Playing En Rama roulette
I wrote a few weeks ago about En Rama sherry, and the debate about whether it is suitable for ageing. The received wisdom is that you should drink within three months, six at the outside, to enjoy as the winemaker intended, but I’ve been rewarded with interesting and tasty results when I’ve left some En Ramas longer than that.
Today’s tasting is an extension of that experimentation, and arose from a chat with Carlota, the manager at Drakes Tabanco. Drakes was the exclusive UK source of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla Fino En Rama when it was first released in 2013, and when I visited three months ago they still had a few bottles left for sale. They’d all been stored the same way – upright (as you should for Fino to minimise the surface area in contact with the air) on the top shelf in the bar. We were chatting about how En Ramas can develop with age, and Carlota mentioned that some bottles were now showing significant variation – some were still fresh Finos, whilst others were leaning towards Amontillado. I’m a bit of a gambler, truth to tell, and this seemed like an interesting lottery – if I bought a couple of bottles, what would I get? Of course I could get two the same, or two that had gone way past their best, but I figured I could afford to gamble a few pounds to find out. It was time to play En Rama roulette!
Fast forward three months, and I was ready to open the bottles and see what I’d won. Both were from the October 2013 saca and had serial numbers only 162 apart, so were bottled within a few hours of each other at the very most.
You can see from the photo that the colours were slightly different, with serial number 194247 being a touch darker and browner than serial number 194085, but it wasn’t a huge difference. Both were clean, clear and bright, with long persistent legs. Had I ended up with identical twins?
Twins they definitely were not. ‘085 had strong flor influences and acetaldehyde aromas, with the overall impression of honey on white buttered toast. ‘247 on the other hand had a slight farmyard aroma on first sniff. This passed quickly and whilst there were still flor influences, nuts were coming through pretty strongly. This was boding well.
On the palate, ‘085 was fiercely sharp, with a lot of lemon juice alongside white toast and a little almond. As the wine warmed a little, a flavour of rusty metal also came out. I checked back to my tasting notes for the fresh En Rama (which I had tasted when it was only three weeks in the bottle), which had been soft and rounded, with citrus and strong flor aromas. ‘085 retained the citrus quality and flor aromas, but had sharpened up considerably and lost balance. Time had not been kind to this bottle.
‘247 on the other hand had become a Fino-Amontillado – a category I really love for its balance of strong Fino character with whispers of warm Amontillado richness. It retained the citrussy character of the fresh En Rama, but with raw hazelnuts joining the party and a touch of caramel on the finish. It was well on the way to becoming a fully fledged Amontillado, and was doing so whilst retaining balance. This was the bottle I finished.
One out of two ain’t bad
So what did I learn from this experiment? The point of En Rama is to minimise interference with the sherry, so that you can experience it as if you were tasting straight from the barrel. That minimal interference also means that there is minimal control over how the wine develops once it’s bottled. I gambled £14, and got one dud and one fascinating Fino-Amontillado. I’ll never be sure of getting exactly that wine again, as another two (or ten) bottles may have developed in completely different ways, so it was a delightful yet fleeting treat.
If you want the ‘from the barrel’ experience, drink En Rama fresh – as fresh as you can. But if you can afford to gamble a few pounds on a bottle or two to age as an experiment, I would still encourage you to do so. I can’t guarantee what you’ll get, but isn’t that part of the fun?