Home > Winedr Blog

Exploring Sherry #17: Romate Don Jose Oloroso

Yes, it has been a long time, hasn’t it? In truth, a full three months have passed since my last foray into the Sherry universe, which was with the Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso. I think we have a problem with a time distortion around the Bordeaux primeurs (something else to blame the Bordelais for!) because I can’t understand how I have lasted three months without a glass of Sherry.

Romate Oloroso Medium Dry label

This wine comes from Sánchez Romate Hermanos, which was established at the end of the 18th century – in 1781, to be precise – by a local chap named Juan Sánchez de la Torre. The firm went from strength to strength, their wines appearing on tables everywhere from the House of Lords in the UK, to the Vatican. Remarkably, the firm remains in the hands of a local family.

As the label indicates this is a Medium Dry Sherry, nevertheless the sugar concentration is not high, and the sweetness doesn’t dominate. In the glass the Romate Don José Oloroso has a gloriously toasty, caramel-bronze hue with a green rim. The nose is enticing, full of typical dried-wood notes, the typical oloroso oxidation here dancing around the scents of toasted walnut, a caramelised suggestion of sweetness, as well as pistachio, marzipan and some gentle allspice and ginger nuances. It is immediately soft and textured on the palate, showing its residual sugar, although it feels nicely balanced, the sweetness not dominating. The complexity suggested by the nose comes through, with plenty of drier, oxidative elements lending a contrast, and the acidity keeps it fresh and well defined. A wine full of charm, and beautifully bright and lively for an oloroso. 17/20 (May 2016)

En Primeur: Where Next?

The way Bordeaux is sold is changing, and it is going to keep on changing. Despite frequently made predictions to the contrary, en primeur isn’t going to explode, nor is it likely to disappear altogether. I should also stress that nor will it return to the way it used to be, when cases were stacked high and cheap, and we could all afford first growths, or maybe super-seconds (or at least something). I believe that the approach currently taken by the Bordelais, or at least some top châteaux, which has diminished the significance of this once-feverish buying frenzy, is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

The most obvious force that shifts our attention away from buying en primeur is price. En primeur simply isn’t the great deal for consumers it used to be. Wines are frequently released at a higher price than many previous vintages, and buyers have often found in recent years that the wines have depreciated in value after their purchase. When asked to pay for a wine at least ten years from being ready to drink, consumers have to see some benefit from their early investment, and that means appreciation not depreciation. Consumers might put up with being burnt once. Or maybe twice. But to expect buyers to continue this pattern of behaviour year-in, year-out, is expecting a bit much. I don’t need to go into any great detail on this (there is already too much written on the price of Bordeaux), and we can all see this unfolding live with each new release from the 2015 vintage. I think the best way of determining how individual releases sit when compared with older vintages (both in terms of critic scores and pricing) is to check out the Liv-Ex blog.

Other moves in Bordeaux also diminish the significance of the en primeur season, and these are newer phenomena, the higher prices having been building for the past 10-15 years. We all know Château Latour withdrew in 2012, so that’s hardly news. No-one has yet followed them, but a number of other high-flying names are holding back more stock during the primeurs, releasing perhaps little more than half their production onto the market. Château Angélus is one, and the Rothschild estates (on the Mouton side of the family) have also followed suit. Le Pin hasn’t withdrawn from the primeurs, although they did not participate this year, apparently because a couple of barrels were not ready, and they also stayed out of it in 2013. It will be interesting to see if they come back next year.

High prices, supported by reduced volumes, have made en primeur less relevant to consumers, but from a merchant’s point of view the changes in Bordeaux have also diminished the significance of the primeurs week (we used to call it a ‘campaign’ – that hardly seems appropriate now). Those high prices mean margins are very slim if there is to be any hope of actually selling the wines to increasingly uninterested buyers, but at least there has always been the volume. With reduced stocks released onto the market (some châteaux holding back 40% of production) the volumes the merchants have to deal with are much smaller, diminishing the potential benefit of being involved in en primeur. And I think volumes are set to decline further, as big-name châteaux hold back more stock, and other châteaux follow suit. The grip on primeur sales will tighten even further. It must be very frustrating to be a merchant dealing in en primeur Bordeaux.

Coming back to my original point then, the question often asked of primeur is how long can it last? How long will it be before the Bordelais realise it isn’t working, that the system is being strangled? How long before the grasp is loosened, and we can all go back to how we were ten years ago? The answer I would give to this question is never. It won’t happen. En primeur will be an increasingly small part of how Bordeaux (or at least the most interesting part of Bordeaux) is sold, with more and more of the big-name châteaux looking to hold back stock, to support the releases prices and the value of what lies in the cellar, and to sell by novel routes. The interest will come with seeing how they achieve this. Will we see more focus on the bottled wines, rather than the hurried one-day tastings that currently tour the world? Will we see more specialist offers through merchants? What about group auctions, where top châteaux band together to sell their mature stock of exquisite provenance? There surely has to be some system to project the existence of the wines into the minds of the merchants and the consumers, because I don’t think a series of annual releases of mature stock, the approach currently taken by Château Latour, repeated across 20, 30 or 100 other châteaux, is going to work. You need something to replace en primeur, the greatest marketing machine any wine region ever invented.

Bordeaux Quartets: 2015 vs. 2014

With my Bordeaux 2015 report now complete, I can look forward to writing about other aspects of Bordeaux, and also squeezing in rather more from the Loire Valley than I have managed over the past three weeks. That should please those readers who were wondering when the roll-out of my Loire Valley wine guide, temporarily on hold during the primeurs, would resume. The answer is “very soon”!

Although I have plenty of new articles lined up, we can’t leave 2015 Bordeaux behind completely. Over the next couple of months we should see all or at least most of the wines released onto the market. It is not the sort of vintage I can comfortably ignore from now on, because there are some wines of exceptionally high quality set to be released, and the prices might (we can dream!) be resonable. As I wrote in my Primeur Picks conclusion for subscribers yesterday, with this being the best vintage since 2010 we can expect prices to be higher than those for the 2011-2014 vintages, but hopefully not as high as we saw in 2009 and 2010. Any wine priced in this zone is worth considering; all you have to do then is judge, based on your preferences, the style of the wine, your financial situation and of course the published notes and scores, whether or not you think the wine is worth the price asked (and the associated risks of buying at this stage).

Château Canon

Any significant news regarding the en primeur campaign I will bring onto this free-to-read blog, meanwhile subscribers can expect a series of articles looking at the 2015 vintage tasted alongside 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Not only have these Bordeaux Quartet tastings given me another chance to consider the wines of 2015 (and with barrel samples, the more often you taste them, the better) but it allows me to now put the vintage into a more contemporary context. How does it stack up against these other vintages? Those who believe the ‘great vintage’ mantra adhered to by one or two merchants will probably be surprised by some (although not all) of the results. I started last week with a Bordeaux Quartet from Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte (looking at both red and white in 2015 and 2010 here, so I cheated a bit on the vintages), and I will continue tomorrow with Château Canon (pictured above).

I had planned to roll out these reports at a rate of one a week, but that will take months. As I suspect we will see a huge flurry of releases starting next week (all of France is on holiday at the moment for Ascension Day, and the holiday will roll through Friday into the weekend, so don’t expect anything before Monday) I should crack on and will post these at a rate of two or three a week. And I’m looking forward to it – nothing shows up the strengths – or indeed the weaknesses – of a vintage more than tasting them side-by-side.

Non-subscribers who feel they might be interested in the reports can subscribe here. A full subscription is £45, as I have not raised the price again this year, or there is a trial offered, £15 for one month, with the option to top-up the remaining 11 months for £30.