Tio Pepe Two Ways: 50 Years in Bottle and the New "En Rama" Release

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Tío Pepe Fino Sherry is the rare example of a wine that is the most widely distributed in its category as well as the most distinguished. The brand was born at González Byass winery in Jerez in 1844 when Tío Pepe himself, the uncle of Manuel María González, encouraged his nephew to begin bottling the pure, thirst quenching, young fino style of sherry that was enjoyed locally, but not generally exported. Fino sherry rapidly became the specialty of González Byass. Tío Pepe is now drawn from 21 soleras totaling 21,400 barrels with an average of 4-4.5 years of age, and constitutes 60% of the bodega's production. There is an art to making so much wine so incredibly well for so long. (It helps, perhaps, that González Byass' wines come from 700 hectares of their own vineyards, which are farmed without chemicals.)

Today we are excited to offer a special cache of mature Tío Pepe, included in a recent cellar from Italy. Antonio Flores, who was born within the Saccharomyces-coated walls of the González Byass winery and succeeded his father as master blender in 1980, was kind enough to confirm that these bottles date back to the 1960s (at the latest 1970s).

While many of us are taught to consume fino and manzanilla sherries very young, before their vibrant, flor-y flavors recede, the rare experience of drinking a top-quality fino sherry with ample bottle age is a fascinating and educational pleasure. In their excellent book, Sherry, Manzanilla, & Montilla: A Guide to the Traditional Wines of Andalucía, sherry scholars Peter Liem and Jesús Barquín extol the practice:

"We have drunk finos and manzanillas with decades of bottle age, and these can be both very much alive and highly compelling for their complexity and depth. While it cannot be categorically stated that all finos and manzanillas improve with time, there are enough that do to make the matter worth exploring--and to call for the abolishment of the oft-repeated maxim that these wines ought to be drunk as soon as possible after bottling."

The bottle that we opened showed great depth and clarity. The juicy, youthful flor, saline, and fruit notes evolved long ago into rich, bone-dry flavors of sweet smoke, butterscotch, bitter orange, curry, chamomile, coriander seeds, birch bark, and hints of salt and stones. Mellow and strong, this is a sumptuous and surprising match for slow roasted pork, curries, root vegetables, pungent cheeses, and a unique dry accompaniment for dark chocolate. The wine was elegant, integrated, and in delicious form despite some stray bits from a crumbling cork, which were easily strained and filtered out. It stayed good and became more interesting for many days after opening.

A back label for the ages, depicting the González Byass family of products sporting fabulous outfits.

The annual tradition of bottling a Tío Pepe "En Rama" was sparked by a barrel tasting at González Byass that took place in the spring of 2009, a time of year when the flor on each cask is thick and active, permeating the wine below with pungent aromas and dense, vibrant flavors of tart, pretty Meyer lemon, yeasty sourdough with butter, and tangy sea salt with a long, creamy finish. The first release was 16,000 bottles, which sold within 48 hours. The En Rama is now pulled every spring from 60 of the best Tío Pepe barrels and bottled with a minimal filtration through a very course metal gauze; it is a powerful expression of the biological maturation that defines this most classic of finos, while still retaining González Byass' trademark finesse.

"Pure flor juice!" was Antonio Flores' effusive description of the En Rama over a dinner of fish, salads, and charcuterie this past summer. We have just replenished our stock of Tío Pepe En Rama and encourage pairing it with the last of the season's sweet corn and tomatoes from the market, alongside seafood or a hearty fish stew, cured pork products, and hard cheeses. It is a unique adventure to try Tío Pepe two ways - we hope you enjoy them! Ariana Rolich

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