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Ehrmanns puts spotlight on vintage Sherry

UK importer Ehrmanns is seeking to capitalise on the growing interest for niche, high quality Sherry styles with the release of two vintage expressions from Williams & Humbert.

The Williams & Humbert bodega
The Williams & Humbert bodega

Due to be unveiled at the Big Fortified Tasting in London on 24 April, the launch will feature a fino en rama 2006 and single cask oloroso 1982. The packaging and prices for both wines are still to be confirmed, although they are expected to reach the market this summer.

Claiming that Williams & Humbert was the first to create vintage Sherry styles, although other houses also offer them, Ehrmanns director Peter Dauthieu told the drinks business that these expressions had previously been reserved for family members or sold exclusively at auction.

Despite having an extensive library of vintages available back to the 1920s, he suggested that 1982 was ‘perfect’, both in terms of style and generating realistic commercial demand – the oloroso is expected to retail for “around £45” per half bottle.

Although Sherry is more closely associated with its solera system, which blends wines of different ages, Dauthieu explained the alternative appeal of these vintage styles.

“If you’re setting aside must from a certain high quality plot then there will be variation from year to year,” he remarked. “In fact,” he stressed of the oloroso expression, “it enhances complexity because these is no blending, it’s not topped up at all, it’s always in the same barrel – it just gets older and more concentrated with age.”

With this in mind, Dauthieu pointed to the decision to focus on the oloroso style for these older vintages, saying: “When an amontillado gets too old it becomes too austere, too burnt; for an oloroso, 30-40 years is a great amount of time.”

What’s more he added: “In one year we will have an oloroso, in another it will be a palo cortado because that’s what nature has given us – it won’t always be the same style.”

As for the fino en rama 2006, which has yet to be bottled, Dauthieu explained: “It would turn into an amontillado if we left it any longer,” comparing its style as sitting equivalent to somewhere “between two and three” within the Gonzàlez Byass’ Palmas range.

While the fino’s protective flor, or yeast layer, has survived this long partly thanks to topping up with wine from the same vintage, he also credited this longevity to “the high albariza [white, lime-rich soils] area” where the grapes were grown, as well as the “high humidity and coolness” of the barrels’ location.

Buoyed by the UK’s recent Sherry revival, which has seen a surge in en rama and other specialist expressions, Ehrmanns will also use the trade event to bring its existing range of “special Sherries bottled in extremely limited quantities” to a wider audience.

Among these rare offerings are Sacristia AB Manzanilla Saca Primavera 2012, a new bottling from an aged manzanilla range; Sanchez Romate Hnos Fino Perdido, a seven year-old fino; Cayetano del Pino & Cia Palo Cortado Viejisimo, which averages 30 years old and comes from a specialist palo cortado almacenista; Salto Al Cielo Oloroso, a project on the estate of a former Carthusian monastery; and Williams & Humbert “As You Like It” Amontillado Medium Sweet, a sophisticated take on the cream style, with amontillado and Pedro Ximénez matured together in barrel for over 30 years.

Although a number of these styles are already available through specialist outlets such as The Wine Society and London restaurant Cambio de Tercio, Dauthieu explained: “We are now trying to rejuvenate and take them to the mainstream market a little more.”

Retail prices range from £8.50 a bottle for the Sanchez Romate Fino Perdido to £22 per half bottle for the Williams & Humbert “As You Like it”, whose name represents a Shakespearean link to the family’s English roots.

Discussing the latter, Dauthieu emphasised that, in contrast to more recently blended, younger cream styles, “this is a wine that is completely integrated.”

Despite its 100g/l sugar content, he remarked: “You wouldn’t say it was sweet,” pointing to the acidity and freshness contributed by the amontillado base in contrast to the more usual, rounder oloroso that has historically been used in cream styles. “The taste reminds you more of a Madeira than a Sherry,” Dauthieu concluded.

The Big Fortified Tasting takes place on Wednesday 24 April from 10.30-6pm at Glaziers Hall in London.

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