Impecunious trenchermen and women have long known that one of the best ways to spend your wine pound is on a bottle of sherry. For as little as £6 it’s possible to buy an uncompromised bottle of fino – dry and nutty with a marine tang – that, served chilled with a humble plate of garlicky pan con tomate (I’d love to add jamón but that would be a different budget), adds up to a seriously good aperitif and snack.
Around this time of year sherry also appears on the Instagram grids of those whose social media times are usually an orgy of Burgundies, Champagnes and old vintages of Bordeaux that would blow the average family’s monthly food budget in a single night. The reason? The spring release of the en rama fino and manzanilla sherry bottlings, which aim to capture sherry’s true freshness and essence, typically sell for around £16, and have grown into a hugely fashionable phenomenon.
Barbadillo was the first bodega to put en rama on the label, in 1999. A single lot of four half-bottles from this original en rama bottling realised £613 at Christie’s at the end of last year, yet the origins of en rama lie far away from auction houses and international fine wine markets.
‘If you go to Jerez in Spain, you’ll see people taking a plastic bidon and filling it with sherry from the keg and taking it home. So the idea was to create something as close to that [experience] As possible,’ says wine consultant Natasha Hughes MW, who wrote her Master of Wine dissertation on the subject. Hence the term en rama, which translates roughly as ‘on the branch’, the thinking being that this sherry retains a connection to the barrel in the bodega.
En rama sherry is treated more gently than most commercial sherries. It’s usually sold as being ‘unclarified and unfiltered’, though Hughes says that, when she questioned 14 en rama producers on their production methods back in 2014, three were fining the sherries (gently, using egg whites) and most were filtering them, but only lightly, ‘to remove things like pebbles and twigs and eliminate the yeast’. Because the heavy fining and filtration (through a very fine mesh) techniques used in more commercial wines remove flavor as well as creating the desired object of stability, the result, either way, is a wine with more body and more flavour.
Many artisan producers have been quietly making wine in this way for years. The credit for the rise of en rama as a sought-after wine must go to González Byass, owner of the Tio Pepe brand, and also The Wine Society buyer Toby Morrhall. ‘It goes back 15 years or so,’ says Morrhall.
‘I was tasting at the bodega with the winemaker Antonio Flores, trying samples directly from the butt. They were beautiful wines, six to seven years old, golden in colour, with lovely aroma and a rounded and generous palate, much of which was removed by the heavy clarification techniques at the time. I said, “If you can get this into the bottle, I’d buy it.” And so Flores did – a limited edition that sold out at the Wine Society inside three hours – and eventually grew into the eagerly anticipated calendar event it is today.
The excellent 12th release of Tio Pepe Fino En Rama is now out, available in 375ml (around £8) and 750ml (around £16) bottles from Tanners, Fareham Wine Cellar and The Wine Society. I also love Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana En Rama (around £17 for 750ml) which can be found at Lea & Sandeman and Tanners. The wines of the week are sherries, but they’re not en rama.
Wines of the week