & Tapas”, specifically sponsored by Woodman Wines and Spirits with Gonzalez Byass. Bodega representatives Antonio Flores (winemaker) and Christopher Canale-Parola (Sales Mgr) were on site to pour Tio Pepe Fino and, for the first time in Ontario, Tio Pepe En Rama.
Then we organized three Sherry Dinners: Cava with Barbadillo and El Maestro Sierra, Edulis with Gonzalez Byass and Hidalgo-La Gitana and Enoteca Ascari with Fernando de Castilla and Tradicion. I personally only attended the dinner at Cava and the pairings were fantastic!
Last but not least, on the Friday, we featured a Sherry Cocktail Competition with Dave Mitton at THR&Co, where 5 bartenders made a cocktail based on a sweet sherry and a dry sherry, judged by Cesar Saldana and Beltran Domecq from the Consejo Regulador and Peter Liem (author). Taylor Corrigan (Home of the Brave) won for best overall performance. It was very interesting to see what can be done with Sherry, how versatile it is and to tap into a whiole different consumer, through the bar scene. The contestants took it very seriously and were very engaged. I can’t wait to visit them at their bars to see how the sherry is doing for them.
GFR: And how do you feel the response was?
DK: Fantastic! Received great feedback from trade and consumers alike. Some even calling it the tasting of the year in Toronto. It’s certainly nice to hear and to see that something as niche as Sherry can draw such a crowd. We had close to 200 people attend the Grand Tasting.
GFR: And the dinners were well attended I hear?
DK: All three dinners were sold out!
GFR: Did you come across any surprising pairings?
DK: As mentioned, I only attended the dinner at Cava, but what stood out for me was a pairing of “Japanese eggplant with queso fresco, honey and tomatillo sauce” with Barbadillo Palo Cortado Obispo Gascon. Just outstanding!
The versatility and food-matching ability of sherry continues to amaze me. It seems there is nothing a sherry can’t be paired with.
GFR: Was there a particular highlight of the three days for you Derek?
DK: While I personally really enjoyed the Sherry Cocktail competition, I am not really a cocktail drinker so I was very intrigued to see what was produced, it would have to be the Grand Tasting. 11 Bodegas with over 50 sherries poured in the room, two fully booked seminars and full room from beginning to end is a unique experience for sherry. I am glad we pulled it off, with of course the help of all the participating bodegas, their local agents, Wines from Spain.
GFR: With the kind of response that you had it is obvious that there is an appetite for Sherry within the city. What do you feel it will take to bring this current groundswell of passion for the stuff to the masses?
DK: Keep sherry relevant. Keep it top of mind by keeping chefs and sommeliers engaged, encourage them to list sherries and offer it to the customers who come to their restaurants. It is still a hand-sell and sometimes difficult to present to someone who has never had it before, but please keep trying. For agents, don’t focus just on the LCBO as an outlet but take some chances on bringing in some small orders of special stuff and get your customers asking for it. It will take time, but Sherry is alive and well. In cities like London and NYC, but here too!
GFR: I guess it would be important for the LCBO to take notice of this renewed interest in Sherry and start bringing in a few more interesting sherries… or at least have some decent entry level bottling on the general list?
DK: Agreed. Buyers for both categories attended the tasting and hopefully what they saw and tasted opened their eyes to the potential and interest in sherry. Tio Pepe is on the GL and is a superb sherry, but it is still shelved among a large amount of plastic-bottled local “sherry” (to be renamed “Apera” as of January 1, 2014) – this does not help the customers perspective of the product. No disrespect intended to the producers of Canadian Apera, but it is not the same product!)
GFR: In hindsight is there anything about Sherryfest that you would have done differently?
DK: Logistically there are always things we could have improved on. An future event will certainly have different topics for seminars and have them separate from the Grand Tasting. (They were in the same space, we had so much response the tasting ran longer than we originally had intended). Timing wise, we were bound by the New York event the days before so we could take advantage of the bodega representatives already being on the continent. It meant we coincided with another great event (Taste Ontario) but since they were across the street from each other, I believe it may have only helped us!
GFR: So do you plan to host a Sherryfest annually from here on in?
DK: Perhaps. I’ll gauge the ongoing interest and see whether the city can sustain an event like this for a niche category every year. This time we benefited from the novelty of the event. While I would certainly love to do it every year, maybe every other year is a good compromise. Let’s see…
GFR: Thanks for organising a great event Derek.
Refer to Derek’s blog for more of his insights into all things sherry related.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he does enjoy the odd glass or two of Sherry.