Wines for all seasons

I am a big fan of en rama wines. I no longer have a category for them on the blog because almost all the wines I drink are en rama one way or the other, and I am not averse to filtered wines either, but on the whole if you offer me a filtered and an unfiltered wine I generally find the latter more interesting, more expressive and more likely to evolve in interesting ways.

I also like the fact that en rama wines have dates on them, even if only the date of the saca. It helps create a notion of scarcity, it gives wine writers a reason to try the wine again, and it also allows you to sell the wines as either very fresh (you see marketing along the lines of “straight from the barrel” and “raw”) or as very old (you see more and more “bottle aged” wines around). And most importantly, it gives you an excuse to announce the “launch” of the new saca, which has lead to people talking about a supposed “en rama season” in spring each year. It coincides with a couple of the bigger “launches” of en rama wines: the Tio Pepe en rama and the excellent Lustau “tres en rama”, and makes perfect commercial sense in terms of facilitating a big launch event/world tour and maximizing the impact generated.

Not all brands feel the same way. The longest running series of en rama bottlings is the Solear en rama by Barbadillo, which started a full 18 years ago, and one of the many things I admire about the series (in addition to the wine itself, which is cracking, and the labels, which are worth collecting in their own right) is that they produce a saca every season – spring, summer, autumn and winter. And they are not alone in releasing multiple sacas. Antonio Barbadillo’s excellent Sacristia AB releases two sacas of manzanilla a year, as do Tradición with their fino en rama. Maybe the most extreme case is Primitivo Collantes with his Arroyuelo en rama – the sacas are bottled to order – and the list could go on.

Of course, the season in which the saca takes place is of course highly relevant, and leads to very different wines. Generalizations are difficult but wines that are released in spring have been wintering under a vigorous veil of flor and tend to have a more marked biological influence, have a more incisive salinity and more green vegetation in aromas and flavours. It is easy to see why these are sold as “full of life”. Autumn sacas, by comparison, have been under a veil of flor that has groaned and sweated its way through the hot summer, the salinity is not quite as piercing and there is more oxidation of the wine, resulting in aromas and flavours that tend a little bit more to baked apples and roast nuts than fresh ones. (Probably the most complete account of the comparison is this one, from a vertical tasting of the Tradición finos, although I have also done a couple of side to sides with the Solear en rama here and elsewhere.)

But those very differences tell me that it makes no sense to focus on a single season for en rama wines. Looking back, two of my very favourite wines from the Solear series were the Dormouse and the Razorbill, from Autumn and Winter of 2015 (a very hot summer indeed), and it would be a great shame to have missed out on those or any of the autumn and winter sacas down the years. Indeed, the only saca of La Guita en rama so far was in October 2015 (and it is now drinking beautifully, by the way), and from memory I think I have only ever had winter sacas of the Fernando de Castilla en rama.

So whatever the marketing rationale, and despite the calls from some respected critics to do away with multiple releases per year in order to conform to the global standard of one vintage per vintage, I am not a believer in a single “en rama season”. Quite apart from anything else, winter is already depressing enough without depriving ourselves of these cracking wines.




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