Headed over to Bangsar Shopping Centre on 9 July 2014 for the Tio Pepe sherry wine tasting at La Bodega. Tio Pepe sherry is the world’s best-selling Fino which comes from Jerez in southern Spain and is enjoyed by the Spanish traditionally over some tapas. To be honest, I don’t know much about sherry except that years ago when I was a little kid, my grandmother used to bake really delicious chocolate cakes and she used to add some sherry to the mixture. So with much curiosity, I brought Veron over for to BSC while MHB’s Sarah joined us there for the tasting.
Manuel María González (1812- 1887) was a young man of only 23 years old when he set up his own company in 1835 under the name of Manuel María González under the counsel of his uncle, D. Jose Angel (who was to become the famous Tío Pepe). Understanding that the company’s future would depend on exports and that the main market was the United Kingdom, in his first year in operation (1835) he exported 10 barrels to London. The following year 62 barrels and in 1839, the amount grew to 406 barrels. Manuel’s business associate was Robert Blake Byass who he started working with in 1836, but it was not until 1855 that Robert was made a partner in the company giving birth to González Byass – a company that currently operates under the direction of the González family, now in its fifth and sixth generation.
González Byass is situated in the city of Jerez, Andalusia, in the heart of the D.O.Jerez – Xérès- Sherry. The region is geographically limited to the “triangle” which is made up of three cities, Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlucar de Barrameda. Their production facilities in Jerez span a surface area of 374.535 square meters, including both wine and brandy cellars. with experience of more than 175 years dedicated to the production of quality wines and brandies, from Tío Pepe to the 30 year old range of Sherry wines.
Jerez has a particular microclimate influenced by the surrounding Atlantic ocean and rivers Guadalquivir and Guadalete. The prevailing winds are moist and warm, westerly or southerly, and now and again, dry and hot Levante winds from North Africa. Temperatures are warm, with 70% humidity and annual rainfall of 600 litres.
The three grape varieties cultivated in the Jerez Region are the Palomino, Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel. Palomino accounts for 95% of the grapes cultivated by González Byass vineyards the other 5% being Pedro Ximenez. González Byass is the only winery to have Pedro Ximenez planted in Jerez.
All the Palomino grapes used for the production of Tío Pepe are hand picked and carefully placed in special plastic crates which are quickly transported to the pressing plant. Since the Palomino grape has a very delicate skin, great care is required to avoid any oxidation resulting from broken skins.
The Pedro Ximenez grapes undergo a different process called “Soleo” before vinification. They are picked later in the season, when more mature, and once harvested they are laid out in the vineyard and left to dry in the sun so that the water evaporates and the sugars concentrate. The grape is then used to produce naturally sweet wines.
More then 85.000 American oak barrels are in use to carry out the long and meticulous ageing process so important to Sherry wines. Sherry Wines Pressing and vinification takes place in Las Copas, where González Byass uses Willmes pneumatic presses for the delicate pressing of the grapes, providing the highest quality must.
Once the musts are fermented they are sampled by the winemakers and the first of many important decisions is taken to determine the type of ageing the wine will undergo. The palest, lightest wines will be classified to age as Fino or Manzanilla, and will be fortified with wine distillate up to 15% alcohol. Those wines with more body will be classified as Oloroso and fortified up to 17,5% or even higher.
The wines are then transferred to oak barrels called botas where they will remain for the first period of their ageing in what are called Sobretablas. The ageing takes place in 600 litre capacity barrels which are filled up to 500 litres, leaving some space for air inside the barrel.
We got to taste six (6) different variants of sherry from the Tio Pepe fino which is aged up to five (5) years in American oak barrels and was nice and dry and refreshing, right up to a 30 year old sherry which was quite full bodied and tasted like prune juice.
Some quick facts about sherry – it must always be served cold from the fridge, always kept and served just like a white wine, finished within 4 or 5 days once opened.
Tio Pepe sherry goes very well with food – especially savoury nibbles like some decent ham, chorizo, olives, nuts, Manchego cheese, bread and olive oil, or with seafood like fish, prawns and shrimps. To prove this point, we had some paella and tapas from La Bodega to go along with the sherry.
Next it was over to Fuego at Sky Dining at Troika in Kuala Lumpur for another round of sherry this time featuring some specially prepared sherry cocktails.
Tio Pepe sherry is distributed in Malaysia by Iconic Wines Malaysia.
For more info or to purchase wines from Iconic Wines Malaysia, you may contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
More info on Tio Pepe at http://www.tiopepe.co.uk/
Photo credits: Andy Kho Photography (www.andykho.com) and author’s own