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Exploring Sherry #21: Lustau Fino En Rama

I chanced upon this bottle recently. Sometimes the best wine discoveries are entirely serendipitous, and this was one of those times. I have recognised over the past few years that I enjoy the style of fino that veers away from overpowering acetaldehyde character (and yes, I know the flor aroma could be regarded as the very soul of the fino style) and instead I have found myself favouring fresher and brighter styles, one or two examples marked by really interesting reductive notes, veering more towards matchstick and flint.

Lustau Fino En Rama

Lustau Fino de Jerez En Rama: This was bottled during spring 2017, which confounds the notion that you really need to get to fino as soon as humanly possible after bottling in order to see it at its best. It is one of just 1200 500-ml bottles produced. It has a pale yellow-gold hue in the glass, fresh and clear. The aromatics are just brilliant (to my mind), with scents of green olive and preserved lemon, but more notably a firm, confidently expressed, reductive flint and matchstick note which conveys a great vigour and confidence. The palate has read the script, showing this same character, pungent notes of olive swirled with sour citrus fruits and a vigorous acid backbone. It has a white-pepper length, clean and well defined, a truly great en rama style that really seems to me to catch the spirit of the wine, although it might not please those hunting for rampant flor character. 17.5/20 • 95/100 (November 2017)

Exploring Sherry #20: Fino Dos Palmas

Sherry time again now. Today I return to the Palmas range of aged fino wines from Gonzalez Byass, and as I already swirled the Una Palma around my mouth a few months ago, I’m now stepping up to the Dos Palmas. Aged fino is not a commonly encountered style in my experience, and it seems to go against all the the-younger-the-better conventional fino wisdom, and so it is fascinating to take a look at this little range of wines.

These particular wines were released in 2016, and they all started life as a potential component of the blend for Tio Pepe. Presumably some barrels are then selected to be held back for futher aging.

Gonzalez Byass Fino Dos Palmas

The 2016 blends were selected by Gonzalez Byass winemaker Antonio Flores, accompanied by king of the sommeliers Gérard Basset. From a solera of 150 casks, just two – numbers 86 and 120 – were pulled from the solera for Dos Palmas. Both casks had been aging for eight years, and still exhibited a thick layer of flor. The two casks were blended and bottled without fining or filtration.

In the glass the 2016 release of the Gonzalez Byass Fino Dos Palmas shows a rich, deep golden hue, concentrated but quite fresh. There is still some flor character, possibly conflated with some early oxidative-acetaldehyde character, although I would say this is much more ‘old fino‘ in style than amontillado. Alongside there are notes of salty sea-spray and olives, and I find it a little more appealing than the Una Palma. This comes through on the palate, wrapped up in more almond and hazelnut notes, as well as a confident spine of acidity. It has a punchy confidence, and while it is perhaps not significantly more complex than the Una Palma the structure seems more composed and concentrated. Good. 16.5/20 • 93/100 (November 2017)

Exploring Sherry #19: Tio Pepe Fino En Rama

Empty sherry bottles have been piling up at Winedoctor Towers, and yet I have been remiss at reporting on them here. I’m going to try and reverse this situation, for two reasons. First, because I feel I owe it to the winemakers and indeed sherry fans everywhere to say something about these wines. Secondly, because this Friday is recycling day.

Fino fans would do well to look out for the annual release of Tio Pepe En Rama from Gonzalez Byass; it seems to me to be one of the better examples of fino that is widely available. The wine is a blend typically aged between four and five years on average. For the 2017 release the Gonzalez Byass winemaker Antonio Flores earmarked a range of barrels for the cuvée during the autumn of 2016, further narrowing down his choice to just 60 right before the blending earlier this year. He favoured those barrels with the strongest development of flor, which seems apparent on tasting the wine, which is very strong on flor-acetaldehyde this year.

Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe En Rama

The wine was bottled on April 21st, and was in distribution a few weeks later. I popped the cork on mine a month or so ago, (this bottle is from the bottom of the pile) as soon as was able to after it was pushed through my letterbox. Looking around, there still seems to be bottles available from online merchants, suggesting an increased volume was produced this year (in my experience it usually sells out pretty quickly).

