Vintage Sherry Two Ways – Williams Colección Añadas & 1980s Tío Pepe

Closed by the Consejo Regulador with a wax seal and red ribbon, Añada sherries, produced from a single vintage, have seen a renaissance in recent years. With an established tradition of vintage sherries from as far back as 1920Williams & Humbert’s Colección Añadas is a new venture under oenologist Paola Medina, aiming to produce unusual biologically aged Añada sherries at an accessible price. From one vintage sherry to another, though this time not from a single vintage, is González Byass’ ubiquitous Tío Pepe, bottled in the 1980s, then aged for several further decades, giving an enlightening experience into how biologically aged sherries can develop in bottle.

Vintage Sherry Two Ways – Williams Colección Añadas & 1980s Tío Pepe

Up until the early 19th century, wines from the Marco de Jerez sherry region were exported in barrel as young vintage wines, with the inevitable vintage variation, and consequently unhappy foreign importers and their customers. To iron out this inconsistency a method of fractional blending was devised, forming the basis for the solera system, where critically for biologically aged wines, the sobretabla is continually replenished with young wine containing fresh nutrients, keeping the flor alive for many years.

Añada sherries, sherries produced from a single vintage, have seen a renaissance in recent years. Butts destined to become Añada sherries are closed by the Consejo Regulador with a wax seal and red ribbon to ensure they remain untouched without wine from any other year being blended in later. Once sealed any flor that has formed will usually die due to lack of oxygen, leaving the wine to develop oxidatively, though occasionally active flor may survive for long enough for the wine to be classified as a Fino at the time of bottling. Flor has a important impact on developing wine, not only protecting it from oxidation but also consuming sugars and glycerol and producing acetaldehydes, a process that in a solera system takes up to around 10 years, after which the flor starts to fade and the wine becomes an Amontillado.

Añada Butt Sealed with Red Ribbon and Wax

Where there are several Añada butts of a certain style from a given vintage, each subtly different in characteristics, they can either be blended together under supervision by the Consejo Regulador, or bottled separately. Añada butts that fall short of the desired qualities may be fed into a appropriate solera system, but care must be taken as they will differ in characteristics. Añada wines are typically fortified to only 15-15.5% alcohol, however unlike in a solera system, the 2 to 5% that’s lost to the angels each year isn’t replenished, so the eventual wine may reach up to 22% alcohol. Consequently the level in an Añada butt will decrease with the passing years, therefore the wine may need at intervals to be racked into a smaller butt, or under Consejo supervision, topped up with similar wine from the same vintage, until the decision is taken that the wine is ready for bottling. Without being refreshed, Añada wines become ever more concentrated, accordingly do not typically reach the age that the same wine might in a solera system, typically reaching only about 30 years of age, though they typically have good potential for further bottle ageing.

Though Williams & Humbert have an established tradition for vintage sherries from as far back as 1920, occasionally bottled for sale at high prices, their Colección Añadas is a new venture under oenologist Paola Medina. Aiming to produce unusual biologically aged Añada sherries at an accessible price, Williams & Humbert have now released several iterations of their Colección Añadas, of which the latest incorporates six añada sherries bottled in February 2016, including Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso vintages.

The grapes for these wines were harvested from their vineyards in the Pagos Añina and Carrascal, then fortified to 15%. The 2009 Añada Fino butt was opened when it began to oxidise but before the flor had completely died back, bottled in Feburary 2016, making it roughly 7½ years old. One might presume that the 2003 Añada Amontillado was classified as such because the flor had naturally died off due to lack of nutrients. Apparently not so, as it was at some point fortified to 18%, which would have killed off the flor, some time later finishing up at 20% when bottled in Feburary 2016.

Williams Colección Añadas Fino 2009 bottled Feburary 2016

Williams Colección Añadas Fino 2009

Appearance Muddy, coppery brown, slight cloudiness, evident sediment.

Nose Distinct marine characteristics, musty sea air, oily quayside ropes, and rusty brine, bringing manzanilla to mind, with olive brine and plenty of flor bitterness. Overripe bruised apple and overripe squashy orange flesh bring mature fruit notes, with green hazelnut, hard beeswax and hints of sweet hay.

