Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe NV
Sherry has been on the receiving end of a flurry of good publicity recently. A large tasting of old and rare Sherries in London, recently hosted by the Sherry Institute of Spain, showcased dozens of top wines, and the flow of Twitter comments on the day were rapturously positive. In addition, the past year or two has seen the birth of a new Sherry label, Equipo Navazos, formed from a partnership between Eduardo Ojeda of the long-established Sherry house Valdespino, and long-term Sherry advocate Jesús Barquín. This range of wines regularly have the wine press in mooing in ecstasy, and the most recent releases are no exception. And the 2012 release of Tio Pepe's En Rama (I wrote up the previous release) has not long hit the shelves, to the usual orgasmic moans from the Sherry crowd. In fact, nobody has a bad word to say about Sherry. Well, nobody wants to kick a man when he's down, do they?
I've long recognised that Sherry is good value, although on many occasions past I've often failed to see the joy, drinking the wines for the experience rather than sheer pleasure. Over the past couple of months, however, I've been exploring the wines and the region again, and this time I have found myself swept off my feet by some of the bottles. And these aren't wines wearing the ultra-expensive sticker-prices borne by a typical bottle of Equipo Navazos (which in the UK stretch from about £20 per bottle, up to more than £50 - substitute with larger numbers if you're working in euros or dollars), but are more at the 'value' end of the spectrum, often own-label bottles from supermarkets, or big brands. The former in at least one case - the small range of wines offered by UK retailer Marks and Spencer - are exceptionally good. Others are perhaps less so, although they are certainly still drinkable. Meanwhile, among the big brands, the standard non-vintage Tio Pepe (not the annually-drawn En Rama cuvée) proves that sometimes value, big brand, high volume and - most importantly - quality can all go together.
This very well-known cuvée comes from Gonzalez Byass, one of the region's bigger names. The company was created in 1835 by Manuel María Gonzalez Angel, with Robert Blake Byass - his agent in England - only joining the firm two decades later. The two families remained in partnership through much of the 20th century, until 1988 when the Gonzalez family bought out the Blass family to take sole ownership. Of all their brands Tio Pepe is surely the best known, and has for a long time offered value and a good fino hit. Now though, with the addition of bottling dates to the back label, we can feel even more confident when buying. Fino is best when drunk young (hence all the En Rama just-drawn-from-the-barrel fuss) but it's impossible to tell how old non-vintage bottles are; the Sherry that you are cradling, in a pre-purchase moment, could have been languishing on the shelf for months and months. This is no longer a concern with Tio Pepe though, as the back label above shows.
And so onto the wine itself, the Gonzalez Byass Fino Tio Pepe, bottled in Jerez on August 13th, 2012 and opened in Scotland about four weeks later, which had a very correct pale lemon-straw hue in the glass. The nose is interesting, rich with the pungent and Sherry-defining scent of acetaldehyde, but along with this go notes of green apple and woody almonds, all wrapped up in a very bright and tangy character. The acetaldehyde is a flor-derived character of course, and not a product of oxidation, although the perceived aroma is naturally exactly the same. The bone-dry palate carries that same sweet-sour tang that the aromas suggested, the fruit remaining in the apple spectrum although with suggestions of preserved lemon peel and the splash of sea salt on the face. Extraordinarily long in the finish, the flavours just lingering on and on. Top quality here for those looking for a good fino, with the added bonus of amazing value and wide distribution. And with that bottling date now clearly stamped on the back label, you know exactly what you're getting when you hand over that very small bundle of notes. Alcohol 15%. 16/20 (8/10/12)