Family Reunion – Tio Pepe En Rama 14, 15, 16
It’s always good to get the family over for Sunday lunch, so this weekend I gathered together three generations of the same family – the last three years’ releases of Tio Pepe En Rama.
There’s plenty of debate about whether En Rama sherry ages well in the bottle, and I’ve run a few experiments in the last three years, which have had mixed results. But I decided to get myself a bit more organised for the Tio Pepe experiment, retaining multiple bottles from each release for future tasting – and sometimes having to rugby-tackle Snr Criadera to keep him away from the stash! It’s proving particularly problematic this year, as he and I are especially fond of the 2016 release and keep drinking it. Our last case was the last of Soho Wine Supply’s stock, and I can’t seem to find any more online, so that’s our lot. The bottles for the stash have been duly hidden!
It’s a big tasting to do at once, as all are Finos and therefore won’t keep a whole week once they’re opened. So we needed a weekend at home with few plans. Cue the weather forecast. This weekend we were promised snow, sleet, driving wind – all the things that make me want to hibernate and go absolutely nowhere. The perfect weekend for a big tasting. The weather came as promised, so bad that I got stuck in the snow trying to get home on Friday night. So there were no excuses, it was time for the tasting.
Holding my breath
I always open a bottle-aged En Rama with some trepidation. Past experience tells me that the results can be unpredictable, especially when you’ve have no control over how the wine was stored. However, all these bottles were bought fresh and then stored at the same temperature in the same place, so I was hoping for a little more consistency – even if they all turned out to be consistently bad!
I could heave a sigh of relief – nothing completely undrinkable, and definitely some consistent family traits. Prior to 2014, the En Rama was blended from seven soleras, but these three wines are all blends from only two of the Tio Pepe soleras: Constancia and Rebollo. Whilst the conditions in each solera vary year on year, and the proportions in the blend vary too, the resemblance is obvious, even as these wines progress to middle age.
2014 was definitely past its best. The colour was turning and had a distinct brown tinge, but remained clear if not as bright as it once had been. On the nose it had become incredibly mineral, with strong aromas of metal and iodine. The barn-floor aromas that characterised it when fresh were still there though. In the mouth, it had lost its citrus zippiness, but remained remarkably bready and farmyardy (I really need a more eloquent word for this, but I think you know what I mean!). I tasted a bottle of this a year ago, and it had developed a lovely honeyed final note, which has now gone. In its place there’s now a bitter metallic after taste which means I won’t be finishing the bottle. Based on my previous tastings at regular intervals, I reckon this one kept well for 18-20 months, and then the wheels started to come off.
2015 was a pale wine when it was first bottled, and remained the palest of the bunch. When I first tasted this I described it as elegant and subtle but with a bit of muscle. Well, it appears to have been doing some weight training in its year and half in the bottle. Muscle is definitely to the fore now! It has a steely nose, but also retains the delicate chamomile flower aromas it had when first bottled. Dough and leaf mould complete the aroma profile. In the mouth it’s now punchy, earthy and deeply savoury. When it was fresh, it was pretty close in character to that of classic Tio Pepe, but they’ve now diverged with the 2015 En Rama being closer in profile to the raw Rebollo we tasted from the barrel in 2015 – powerful savoury and bakery flavours that smack you in the mouth. When held up against 2016, you can tell this isn’t at the height of its freshness, but I’d still drink it happily and I reckon it’s got a bit of life left yet. I know some shops that have run out of 2016 are selling 2015 right now. If you know the shop and trust how they store their wines, this is still worth buying.
And finally, the 2016 – the wine we keep running out of. It’s obviously from the same lineage as classic Tio Pepe, but markedly different. Like 2014 and 2015, there’s a powerful minerality on the nose – this time it’s iodine without the metal. It also shares the earthy barn-floor aromas which point to its Rebollo heritage. It’s deeply savoury and pleasantly musky. In the mouth those earthy and savoury flavours pop: marmite on hot buttered toast, fresh salty chips and ripe cheese rind. These are offset by a swoosh of lemon juice to stop it all getting too heavy. Snr Criadera thinks this is the best Tio Pepe En Rama yet, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s a pity we’re now on such short rations!
Drink it or save it?
As I’ve written before, if you want to taste En Rama fino as the winemaker intended, you should drink it in the six months after bottling. The limited treatment means that they’re theoretically less stable, but in reality keeping them a couple of years (in the right conditions) is entirely feasible and can reveal interesting flavour developments. My advice is drink most of it fresh: enjoy it in the twelve months after bottling and then start again with the next year’s release. But keep a bottle or two in storage to compare with the last year’s – that is, if you can resist drinking it for that long.
You can read my reviews of the freshly released 2014 and 2015 wines by clicking on the years. Somewhat embarrassingly, it seems that I liked drinking the 2016 so much that I never got around to writing it up until today!