It’s that En Rama time of year
It’s spring (although apparently the Scottish weather didn’t get that memo) and in the sherry world that means a flurry of En Rama releases. This year there seem to be more than ever, and I’ll be writing about several over the coming weeks. So I thought I’d begin by unpicking the En Rama trend a little bit.
What’s this En Rama stuff anyway?
En Rama means ‘raw’, and a sherry that’s En Rama should be as close as possible in aroma, flavour and texture to drinking it straight from the barrel.
To achieve this, the sherry is bottled with the absolute minimum of treatment, as all treatments (filtration, clarification, stabilisation) remove aroma and flavour. At the purist end of the spectrum, En Rama sherry is bottled direct from the barrel, but most producers will use a little treatment before bottling. The most common treatments are a mesh filter to remove any insects and larger deposits, or a little egg white to clarify.
Most En Rama that you’ll see in the shops is either Fino or Manzanilla, but it is possible to bottle all types of sherry in this way. Since the oxidative styles don’t have flor on the surface, they are inherently more stable already and any deposits tend to precipitate to some extent too. However, it’s much rarer to see other En Rama sherry types.
So it’s the latest trendy thing, right?
There’s no doubt that the fashion for producing En Rama is growing. Every spring there seem to be more En Rama options available. But En Rama isn’t really new, it’s more like a return to traditional ways of doing things. The extremely pale and clear Finos and Manzanillas that we’re used to are a relatively modern development. Fifty or sixty years ago many were bottled with far less treatment and were therefore much closer in character to the En Ramas being released today.
As the sherry industry works to reclaim its place in the market, En Rama is one of the new ways bodegas are showcasing high quality and high character wines that perhaps challenge perceptions of sherry. And the appetite seems to be there – with the current trend for all things natural, ‘craft’ and exclusive, En Rama might just have come along at the right time.
Why bottle in springtime?
The bulk of En Rama bottlings (sacas) happen in spring, when the flor is at its most vigorous. Whilst summer weather in the Sherry Triangle is relatively predictable, winter can be pretty changeable. As weather conditions have a direct influence on the activity of the flor, En Rama sherry bottled in spring will strongly reflect what happened over the winter and early spring. So each year’s En Rama could be noticeably different.
Some bodegas bottle En Rama every season, to reflect the seasonal changes in flor activity. The longest established example of this is Solear Manzanilla En Rama from Barbadillo, which has been bottled seasonally for a more than a decade now, and each new saca is a hotly anticipated release.
What’s the result?
If you’ve tasted a Fino or Manzanilla En Rama, you’ll already know it’s quite a different animal to its ‘normal’ counterparts. Usually much deeper in colour, often a little hazy, and richer and more complex in both aroma and flavour. It’s also fuller-bodied, and sometimes even a bit oily in texture.
I could drink cold Fino or Manzanilla all day everyday (if my liver would allow), and pair it with any food from fish & chips to haute cuisine. But I prefer to savour my En Rama – not because it’s rarer or because it’s trendy, but because there’s such a lot going on that I want to give it the space to shine. After all, it’s the closest thing you can get to tasting the sherry from the barrel, and it gives you an inkling of what most Fino and Manzanilla tasted like 50 years ago. Yes, definitely a different animal, and an exciting one at that.
A note on ageing
The usual advice is to drink En Rama Fino and Manzanilla within three months of bottling. That’s certainly the right thing to do if you want to taste it as the winemaker intended. When the winemaker selects the barrels and the timing for the En Rama saca, he or she is selecting wine to express a certain moment in time. Beyond three months the wine will begin to develop in unpredictable ways.
For me, this unpredictability is also part of the fascination of En Rama. I did an experiment last year with Tio Pepe En Rama, tasting every three months, and the flavours and complexity just kept on developing. So if you’re buying a bottle let me suggest you buy two, or even three if you’re feeling flush. Drink one now, and enjoy the wine as it was when it left the bodega. Save the other(s) for six months or a year, and then see what has happened to them over time. Or, if you really love that first bottle when you drink it fresh, I guess you could just drink them all and promise yourself you’ll do the experiment next spring instead!
Previous posts on En Rama sherries:
Or watch this space for articles about new releases over the next few weeks.