Monday, October 28, 2013

En Rama Sherry

A few years ago Equipo Navazos Sherries began to get a lot of attention, and this opened the floodgates here in the US - a new generation of wine lovers became interested in tasting and drinking Sherry. There are many special things about the wines bottled under the Equipo Navazos label. One of them is that the wines are bottled with minimal filtration.

Young whippersnapper wine connoisseurs such as myself may take this unfiltered thing for granted. Most, if not all of the wine I buy from Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and elsewhere is either unfiltered or minimally filtered. But with Sherry, this is typically not the case. A little over two years ago I wrote something about this that was fun (for me, anyway) to go back and re-read. At that point there were almost no unfiltered Sherries to buy here in NYS. Equipo Navazos, and Pastrana - a Manzanilla Pasada by Bodegas Hidalgo (La Gitana). Now, however, it seems as though everyone makes an unfiltered wine. I thought it would be good to revisit this subject, to take a look at the current NYC market for these wines.

First, a couple of basics:

Fino style Sherry (including Fino, Manzanilla, and wines from El Puerto de Santa Maria) is aged in barrel under a layer of living yeast, called flor. To bottle the wine without filtration would mean bottling bits of flor, perhaps still living, and various other solid matter. Most producers opt instead to bottle their wines after a heavy filtration. This allows the wines to be more stable during their overseas journey and the subsequent movement to warehouse and eventually to retail shelves or restaurant refrigerators. Stabilizing though it may be, this heavy filtration strips the wine of solid particles that contribute significant color, aroma, and flavor - the resulting wines are typically pale and without the complex aroma and depth of flavor that makes Sherry great. Consider the following quote from page 72 of Peter Liem's book Sherry, Manzanilla, & Montilla: a Guide to the Traditional Wines of Andalucia:

What is insidious about this, in our opinion, is that we as consumers are now trained to believe that the pale color of these wines in bottle is natural. In fact, fino and manzanilla are not naturally pale in color, nor are they particularly light in body, except perhaps in relation to other types of sherry. By definition, they are aged wines, having spent many years in cask - even the simplest of these is aged in barrel for at least two years, and the best versions for much longer. When sampling a fino or manzanilla from cask, its color is pronounced, is aromas are pungent, and its presence on the palate is much richer than one might anticipate. All of this is lost, or at least significantly modified, by excessive filtration.
When we fell for dry Sherry all over again, we fell for wines that had not been filtered in this way. Okay, Equipo Navazos filters wines before bottling, but lightly, "just to remove the flies," they like to say. But it is this lightly filtered style of wine that was our gateway drug. And as the market for fine Sherry continues to grow, more producers are releasing an en Rama, or unfiltered version of their brand. Here are those that I can think of off the top of my head:
  • Tio Pepe now releases Tio Pepe en Rama (and also the Palmas, which are lightly filtered).
  • Gutierrez Colosía bottled an en Rama version called Amerigo of their lovely Fino el Cano.
  • Lustau released an en Rama Fino, a Manzanilla, and a wine from El Puerto. 
  • Bodegas Hidalgo now releases an en Rama version of La Gitana.
  • Valdespino releases an en Rama version of their Deliciosa Manzanilla.
  • Barbadillo releases four en Rama versions of their Solear Manzanilla, one for each of the seasons (!!).
  • And soon Fernando de Castilla will release an en Rama Fino.

I'm sure there are others and I'm just not remembering them right now. This is such a great thing for Sherry lovers. We can taste different versions of the wines we love, experience them in a state that is closer to what they were in barrel. But please notice that I did not say "better," I said different. Deliciosa is a lovely Manzanilla, brisk, saline, and focused. Deliciosa en Rama is excellent too, with more expression and detail of aroma and flavor. But it's also more spread out on the palate - less focused, and feels a bit rustic in comparison. That's not a bad thing. The en Rama bottling showcases one style of wine and the regular bottling showcases another.

All of these en Rama wines are worthy of your attention. But I have a favorite - let me tell you about Barbadillo's Solear en Rama. First of all, Solear is an excellent Manzanilla, averaging 7 years of age and fully expressive.

The unfiltered versions are also excellent, even better in my opinion, with an amplified lemon-enriched flor character and a more expressive saline minerality. What sets these wines apart, for me, though is the almost shocking complexity of aroma and the intensely savory nature of the palate. These things are true of the wine in all four seasonal releases, although the recent 2012 winter bottling was as darkly savory a wine as I've encountered. And the 2013 spring bottling is ridiculous, the best version of this wine that I've tasted, combining great focus and lightness of body with great intensity and richness of flavor. Joe Salamone at Crush has worked hard to bring these wines to the NYC market, and although they are gone for now, the summer 2013 bottles should be out soon.

If you like Sherry, and I think that you do, you should make a point to seek out and taste these en Rama wines. But as you do, I hope you will not feel that en Rama automatically means that the wine is great, or that it is better than its filtered counterpart. En Rama represents a style of wine, and you might prefer the more filtered counterpart. That's not wrong - Solear is delicious and so is Deliciosa. Drink both styles next to each other and see if you prefer one over the other. The amazing thing is that you can do that, with 375 ml bottles, for under $40. That, my friends, is something that will not last.


SherryNotes said...

In case you're interested, I've tried to make a roundup of all sherries that are released 'en rama':

Some of them may not say 'en rama' on the label, but all those included are very lightly filtered anyway.

Anonymous said...

absolutely terrific piece, BG. As always, I learned so much from your writings.