Palo Cortado: The Mysterious Sherry
Over recent decades Palo Cortado has become a much sought-after wine among reverential Sherry connoisseurs who were worried that it might disappear.
An added attraction to this comparatively rare style was the question of its production: ¿Nace ó se hace? Does it just happen or is there human intervention? Naturally our romantic side prefers the former and over the years a kind of mystique has developed around it. This was highlighted by the 2014 film “The Mystery of Palo Cortado” in which many leading winemakers debate the matter but reach no firm conclusion. It is like the Loch Ness monster; nobody really wants to solve the mystery; it is too good for sales. But the truth is that many more brands have appeared on the market.
The Consejo Regulador defines Palo Cortado as “A wine which is amber to mahogany in colour with a characteristic aroma resembling Amontillado while on the palate it resembles more an Oloroso as a consequence of the oxidative ageing process after the disappearance of the initial flor”.
No mention is made of production methods, leaving them open to interpretation, and there are certainly variations among the wines available. Some show more Amontillado character and others tend more toward Oloroso, possibly due to the length of time spent under flor which can be anywhere between 6 months and a few years. They are all good however.
Palo Cortado translates as “cut stick” and derives from the chalk marks applied to the head of the butt to identify it, usually at the second classification after a year or so of static ageing as a young vintage wine at 15° (“sobretablas”).
So the wine starts life classified as a Fino or Manzanilla, identified by a steep diagonal line (or palo), but if the flor seems a little tenuous and the wine has developed a little more weight yet still retains its clean freshness, the palo is cut with a horizontal line. It will then be fortified again to at least 17°and this will kill off any remaining flor allowing the wine to age oxidatively, like an Oloroso. The wine will then supply the last criadera of the Palo Cortado solera.
There was a greater abundance of Palo Cortado in the past, and many think this is due to factors like the use of old grape varieties many of which were lost to Phylloxera at the end of the XIX century; the wines were fermented in butt, and each one can give a slightly different wine; grapes were usually sunned briefly before fermentation; or variations in the strains of yeast which make up the flor in each butt. Sherry has always been a capricious wine which likes to keep winemakers on their toes, but advances in bodega technology have given them unprecedented control.
Those factors from the past have gone as the wine, made now from 100% Palomino, is almost universally fermented in huge stainless steel tanks which give much greater homogeneity. So Palos Cortados can be and are made by human intervention while in the past they just happened – and they will not be disappearing any time soon.
There will be several Palo Cortados on show at this years Vinoble,
the only international wine fair centred exclusively on fortified and sweet wines.
The Vinoble fair takesplace this June 3-5th, 2018 in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain and includes more than 50 exhibitors from around the world including wines from Jerez, Manzanilla, Montilla Moriles, Tokaji, Ice Wines, Sweet Bordeaux, Sauternes, Port and many more.
Visit vinoble.org to learn more.
This Guest Post was provided by the Vinoble wine event, exclusively for Social Vignerons.