In the glass the 2017 release of the Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe En Rama has a cool pale-straw hue. The nose reveals scents of green apples and green olives, and perhaps not so much of the salty saline character seen in some years, although as noted above it is heavily laden with pungent flor aromas. The palate follows through on this, with a heady, pungent flor character, backed up by fresh acidity, carrying slightly briny green olives and nutty almond notes. It feels rich and flavoursome, broad and undeniably long. It is a very strong effort, and although I like it, it is perhaps not my favourite release of this wine. It feels like a wine for fino purists, and perhaps that just doesn’t include me. 16/20 • 92/100 (August 2017)

Exploring Sherry #18: Fino Una Palma

After a long break, Sherry returns to Winedoctor, with the Fino Una Palma from Gonzalez Byass.

First of all, a little background on Gonzalez Byass; this household name has its origins in 1835 when Manuel María González purchased a bodega in Jerez. Although he initially only traded in wine, before long he had also purchased some vines, and he began to harvest his own grapes. A few years later, in 1849, he created his fist brand, none other than Tio Pepe. The business went from strength to strength and in 1855 he built a new bodega, before he went into association with his British representative Robert Blake Byass. Gonzalez Byass was born.

Gonzalez Byass Fino Una Palma

Gonzelaz Byass has long been at the forefront of innovation in the Sherry business, and the Palmas range of wines are a good example of this open-minded, forward-thinking approach. The wines start off in casks earmarked for Tio Pepe, where they develop the characteristic coating of flor. Each year wines from these casks, which are held across several bodegas, will be blended to create the Tio Pepe blend in a consistent house style. In recent years, however, the Gonzalez Byass blender Antonio Flores has taken individual casks and aged them further, bottling them in small volumes. This wine is the 2016 release, which he blended along with Gérard Basset MW MS. From one-hundred casks holding six-year old wines they selected just three, numbers 14, 24 and 103, for the Una Palma. These three still had a good layer of flor, protecting the wine, which was blended and bottled without filtration or clarification.

In the glass the 2016 release of the Gonzalez Byass Fino Una Palma shows a fairly pale gold hue (especially compared to the other wines in the Palmas range). The nose is quite intense, with a very strongly defined flor character, along with the scents of dried orchard fruits and almonds. This character comes through on the palate as well, the fruits swirled with flor, nuts, salt and bitter fruit pith, quite challenging in style, very dry and bright, a feeling reinforced by the wine’s vibrant acidity and long, lingering finish. It has 15.5% alcohol, 4.47 g/l total acidity and a pH of 3.13, which helps to explain is firm, stridently fresh character. A culminates in a confident yet bitter finish. Overall, this is quite charming. 16/20 • 92/100 (May 2017)

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)

Exploring Sherry #16: Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso

My interest in Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castillo was piqued by an encounter with the Don Fernando sherries carried by a certain UK supermarket. Proof, perhaps, that it doesn’t do any harm to let a little of your stock go down the own-label route; I’m not at all sure, if it weren’t for these wines, exactly how and when I would have discovered this bodegas.

Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castillo was born in the 1960s, founded by Fernando Andrada-Vanderwilde, and was named for Fernando III, an influential 13th-century king who was canonised by Pope Clément X in 1671. It was revitalised following its acquisition by Norwegian Jan Pettersen in 1999.

Fernando de Castilla

There are essentially two ranges of wines; the Classic range, generally up to nine years of age, and the superior Antique range, which may be as old as twenty years on average. No prizes for guessing which range this wine comes from.

