Today I tasted…. Fino En Rama Vintage 2006
Today’s tasting is something pretty special – Williams & Humbert’s Fino En Rama Vintage 2006, which was released in Autumn 2014. Yes, you read that right: a vintage Fino. This means it has been kept in the same barrel since 2006, and has not been blended and aged through the usual solera system. In fact, the Consejo Regulador seals all vintage barrels when they are filled, with a wax seal and red ribbons, to ensure the contents can’t be tampered with.
We’ve seen an increasing trend for vintage sherries recently – usually referred to as Añada sherries – but this is the only one I know of that’s a Fino*. Other sherries with oxidative aging phases lend themselves more readily to being treated as Añadas, because they are not dependent on the flor protecting the sherry from oxidation – they need the oxidation to develop their characteristics.
But what about Fino, which relies on flor to metabolise its sugar and some alcohol, to create its unique flavour characterics, and to protect it from oxidation? What happens if you leave it to its own devices? Williams & Humbert decided to find out, by putting aside a limited set of 15 barrels in 2006. 2014 was the first time their enologa, Paola Medina, has released a bottling from them.
When she hosted us during the Sherry Educator course, she had only recently bottled it. She told us,
It was an experiment. We left it, to see what would happen. We had no idea what the result would be, what kind of wine we would get.
This uncertainty arises because the sherry hasn’t been refreshed with younger wine through the solera system. As the flor consumes nutrients in the barrel, it eventually dies when all its nutrients have been used up. Refreshing with younger wine keeps the flor alive. Without the process, the flor can only live for as long as there is ‘fuel’ in the barrel.
Getting up close and personal
I’ve now tasted this sherry twice – once at the bodega in October, and now from a bottle I bought a few weeks ago in London. If I’m honest, when I tasted it in October I was at the end of the Sherry Educator course and my palate was pretty tired. Hence I wanted a second taste. My impressions haven’t changed, but the second time around I was much more able to detect and consider the subtleties of the aromas and flavours.
Pour it, and it’s instantly obvious that this is different to your usual Fino. It’s a bright, deep golden colour, verging on pale amber. It’s also obviously full-bodied with plenty of viscous legs in the glass.
The aromas are a mixture of bakery yeast, warm bread and the deep savouriness of Marmite, with a hint of fresh slightly sweet almond. It’s obviously still a Fino, but without the brisk, olive briny, punzante aromas that you would expect of a typical Fino.
Take a slurp and, oh my goodness, what a mouthful! It has a rich, viscous texture – it’s almost gooey in the mouth (for Spanish readers, I’ll seek a translation of gooey from my Spanish teacher this week!). The flavours are much closer to an Amontillado, but the punzante notes I couldn’t detect on the nose are here in the mouth too. There are bakery yeast flavours and something earthy that I can’t quite place, followed by deeply nutty flavours that conjure up smoked almonds, along with hints of caramel and polish. Its long, long finish is all about those super-savoury nuts with the merest gloss of caramel.
What’s in a name?
So is it a Fino, a Fino-Amontillado, an Amontillado? Or something else entirely? If pushed, I think it’s best described as a Fino-Amontillado, and Paola confirmed that some flor was still present when she opened the sealed barrels. But whatever you decide to call it, it’s sensational. The Wine Advocate agrees, awarding it 93 Parker points recently. It has so much personality you might want to drink it alone and enjoy how its complexity unfolds. However, I paired it with a variety of foods, and found it really shone with almonds, goat’s cheese, pork AND Thai food; further proof, for me, that it happily straddles the Fino/Amontillado divide.
This is a tricky sherry to get hold of outside of Spain. In the UK, it’s exclusive to Fortnum and Mason until at least Autumn 2015. Rumour has it that it will go on more general release after that. It comes in a 500ml bottle and, at £27.50, it’s one of the most expensive Finos I’ve ever tasted. However, this is different and special. Certainly not for everyday consumption, but definitely a treat to indulge in from time to time. Go on, you’re worth it.
*Whilst this is the only vintage Fino sherry on the market that I’m aware of, Bodegas Alvear releases a Montilla-Moriles vintage Fino (made from Pedro Ximenez grapes) every year.