Drink - Victoria Moore does her best to rescue sherry

Sherry is a drink with an awful lot of problems, not least how it tastes

May I make a suggestion? A glass of chilled fino or, better still, salty Manzanilla, would be delicious to drink on a summer's evening as you nibble at cashew nuts before you move on to the wine.

But you won't have one, will you? No one drinks sherry. Correction: only grannies drink sherry. It's a matter of statistical record that the majority of sherry drinkers in this country are over 55, and an alarming number are older than 65. Nor is the sherry trade doing terribly well (though goodness knows it's trying) at recruiting new aficionados to its ranks. And so the bulge in the drinkers v age graph, as it moves towards the point where men lower the sails and gather in the ropes (as Dante puts it), may well take a chunk of the sherry industry with it when it tips over the edge of the world.

There are an awful lot of problems with sherry, not least that most of us associate it with Bridget Jones-style curried turkey buffets and hand-knitted sweaters. There is also, not to put too fine a point on it, the question of how it tastes. Most of the sherry we drink is blended to commercial styles that deliberately set out to appeal to the taste buds of the Stairlift Set. Of course no one else likes it.

But there are more refined, insistent sherries, namely the true finos, Manzanillas, Amontillados and Olorosos, that merit a second chance. The best sherry grapes grow on albariza, which spreads like cake-icing around the town of Jerez, blindingly white under the hot Spanish sun. It is a drink for the incurably romantic: When you have a top-class sherry from an old, established producer you swallow wine that is a hundred, maybe more, years old. This is because sherry, as it ages, passes through layers of barrels via a process of fractional blending. The final layer, the solera, from which liquid is taken for bottling, is never drained dry and so contains a proportion, diminishing every year but never disappearing, of the first wine it ever saw.

The important thing is to drink sherry soon after it is opened. The paler, more delicate wines will not keep more than a day or two. You get a little longer on the others. Anyone who thinks it's all right to keep an opened bottle in the cupboard from one Christmas to the next would have deserved to be handed over to General Franco and put out of their misery.

Also important is the right food. There are some things that scream for a glass of it. The other evening, we sat in the garden with a bottle of Amontillado. We ate Serrano ham, not too thinly cut and slightly tough so you had to tear at it with your teeth, and a salad of French green beans and walnut pieces, tossed in a dressing made by whizzing toasted walnuts, olive oil, red wine vinegar and garlic through the blender. It made a few converts.

This article first appeared in the 16 June 2003 issue of the New Statesman, The banality of the good