Palate Distinctly savoury with little sweetness, bitter soured apple juice, overripe apples and quince, clean and fresh on the palate, slightly thin mouthfeel, though with great persistence. There’s only a little flor evident, and not much lees character. Cereal notes of rye bread and dried hay combine with hazelnut shell, spiced orange and green almond. The palate’s opened out to become fuller and less thin on the second day.

Conclusions Excellent. Extremely drinkable, lovely balance and integration, if lacking a touch of complexity? Certainly heading towards the Amontillado end of the Fino spectrum.

Williams Colección Añadas Amontillado 2003 bottled February 2016

Williams Colección Añadas Amontillado 2003

Appearance Bright coppery orange.

Nose Sweet cider apple, quince, crab apple jelly, bitter marmalade, with noticeable glyceric sweetness, together bringing calvados to mind. Hints of dusty engine oil, walnuts, musty honeycomb, heather honey and scrub contribute some more mature character.

Palate Young and fresh, noticeably light in body for Amontillado, but certainly beyond Fino in flavour profile. Nice limey, bitter citrus acidity, accompanied by orange juice and zest. Less cereal character than the Fino, instead there’s walnut and bitter green almond, again with cider apple and marmalade giving an implied sweetness. Excellent length.

Conclusions Outstanding. Remarkably fresh for Amontillado, presumably because it lacks the much older wines that would contribute their character to a solera wine, confusingly making this feel a touch more youthful than the Fino.

Wind Vane at González Byass’ Tio Pepe bodega

From one vintage sherry to another, though this time not from a single vintage, is González Byass’ ubiquitous Tío Pepe, bottled in the 1980s, then aged for several further decades.

Tío Pepe was first bottled at the González Byass bodega in Jerez de la Frontera in 1844, when Tío Pepe himself, uncle of Manuel María González, encouraged his nephew to bottle the biologically aged Fino style of sherry that was enjoyed locally but generally not exported. González Byass have achieved with Tío Pepe something that many have tried, but few have succeeded, to make it one of the most widely distributed and recognisable brands in its category, while remaining a well regarded wine. The firm registered the first trade mark in Spain, and the famous brand of a bottle with sombrero, bolero jacket and guitar created. 21,400 butts now make up the 21 soleras from which Tío Pepe is drawn, averaging 4 to 4½ years old. In 1963 the great Tío Pepe bodega was built housing 28,000 butts, then 1972 saw an even bigger bodega built, Las Copas, containing 80,000 butts, topped with an innovative domed roof.

Conventional wisdom teaches us us that Fino and Manzanilla sherries are best drunk young. While biologically ageing under flor, the wine is protected from exposure to oxygen, but once filtered and bottled this protective layer is lost, exposing them to oxygen. That’s not to say they’ve gone bad, simply changed, losing some of their youthful freshness and vibrancy, while becoming better integrated and softening out to lose a little of their initial harshness. While very young Fino or Manzanilla will rapidly start to lose its delicacy and vibrancy once bottled, realistically very few bottles outside of Andalucía are really fresh, many already having sat on shop shelves for months or years. Unopened, they will happily last for several years without significant further deterioration, after which the delicate aromas will gradually fade, with the colour darkening and flavour developing and becoming richer, with more oxidative amontillado characteristics.

González Byass Tío Pepe bottled 1980s

Tio Pepe 1980s

Appearance Deep and brassy, orangey amber.

Nose Amontillado comes to mind, but there’s something a little different, an intriguing melange of rusty water, dried and clove studded oranges, baking spices, and hints of cumin and fenugreek curry spice. Rich and creamy, buttery pastry and toasted almonds, with a core of candied orange and lemon peels reminiscent of lemon meringue pie.

Palate Full and rich, velvety and soft, most of the acidity has faded with the years, balanced by green almond and lemon zest bitterness, and a touch of flor in the background. Cumin and coriander curry spices, meld with sponge cake and buttery pastry give a vin jaune like character, while notes of brine, bicarbonate of soda, and chamomile betray the fino heritage. Fantastic length.

Conclusions Outstanding. Developed, with rich and spicy complexity, while retaining some bitter vibrancy. Interesting and still wonderfully drinkable, a complete antithesis to fresh and zesty young Tío Pepe. An enlightening experience into how biologically aged sherries can develop in bottle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *