(for the week of November 25, 2012)


Tio Pepe “Fino en Rama” ($25)


Tio Pepe is the well-known brand of Sherry produced by Spain’s Gonzalez & Byass, one of the nation’s oldest Sherry producers, having been established in 1835 in Jerez.


Sherry, of course, is the fortified wine produced in the area lying between Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa María and San Lucar de Barrameda in southern Spain. Fino is the light, dry style of Sherry achieved by vinification of the palomino grapes under a coating of yeast (called “flor”) that forms on the aging wine and prevents it from oxidizing. Then, the use of the solera system to blend different vintages lends complexity to the finished wine.


Fino en Rama is a specific version of Fino intended to be as fresh and pure as possible (“en rama” can translate as “raw”). This is achieved by minimal treatment of the wine after it is removed from cask. This year, the Tio Pepe Fino en Rama celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Manuel Maria Gonzalez, the producer’s founder.


This Tio Pepe comes from the finest four casks selected in the spring, when the flor is at its thickest. And critically, unlike most other Sherry (even some en rama), this wine is unfined and unfiltered. Nothing is added to clarify the juice or to filter dissolved solids; these are achieved mostly with settling. So you get all the natural components of the original wine and more complexity than the typical Fino (which is normally fined and filtered to stabilize it for transport).


The resulting wine opens with hints of butterscotch and caramel aromas accented by lemon, spice, minerals, and that trademark almond character. The palate is fresh, tangy and savory. It shows admirable finesse, even delicacy on the palate but at 15% alcohol, it still finishes with a kick.


Fino en Rama (even more so that a regular Fino) is best drunk shortly after bottling. It should be served chilled, refrigerated after opening and drunk within three months. It makes a fine aperitif. It is perfect for cheese, fish, Asian food, egg dishes, nuts and, what else, tapas.


Only about 200 cases of this special wine is available in the U.S.; so look for it now.


2010 Domaine du Pré Baron Sauvignon Touraine ($12)


For most folks, the Loire Valley probably is mostly associated with the dozens of dramatic medieval chateau dotted along the Loire River. For those of us fascinated with wine, it is more importantly a key wine region in France. Although the Loire often is overshadowed by Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhone Valley, the region produces an amazing diversity of wines well worth any wine lover’s investigation.


Take for instance Sauvignon Blanc. Some know it likely originated in Bordeaux where it has achieved acclaim among connoisseurs, especially those from the Graves district, where it is blended with semillon. But I might argue it has achieved a purer expression in the Loire Valley. And certainly Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, districts located at the eastern end of the valley, have achieved well-deserved recognition for their renditions.


I will be writing more about those wines and others from the Loire Valley in the coming months but here I present an excellent choice for you to experience a fine Loire Sauvignon at an everyday price.


The best source for such value priced Sauvignon is the Touraine district, which lies at the center of the Loire Valley. Named after the city of Tours, it stretches along the Loire River and is the Valley’s largest district. “Touraine” also is the regional appellation (sort of like “Sonoma” on a California label).


Sauvignon Blanc typically is quite aromatic, light, fresh and lively, with invigorating acidity. Its flavor profile includes prominent herbal notes (sometimes even described as grassy) and fruit notes of citrus, grapefruit and sometimes gooseberry (as often seems most pronounced with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc). In the Touraine, the mostly sandy clay, occasionally flinty soils, yield racy wines that can show some minerality.


Touraine de Sauvignon (as it is technically known) may not have quite the complexity or refinement of Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé but from a dedicated grower (like the Mardon family of Pré Baron) it can be eminently satisfying. And with attractive pricing, it is a more than reasonable alternative to its more expensive relatives.


This wine, made without the use of oak, shows really nice spicy herb flecked citrus notes and a touch of flinty, smoky aromas. The palate has a fair amount of weight, which carries nice orange and lemon flavors. It is crisp and lively, perfect for light dishes, including chicken, fish and shellfish, and even salads.


About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.