Sherry Bottling Dates and Tio Pepe Fino En Rama
With my increased fizz drinking of late, something had to give and since I was determined that it wasn’t going to be my liver, my sherry consumption has taken a bit of a back seat. My sherry buying didn’t tail off in line with my reduced consumption though and, along with putting a bit of a dent in my wallet, I’ve built quite a little stash of sherry over the past few months. This would be fine had my initial fascination with the oxidative Oloroso styles persisted but since I’ve delved more into the world of sherry, I’ve really taken a greater interest in Fino and Manzanilla which, if conventional wisdom is to be believed, should be consumed as near to their bottling date as possible so as to experience them at their peak.
Convention wisdom is always there to be challenged and the world of sherry is no different. Indeed, during Peter Liem’s tour de force that was the recent ‘Sherryfest’ event in New York, I heard and read a lot of commentary advising that Finos and Manzanillas would continue to evolve in a positive fashion in bottle and that bottle dates, while not irrelevant, shouldn’t be treated with the significance advocated by some. An interesting viewpoint indeed and one that I’m happy to run with seeing as it comes from a man who has just published a comprehensive book on sherry, the first such original English language publication in decades (Peter Liem and Jesús Barquín’s book Sherry, Manzanilla and Montilla is available from www.sherryguide.net). In any case, with most basic dry sherries it’s quite hard to discern the saca date or bottling date from the labelling, so even if you wanted to drink all your fino within 6-12 months of removal from the solera (saca date), it’d be quite hard to figure out whether or not you had achieved your goal.
Whatever importance bottle dates have for regular sherry, when it comes to en rama sherry the bottling date is very much in focus. Regular commercial sherry is filtered and fined to stabilise it whereas en rama sherry is bottled in its natural state, either unfiltered or with only very slight filtering to remove large solids, so that the consumer can experience the sherry at the zenith of its freshness – as if it had just been removed from barrel and the only air miles it had travelled were those from the venencia to the copita.
As the whole point of these sherries is maintaining freshness, virtually all bottles list the saca date or bottling date and many wine commentators advise that these sherries are ideally consumed within three months but certainly not later than six months from bottling. Again, there is the other school of thought led most predominantly by Jesús Barquín and Eduardo Ojeda of Equipos Navazos who maintain that their lightly filtered La Bota sherries should be treated like fine white wines in terms of aging potential. If you find this is all a bit too much thinking and not enough drinking, you aren’t alone.
I decided to afford but a cursory glance to the label of Tio Pepe Fino En Rama before removing the cork, but I did note that it was exactly 6 months from its bottling date (I’d list bottle date here but a recent trip to the bottle bank put paid to that). Once open, I quickly forgot about all the bottling info and soon found myself mired in a drink with as much complexity as any I’ve tried during my still relatively young liaison with sherry. Some sips were tangy, some were salty, many were nutty, some were even cheesy, but absolutely every single sip was long lived and delicious. For comparison purposes I tried the regular Tio Pepe alongside but it quite frankly paled in comparison next to the en rama version. The en rama colour was a deeper gold, the liquid slightly cloudy and not only was every single aroma and flavour more pronounced, there were so many more nuances emerging in the en rama that it ended up bearing little resemblance to the regular Fino at all – absolutely fantastic.
Early 2013 will see lots more blog posts about sherry as I work through my sherry stash of Equipo Navazos, Rey Fernando de Castilla, Emilio Hidalgo, González Byass and Delgado Zuleta to name but a few. In the meantime, remember the quite brilliant tagline from Sherryfest – “Drink more sherry, get flor’d!” Responsibly mind you…
(Note: Sherryfest catalogue image from @Sherryfest twitter account)
(Edit): opinions vary as to whether En Rama sherries are unfiltered or just very lightly filtered. It would seem intuitive to me that some filtration is required but the marketing gurus seem adamant that these are unfiltered sherries.