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.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Sherry Fest 2013

The second annual Sherryfest just wrapped up in New York City. Peter Liem and Rosemary Gray did an excellent job once again, raising funds, organizing many people and events, and creating the largest Sherry tasting in the United States.

This year Peter and Rosemary hosted the Grand Tasting at the Astor Center. The space was perfect - brightly lit and cheerful, roomy, not too noisy, but humming.

This is such a special event, and here's why: most large tastings are put on by a particular importer/distributor. If you attend that tasting you do so to taste that particular book of wines. Sherryfest celebrates Sherry, not any particular importer, and brings together over 25 Sherry producers (and there really aren't many more than that) and 160 wines. This is a unique opportunity to learn about one of the world's greatest wines.

Jan Petterson of Fernando de Castilla was there, showing and discussing his wines. He is a wealth of knowledge and any time listening to him is time well spent. He brought along a new wine this year, the first ever bottling of Fernando de Castilla Fino en Rama - delicious. En rama translates literally as "on the lees," and it means bottled without filtration. This is a popular trend now and many producers are offering an en rama version of their Fino or Manzanilla.

Lorenzo García-Iglesias was there representing his superb lineup of Bodegas Tradición wines. Such a treat to be able to taste these great wines next to one another.

Antonio Flores, the master blender behind Gonzáles Byass, was there. He is such a lovely man, and so good at explaining the wines. Tío Pepe is the world's highest selling Fino, if I am not mistaken, and the soleras that create the wine are massive, the job of tending them is enormous.

Flores offers an en Rama version of Tío Pepe every year, and this one was delightful. Most of it goes to the British market, sadly. It was also an incredible treat to taste the four Palmas, the series of wines meant to illustrate to progress of Fino towards Amontillado. This year Flores showed the second batch of these wines, and they completely and entirely lived up to the hype. The wines are incredibly fine and wonderfully expressive.

I tasted the entire lineup of Barbadillo wines (minus the Reliquias, those elusive treasures) with importer Julio Baguer and his daughter. These are such excellent wines, and they are so accessibly priced. I remembered at this tasting that Solear is a lovely wine, very complex and expressive, entirely delicious. A wine like this, produced on a large scale, not the top wine of the house - a wine like this can get lost in the Sherry shuffle. But Solear is really a good wine. And that's just the beginning for Barbadillo. 

I enjoyed speaking with these and other producers I am familiar with, revisiting their wines. Sherryfest also offers the chance to discover new wines.
I had never before heard of or tasted the wines of Delgado Zuleta, for example. Apparently this is the oldest Sherry firm, founded in 1744! I enjoyed the whole lineup of wines, particularly the lovely Manzanilla called Barbiana. The wines are an average of 6 years old and show a deep complexity of flor character, and lovely balance and freshness. One taste at one large tasting is not sufficient to judge a wine, but based on my experience at Sherryfest, I will eagerly try a bottle of this wine when it appears on retail shelves.

Importer Robert Jordan said that it should retail for about $22 for a 750ml, a friendly price point for a wine of this caliber.

This year Peter and Rosemary thought it would be fun to bring Sherry cocktails to Sherryfest. They were correct. Four talented bartenders offered a Sherry cocktail of their choosing. I was expecting to enjoy these drinks, and still I was surprised at how good they were.

Joaquín Simó of Pouring Ribbons made a Coronation. Fino, dry vermouth, maraschino liquor, and orange bitters Delicious!

And Dan Greenbaum of The Beagle made one of my favorite cocktails (and something he introduced me to), the Adonis. This is a wonderful cocktail and it's not really that boozy, so you can have a few and not be drunk. He uses La Ina Fino, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters. So good.

Sherryfest is not only the Grand Tasting. There are seminars and dinners too. This year I attended a dinner at Maysville at which Bodegas Tradición and Bodegas Aecovi wines were paired with this restaurant's excellent cooking.

Oysters and bracing Fino or Manzanilla Sherry is an excellent pairing.

Bodegas Tradición introduced their new Fino at this dinner, and I loved it. Sadly, very little was bottled and we will have to wait to be able to buy this wine.
Delicata squash stuffed pasta topped with crab and almonds was a beautiful dish, and it elevated and was elevated by Bodegas Tradición Amontillado. Is it possible that the Tradición wines are underrated? I believe so. People new to Sherry are so focused on La Bota wines, and with good reason - they are great. But there is so much more out there, these great wines among them. 

Thank you Peter and Rosemary for creating this wonderful event! I'm already looking forward to next year...