It is English asparagus season and, to my mind there is only one type of wine that goes with it: fino Sherry or Manzanilla. I adore good, dry sherry and consider it to be one of the world’s most civilized and uplifting aperitif wines, at least on a par with a glass of good Champagne. This is the perfect season to drink it, cool from the fridge in a good sized glass so you can appreciate that unique savoury bouquet from the flor yeast that grows on the surface of the wine in butt (cask). I have been enjoying two different wines this spring, both classics, one matured in Jerez de la Frontera the other in Sanlucar de Barrameda where the cooler summer temperatures produce a more delicate style of wine.
I hold that there is no more exciting way to taste Sherry than in the bodega when the venenciador skillfully cuts though the flor and ladles a glass of raw fino or manzanilla. The vibrancy and savoury complexity of Chinese spices that comes from a glass of raw fino / manzanilla is one of the most thrilling in the entire world of wine. Next best to experiencing this are the ‘en rama’ wines that have recently made their way onto the market. Bottled in spring when the flor is still thick these wines are bottled in their raw state i.e. unfiltered and unclarified. The exemplar is Tio Pepe en Rama from Gonzalez Byass which is now in its sixth season. But a wine that I love to drink all year round is Barbadillo’s Solear Manzanilla which, with some justification, describes itself as ‘the heart and soul of Southern Spain.’ And as I said at the outset there is no better wine to go with English asparagus.
Tio Pepe Fino En Rama (Gonzalez Byass) ****/*****
The sixth limited release of this wine bottled in April 2015: deeper in colour than normal Tio Pepe (clarification strips colour and character), bright straw; fresh, incisive character, both on the nose and on the palate, savoury, bone dry with a primary vibrancy that is almost unequalled in any other wine. Gonzalez Byass suggest that this wine has no more than a six month shelf life so I urge you to be come an ‘en rama’ regular and place your order every spring. In the UK Tanners and the Wine Society are both fans of this wine. 18.5
Solear Manzanilla (Barbadillo) ****
Paler than the above (sadly due to the demands of the market and the perception that Manzanilla should be a pale wine), the pale lemon colour belies the age and complexity that comes from relatively long aging in solera; very fine, gentle saline – apple character (or am I just imagining the hint of the sea), fresh and savoury, more delicate in style than a fino but no less incisive. There is no better place to drink this than by the beach in Sanlucar and few hundred meters from where the wine is aged in bodegas overlooking the town and the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. Perfect with shellfish…or at home in the garden with asparagus! 17
19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)
17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)
15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)
13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)
10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)
8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)
Below 8 Faulty