The tenth edition of Gonzalez Byass’s en rama bottling of the legendary fino and that moment of every year when a fella has to stop and salute the behemoth that is Gonzalez Byass.
They don’t get much airtime on this blog for a few reasons – one being that the kind of restaurants and winebars I go to don’t, with a few exceptions, seem to have them on their wine list. Even their very high end wines – the Palmas – cannot easily be found, and I sometimes wonder why.
Now don’t get me wrong – I am the number one fan of all the little bodegas, the new kids on the block, the guys that are subverting the norms of which Tio Pepe is a symbol. Neither am I a fan of making wines in the millions of barrels (I just don’t see how it is possible to be honest) and in Jerez in particular there is a special kind of opprobrium attached to any suggestion of industrialization.
But I can’t find it in my heart to blame Tio Pepe for all the world’s ills. They may make a lot of wine, but there is plenty on the plus side of the ledger. They may not have been the first, but these en ramas, the Palmas, and the promotional weight they throw behind them have also played their part in the “sherry revolution” we all embrace. They also do their bit at the very top end with their superb olorosos and palo cortados de añada.
And even before that, by having their wines on the shelves all over the world and all the time they did as much as anyone to keep the flame alive. I may not go looking for their wines but I don’t know how many times I have been happy to see a little green bottle on a supermarket shelf, in a fridge, in an exotic wine bar, in a barrow full of beach refreshments. I remember being almost overcome with emotion when a steward on an airline was able to find not just a bottle of Tio Pepe but also a bottle of Alfonso oloroso.
As a result, the almonds in this wine are one of the most familiar flavours I, and probably the majority of the world’s sherry drinkers, associate with the dry ones. I well remember doing a blind tasting of Tio Pepe in its standard and en rama versions and I was able to spot them mainly because the good old Tio Pepe was so unmistakable (and lighter in color, let’s be honest).
And here is that flavour, baked almonds, and zing, and mouthwatering freshness. More juice, more herbs here, with umami depth. Like grelos in a rich Galician stew, this is delicious and familiar.
Big isn’t bad, not bad at all.