Tio Pepe En Rama 2014 – flavours of spring
En Rama means raw, and the fino is bottled without filtration or clarification, during spring when the flor is at its most active. It’s in the bottles and on the road within days of being withdrawn from the cask – I got my hands on a bottle less than three weeks out of the barrel.
Check out this video for a bit of the atmosphere.
A new departure
For previous editions Antonio Flores, the enologo at Gonzalez Byass, has drawn the En Rama wine from all seven soleras that normal Tio Pepe is blended from. However, this year he has experimented with a more restricted blend from only two soleras: Constancia and Rebollo. He says
For the first time, I made a cask selection blending the super-charged Rebollo (a very dark and humid bodega producing the most concentrated and full-on Fino experience) and Constancia (classic Jerez fino, whistle clean with a bright lemony tang.)
The result has been receiving rave reviews.
Elegant as Audrey Hepburn, smooth as Cary Grant
So what’s my verdict? Well, I love Tio Pepe – it’s probably my ‘desert island’ sherry – so although I’m fascinated to taste variations on the theme, I also tend to think the original is pretty hard to beat.
But whilst this year’s En Rama is quite definitely a close relative of Tio Pepe, it is sufficiently different to occupy a whole different place in my taste memory-bank. And the things that set it apart for me are its smoothness and its complexity.
On the nose the first thing that strikes me is a really strong and interesting barn-floor aroma – a bit like the smell of the rind from a Brie or a Reblochon cheese. I really enjoy this aroma and it speaks to me of really strong flor growth. This gave way to sea breezes, fresh white bread and a soft lemon aroma. There was a lot going on.
On first tasting, it’s full bodied with a creamy texture (and almost a hint of oiliness in the mouthfeel). Again I got those barn-floor flavours coming through, along with toast, lots citrus fruits and brininess. It has a pretty enduring finish for a fino, with a really interesting flavour of sweet almond along with those barn-floor notes.
Comparing with Tio Pepe
Of course it’s impossible not to compare this with normal Tio Pepe, and the best way to describe it is an elegant, super-charged version of Tio Pepe with all the hard edges knocked off. Ironically, for a fino influenced so heavily by a very active flor layer, the really punchy (sometime harsh) flor flavours I tend to associate with a fino are not there. But what’s in their place are layers of complexity, smoothness and softness that are reminiscent of a fino made in El Puerto de Santa Maria (where the sea breezes encourage very active flor).
I tried normal Tio Pepe side by side with the En Rama, and found it less complex but rather fresher. It was also easier to match with food. I tasted both wines with my two test tapas – salted almonds and jamon. Tio Pepe matched with them like a dream, as always, but some of the En Rama’s complexity was lost in the face of these powerful flavours. However, that was fine by me – I’d already reached the conclusion that I’d prefer to enjoy Tio Pepe En Rama 2014 by itself.
A footnote about sherry obsession
Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook will already recognise this photo.
Some of us sherry lovers get a little giddy at the prospect of new releases. The beautiful label on the 2014 En Rama is, as usual, drawn from the Gonzalez Byass archive and is a lovely blend of blue and green, and my friends at Cambridge Wine Merchants (@CWM_Mill on Twitter) egged me on to colour my hair to match. I may love sherry, but I wasn’t prepared to commit to a permanent change of colour (much to the relief of my mother!). However, we now have photographic evidence that sherry really can go to your head……