Just when you thought Sherry terminology couldn’t get any more complicated…now this? I know. What a pain in the ass.
BUT WAIT…it’s not as bad as you think.
EN RAMA is basically just a way of saying that the wine is barely filtered (or “IN THE RAW”) so that the experience of drinking the wine is closer to what it would be like to pour yourself a glass directly out of the barrel. This is not to say that Sherry isn’t as good once it has been bottled – there is nothing better than a crisp, cold, and refreshing bottle of Fino sherry on a hot summer day. But there are notable differences between tasting untouched Sherry straight from barrel versus pouring yourself a glass out of bottle long after it has been filtered and stabilized. Here is where the difference lies.
Most notably Sherry in the barrel is richer, has more color, tastes more wine-like (milder/softer), and is more complex in barrel. For quality control most producers before bottling remove the active yeasts in the barrel. This is done through a very important step that filters & clarifies the sherry to make it more stable for shipping. Unfortunately this process also strips the wine of color making it somewhat lighter and it results in a mild loss of depth of flavor and aroma. For you audiophiles, it’s like what happens when you transfer your favorite song from vinyl to your iPod – you lose a range of sound and instead can transport your music more easily. Tasting sherry directly from the barrel is a window directly into the true nature of the wine before this process of intense filtration and clarification has begun to alter its character. The EN RAMA category is an attempt at bridging this gap.
Although sherries have been quietly bottled EN RAMA since the late 90’s, this is a new category from a commercial point of view. Because of this there are no actual defined parameters to put the term on the label. Thus the term EN RAMA is not something that means the same thing to every producer. Only a few generalizations can be made:
1. they are minimally filtered
2. they are always Manzanilla or Fino sherry
3. the best examples are from specially selected barrels,
4. the best examples are made by blending older wines beyond the 2-year minimum aging requirement,
5. they tend towards a softer, more “wine-like” character.
This can be seen when trying the same producer’s EN RAMA sherry versus their regular label. Below are a few producers who release both styles (if you can find them, try and buy one of each to see the difference):
Gonzalez Byass “Tío Pepe” Fino vs. “Tío Pepe” Fino en Rama
Bodegas Hidalgo “La Gitana” Manzanilla vs. “La Gitana” Manzanilla en Rama
Valdespino Manzanilla “Deliciosa” vs. Valdespino “Deliciosa” Manzanilla en Rama
Barbadillo Manzanilla “Solear” vs. Barbadillo “Solear” Manzanilla en Rama (released 4 times a year and labeled for the season they were bottled: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter)
Gutierrez Colosia Fino vs. Gutierrez Colosia Fino en Rama
You may also notice that there are vintages on some Sherries labeled EN RAMA. Are these the vintage? The answer is no. Although there is such a thing as a vintage Sherry, they are very rare and denote an exceptional wine that was never blended. If you see a year listed on an EN RAMA bottle, it is to tell you when the wine was “pulled” from the barrel for bottling (this is known as the saca). This gives you an idea of how long the wine has been aging in the bottle. You will see it on a label as (for example) “Saca de Verano 2014” – which means, “pulled during Summer 2014.”
Why is that important? Here is where we get into the complicated nature of the EN RAMA category – at this point it is a purely theoretical debate amongst producers and professionals that will only be settled over time.
Some people believe that EN RAMA sherry is less stable than conventionally filtered sherry and is therefore less age-worthy. They believe this because the mild filtration leaves some of the potentially active elements in the wine from the barrel and there is a chance the wine will not remain stable. Because of this many producers recommend the wine to be consumed within 3 months of the saca so that there is no chance for this potential stage of instability and the Sherry instantly turning bad.
However, a small camp of people believe the contrary – that EN RAMA sherry ages much better than conventionally filtered Fino sherry. This group of believers is willing to bet that it will not only last longer than 3 months, but that it will last much longer than most conventionally filtered Fino-style sherry. Their reasoning is that leaving those trace active elements in the wine is a step closer to creating an environment for the wine more similar to the one in the barrel. And it is in the barrel where Sherry finds it’s most stable environment. For now the debate continues.
The reality is that the debate about how long Sherry can age continues above and beyond the EN RAMA category. The Sherry industry promotes the idea that Fino’s are ideal for drinking during the for 6 months after saca. But what happens after 6 months? The answer to that is unclear. Some will argue the wine is “less fresh” and once time passes beyond a few months after bottling, it will spoil with every day it sits around. Others argue that the wine is simply evolving and the freshness is replaced by a wine that’s developing into a more mature wine. They argue that the wine is simply maturing as any other wine does when left in bottle over many years. The only thing that can be said is that the debate will continue.
Perhaps it is worth noting here that a small group of sommeliers are listing multiple Fino’s (regardless if they are EN RAMA or not) by the date of the saca. They are doing this in hopes that people will see that after bottling, Fino’s of high quality continue to evolve in the bottle. As this is tracked over time the information yielded will be key in uncovering the answer to this debate. To take it a step further, it follows the theory that Champagne continues to evolve in bottle and that the date of disgorgement is important to track this stage of the wine’s evolution. One of many commonalities between Champagne and Sherry. By drawing conclusions learned from the wines in Champagne may be another way we will uncover the capabilities of Sherry’s evolution in bottle. Time will tell.
Other notable EN RAMA sherries:
Lustau “3 en Rama” series – 3 different bottlings, one from each major Sherry town (Manzanilla en Rama from Sanlúcar, and 2 Fino en Ramas: one from Jerez de la Frontera and one from Puerto de Santa Maria)
Gonzalez Byass‘ Palmas series: 4 wines called Una Palma (a 6-yr Fino), Dos Palmas (a 8-yr Fino), Tres Palmas (a 10-yr Fino), and Cuatro Palmas (a 46-yr Amontillado).
Equipo Navazos has both a Manzanilla en Rama, called “I Think”, and a Fino en Rama, called “Navazos”.
Fernando de Castilla Fino en Rama
Williams & Humbert Fino en Rama