Tio Pepe En Rama 2015 – tasting piece by piece
It seems to always be the way. Whenever there’s a sherry event in Edinburgh, I’m somewhere else – usually travelling with the day job. And so it was, yet again, with the launch of Tio Pepe En Rama 2015. Could I be at the Bon Vivant on 28 April, the message said. Tricky, as I was flying to Jerez the same day!
But since Jerez is the home of Tio Pepe En Rama, I figured there might be another way to celebrate its release!
I already had an interview arranged with Antonio Flores, the master blender behind Tio Pepe, for a new series of articles I’m writing for the Consejo Regulador’s blog. My motto is ‘don’t ask, don’t get’, so I chanced my arm and asked if we could taste the En Rama after the interview. What happened next was beyond what I could have hoped for….
First a bit of history
Tio Pepe En Rama is relatively new, and came about when The Wine Society’s Spanish wine buyer visited Gonzalez Byass in 2009. When he tasted fino from the barrel, he told Antonio
if you bottle this, I’ll buy the lot
That was enough to convince Gonzalez Byass to bottle an En Rama version of Tio Pepe and, true to their word, The Wine Society bought all 16,000 bottles. They sold out in 48 hours!
These days Tio Pepe En Rama is sold all around the world, but still only 16,000 bottles are released per year. SO get your hands on it when you can!
Making the selection
The Tio Pepe solera system is made up of 22,000 barrels, housed in a variety of bodegas on the Tio Pepe site in Jerez. Whilst they are all part of the Tio Pepe system, there are actually 21 distinct soleras within the system, each with different characteristics arising from their different locations. So when you drink ‘normal’ Tio Pepe it’s a blend, or as I like to think of it, a mosaic pieced together from all those different soleras.
For each year’s En Rama release, Antonio Flores selects individual barrels from different bodegas and soleras to represent the best of Tio Pepe that year.
The 2015 release
60 barrels were selected for the 2015 En Rama release, all from the Constancia and Rebollo bodegas. Rebollo is the original Tio Pepe bodega bought by Manuel Maria Gonzalez. It’s very small and the barrels in the bodega are older than in other parts of the Tio Pepe system. Constancia is a much, much larger bodega a few metres away and on slightly higher ground. During the selection, the barrels which make the grade for En Rama are marked with a cross. Those that are the best of the bunch usually get marked with two crosses. This year for the first time ever, two barrels were so fantastic they were marked with three crosses.
After our interview was over, Antonio took us to taste Tio Pepe En Rama. We thought we were headed to the tasting room, but we had a treat in store first. We were going to taste each part of the En Rama mosaic before tasting the finished product. We went to Constancia first and Antonio poured us wine from the 3-cross barrel. Last winter was very cold in Jerez and this meant the flor could grow strong and healthy. This was evident when Antonio took the venencia from the barrel – it was covered in thick, very white flor. The wine itself was fine and elegant, with bakery aromas of buttered white bread, along with peaches and delicate camomile flowers.
We then crossed the road and went down into Rebollo, again to taste from the 3-cross barrel. Here, because the barrels are older, there are more lees in the bottom of the barrel and therefore more autolytic flavours. Consequently the wine from this barrel was much more punchy and powerful, with strong savoury and yeasty flavours of marmite on hot toast. In truth, tasted raw it was like a smack in the face, overpowering and lacking balance. This was a change from when I tasted from the same bodega last autumn for SherryMaster. What a difference 6 months makes.
But of course, Tio Pepe En Rama isn’t from a single bodega, so Antonio can create a wine that expresses the best of Tio Pepe at that moment in time. The proportions from Constancia and Rebollo are 3:1, and if Rebollo is the iron fist, then Constancia is the velvet glove. The end result is an elegant, subtle wine but with a bit of muscle.