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Tio Pepe en Rama – the untamed sherry

May 13, 2013 – 10:51 am
Seville, Tio Pepe, Gonzalez Byass

Tio Pepe lady with one of the limited-run of Tio Pepe en Rama, launched in April.

In case you hadn’t already guessed, April and May in Andalucia are all about ferias. And one of the essential ingredients of any feria – even more so if you’re in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Sanlucar de Barrameda or Jerez de la Frontera – is sherry.

Just before the Seville Feria de Abril, I wangled myself an invitation, for research purposes only, to the launch of this year’s Tio Pepe en Rama. I didn’t really know what it was – OK, if I’m honest, I had no clue whatsoever – but it was being touted on Twitter, and was taking place in a swanky riverfront restaurant I’d never been to.

I am no sherry expert – I like a jug of rebujito at a feria as much as the next over-excited foreigner-in-a-flamenca-frock – but I’ll always try something new. The launch was held by Bodegas Gonzalez Byass, the Jerez company behind Tio Pepe, and in common with many events here in Spain, there was no information given out – I do like a press release to scribble my indecipherable notes on. Held at Abades Restaurant in Triana, on a sunny morning, the launch was full of smart men wearing suits, or blazers with chinos – the sherry world arrived from Jerez.

Gonzalez Byass, Tio Pepe

The legendary Antonio Flores, Master Blender and Head Winemaker at Gonzalez Byass, waxes lyrical about Tio Pepe en Rama. This man lives and breathes sherry.

Standing out among the dry suits was Gonzalez Byass’ Head Winemaker, a welcome ball of warmth, energy and charisma. Antonio Flores (Twitter handle: @Hacedordevinos) was born on the premises in Jerez; his father also worked at the bodega. When introducing Tio Pepe en Rama, Antonio used the word salvaje (untamed, wild), explaining that this sherry is unfiltered and unclarified, taken straight from the barrel. Antonio is a sherry evangelist, telling us that the wine can lift your soul.

Apparently this year’s bottling has a stronger flor (yeast) flavour than previous years’, which I can’t vouch for – due to the unusually wet weather, as this encourages the growth of flor. Indeed, while a normal fino sherry like Tio Pepe is, indeed, smooth and clear, Tio Pepe en Rama has an edge that you could not call rough, but it has character – a fuller, more complicated flavour than its conventional cousin.

Unlike most wines, which improve with age, this one comes with instructions to drink within three months of bottling. Oh, if you insist.

Even the label is chosen with great care, this one, resplendent with its red and gold, inspired by a 1920s piece from the GB archive. On the back is the bottling date – 8 April 2013 – which is important, as it needs to be drunk within three months, due to its natural state.

sherry Abades

Venenciador - professional sherry pourer - doing his thing, in his red-and-black Tio Pepe garb. In the background, across the river, you can see the Torre del Oro.

In the bright Seville spring sunshine, on the terace at Abades restaurant, we watched as the venenciador expertly poured a narrow stream of sherry from on high, into the waiting glass. All part of the showmanship and colour of the Tio Pepe experience.

Tio Pepe, Feria de Jerez

Enjoying some of the precious Tio Pepe en Rama, while it lasts, at the Feria de Jerez. I have acquired quite a taste for the stuff.

I was lucky enough to sample it again last week at the Feria de Jerez, in the company of Antonio Flores himself. If you like the sound of Tio Pepe en Rama, get yourself some now, before it all goes. Quick!

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