I am a little clueless as to the story behind the Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso; the Fernando de Castilla website is informative with regard to its weight (1.03 kg per bottle, 835 kg per pallet), and dimensions (310 x 69 x 69 mm) but says nothing of the origin of the wine, the aging, the solera, and so on. One taste, however, and I soon forget such oversights. This wine has a fine, golden, light-bronze hue, with tinge of green age at the rim. There are wonderfully expressed aromatics, toasty, with crisp and warm walnuts, pistachio too, lightly peppery and savoury, very defined and very enticing. And the palate is remarkable, warm and yet energetic, soothing and comforting, but with taut and tangy acidity to give it energy. In the midpalate it unfurls to reveal further charm and complexity, endowed here with texture and the umami of high quality stock, broad and deep, savoury and full of conviction. This is ridiculously delicious, and definitely a candidate for my favourite sherry so far. 18/20 (February 2016)

Exploring Sherry #15: Bodegas Hidaldo Oloroso Faraon

Back into the Sherry seat now, with a look at this wine from Bodegas Hidalgo. Every Sherry drinker (and some non-drinkers too I suspect) knows La Gitana, one of the best known Sherry brands in existence, with its instantly recognisable gypsy label. Less widely appreciated, I suspect, are the other wines in the premium range from Hidalgo. They have similar branding, but they can’t match La Gitana’s ubiquity (it accounts for 70% of Hidalgo’s production).

Bodegas Hidalgo is a long-established bodegas, having been founded in 1792 by José Pantaleón Hidalgo, who hailed from Santander in northern Spain (much closer to Rioja than to Jerez). Six generations later the business remains in his family’s hands, and his descendents have about 170 organically-managed hectares in the Balbaína and Miraflores vineyards.

Bodegas Hidaldo Oloroso Faraon

La Gitana is a gypsy woman, whereas Faraon is essentially a patriarch, the male head of a family or gypsy clan. The oloroso so named comes from a solera where it is aged for seven years (at least) before bottling.

In the glass the Bodegas Hidalgo Oloroso Faraon shows a golden, toasty-caramel hue, with a faint but broad green tinge at the rim. It has a very classic nose, showing a faintly oxidised oloroso character, with a touch of dusty-dry baked earth, baked orange, dried fruits, walnut wood and clove spice. There is a rather full presence on the palate, a fairly substantial wine here, showing lots of impact but also a cutting energy to it, with plenty of tingling, peppery, spicy sensations around the edges. It feels quite polished, firm and robust rather than elegant or silky, but still a very full, warm, pleasing style, and it has length too. Overall, good. 16/20 (January 2016)

Exploring Sherry #14: Dos Cortados

Having breathed new life into my exploration of Sherry I seem, since my encounter with the Don Fernando wines, own-label efforts from Fernando de Castilla, to have enjoyed a good run of really interesting wines. Next in the line up was a return to what remains one of my favourite styles, palo cortado.

The Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados is a fascinating wine not just because the quality in the glass is good, but because it affords a glimpse into the aging of palo cortado wines. Before we start, let me return to some words I wrote in my post on the Leonor Palo Cortado, explaining how wines are transformed from fresh and lively fino into the elegantly bronzed style that is palo cortado:

In the occasional barrel the flor would die before its time, exposing the wine to oxygen, and thereby altering how it aged. In this case the cellar master would remove the barrel bearing its palo, a downward mark indicating it belonged to the fino solera. This would then be crossed (or cortado) with a second mark to identify the barrel, which is now palo cortado.

Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados

The process might involve a little more than than, in particular the wines can be adjusted with alcohol to protect them, after which they are left to age oxidatively. Returning to them many years later, the alcohol adjustment may have to be repeated, in which case a second mark (cortado) would be made on the barrel to record this – hence the wine is now dos cortados.

In the case of the Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados the wine is aged on average at least twenty years. This has a really smart-looking bronze hue in the glass, with a broad green tinge to the rim. It starts with a fairly challenging nose, vibrant, slightly high toned, with some notes of dry-baked earth, dried walnuts, raisins and smoky coffee. This is followed by a firm, nicely framed palate, with bitter fruits and some dry-baked and desiccated orange peel. The feel of it is very vinous, with very bright acidity, a rolling warm blanket of smoke bilowing over the top, and an acid bite in the finish. A fascinating wine, clearly mature and confident in its very evolved state. Tense and long, and lovely with it. 16.5/20 (December 2015)

Exploring Sherry #13: Don Fernando

I can’t believe it’s been more than two months since the last bottle of Sherry popped up on this blog. That was the Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado back in August. I blame 2015 Bordeaux; I have spent some time travelling and tasting, and writing too. Sherry ended up on the backburner for a while.

