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The Warrior's Viking Bride

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sherry, Falstaff and the Regency

I will admit to being a sherry fan. I discovered proper sherry about 18 years ago when my dh join the Wine Society. The Wine Society (founded 1874) is one of those wonderful British institutions from the 19th century that provides interesting wines, mainly for people to lay down. They also do things like sherry and one of their tasting cases was one devoted to sherry.
Sherry can have a bad press and most people tend to think of the dessert sherries. They are very heavy and sweet. They were the ones that were popular in Britain during the Regency because they are most suitable for drinking after meals. It should be remembered that there was no aperitif. As Lord Byron called it -- that ghastly half hour before supper. Personally I prefer the drier sherries such as manzanilla as I like to drink my sherry before a meal, with tapas. Manzanilla tastes of sea breezes and should be drunk within in a day or so of the bottle being opened. But with fruit cake etc, a good oloroso or an amontillado is excellent.
The most famous of the dessert sherry is Bristol Milk. Bristol Cream is the proprietary brand of Harvey's and dates from the 19th century whereas the first reference to Bristol milk comes in 1634 when Prince Rupert besieges the city. Harvey's Bristol Cream came about, apparently because a lady remarked during the early 19th century when given two new sherries to try -- that if the first was Milk, the second must be the Cream.
Harvey's was founded in 1796 by William Perry and for many is linked with sherry -- although they did import other wines.
Sherry or Sack was much beloved of Shakespeare's Falstaff. It burst on the English scene in the early 1500s. It was because the Duke of Medina granted certain rights to English merchants and eventually the Brotherhood of St George was born. The church of St George served as their meeting place as well as their church. Sherry sack as well as the other sacks (Canary and Malaga) was always considered to be a sweet wine and probably has nothing to with the secco (dry) but with the Spanish word saccar or to draw out. The closest thing to sack as it was during the Tudor times is a very cheap sweet oloroso. Wine making in general has improved! Sack was very popular in the early 17th century, so popular that James I issued an decree that the sergeant of his cellar could issue no more than 12 gallons per day for use at court. By the end of the 17th century, the term sack was replaced by sherry.
The 18th century saw a fall in the popularity of sherry, only to be revived during the 19th century. The names of shippers and houses from the early 19th century reads like a who's who of sherry. Pedro Domecq was founded in 1730 by an Irishman called Patrick Murphy.Garvey's was founded in approximately 1780 by a Scotsman. Duff Gordon was founded by the British counsel of the period.
Although the Peninsula War was first considered to be a disaster -- thousands of gallons lost, and the real struggle between the French loving Haurie (the head at the time of the Domecq bodega) and the British. the years after the Peninsula War were some of the most prosperous for the wine. Haurie's nephew eventually took over the firm and also became part of Ruskin, Telford and Domecq. John James Ruskin was the father of John Ruskin, the artist.
Anyway, I have a ms to write and I shall leave the English shippers and merchants until tomorrow. They are an interesting lot and many of them from the Regency such as Justerini, and Berry Brothers still operate from St James, London.

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