But now it’s back! I continue today with episode 13, featuring a supermarket bargain.

I almost never write about supermarket own-labels and brands (the Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado – exclusive to Waitrose unless I am mistaken – was a rare exception). The reason for this is two-fold; first, own-label wines never teach you anything about a region, and second, wines available only from a UK retailer are of little interest to the majority of my readership, which has a much more global feel.

I will make an exception today, though, because the wines are so good.

Don Fernando Oloroso

Don Fernando might not be a familiar name even to regular Sherry drinkers, but these wines are sourced from Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, a renowned and well-regarded bodegas. It is a boutqiue operation, only really established a few decades ago, and quality is high. Both of these wines, available in Marks & Spencers, are very good, but it is the Oloroso that really does it for me.

Don Fernando Fino: An unfiltered fino. This has a fair, lemon-gold hue. Quite confident aromatics, good flor notes here, with a dry, sandy, driftwood backbone, and touches of green olive. It is also lightly salty, a touch marine, but it is still appealing. It has a substantial start on the palate, certainly textured, quite seamless in its presence, fresh with good bite, bright acids, and a long warming finish. Challenging, upright, and very nicely polished. Very good. With all its texture and character, this feels a little like a halfway-house between your standard fino, and an upmarket en rama bottling. 16.5/20 (November 2015)

Don Fernando Oloroso: Things move up a gear here. This wine is sourced from the first criadera (the level just before solera, the final stage in the solera system before bottling) of the Antique solera system, Antique being the upper-class range at Fernando de Castilla. This has a very rich, deep, shimmering golden-brown hue, tinged with red. And it has a wonderful nose, hugely expressive, filled with walnuts and wood polish, lifted by an orange zest freshness. What is most striking about the palate, apart from the hugely characterful concantration that is, is the texture, which is as broad as it is deep, the wine sliding across the palate like liquid velvet. Despite this it remains dry, energetic, grippy, tense and structured. It is also really long in the finish, which is infused with nuances of dried walnuts. Remarkable quality for such a widely available wine. Fabulous. 17/20 (November 2015)

One thing’s for sure, I did learn something from these wines. I learnt that I need to investigate the wines of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla more thoroughly.

Lagar de Cervera Rias Baixas Albarino 2014

A couple of months ago I spent a couple of weeks in Portugal, and the best drinking I found when there was Vinho Verde. I particularly enjoyed some of the single-variety Alvarinho cuvées, from the likes of Soalheiro and Palácio da Brejoeira among others. I wrote up some tasting notes at the time, here: A New Vinho Verde.

And then a couple of weeks ago, this bottle arrived. Same variety, different country.

Lagar de Cervera Rias Baixas Albariño 2014

Although I’m no expert on Rias Baixas I do know that Lagar de Cervera is the Galician outpost of La Rioja Alta, for a long time one of my favourite Rioja bodegas (I don’t claim any expertise in Rioja either, although I have at least visited the region). The fruit is chilled, pressed, and then tank-fermented, and 50% underwent malolactic fermentation, followed by some time on the lees. The 2014 Lagar de Cervera Rias Baixas Albariño has a pale hue, and a richly expressed nose, full of pithy citrus notes, as well as cool white peach flesh and also a lightly saline suggestion. There are some slightly bitter edges to the palate which I like, with flavours of lime, mint, perfumed white peach and white currant. It feels savoury, tense, bright, textured but cool with a steely core. I wouldn’t have guessed there was 50% malolactic fermentation here for sure. Overall very good, and it would stand up very well to all those Alvarinhos I tasted. Under screwcap. 16.5/20 (October 2015)

Disclosure: This bottle was a received sample.