Õåðåñ, Jerez, Xérès, Sherry wine

Sherry wine types

Palo Cortado

Olga Nikandrova and Denis Shumakov.

Palo Cortado is a dry sherry, which has undergone a short-term biological ageing followed by a full-scale oxidative ageing.

Formally, the structure of Palo Cortado’s processing chain is very close to the Amontillado’s one. However, after a lengthy oxidative ageing, the preceding short biological ageing (its length depends on the will of the winemaker and may vary within wide frames — from several days to several months) is often weakly manifested in the character of the sherry. And while Palo Cortado’s aroma may compare with the one of Amontillado, its taste is very close to Oloroso. In order to get an idea about Palo Cortado, one needs to know the following.

The initial part of Palo Cortado’s production is no different from the one for Fino or Manzanilla (or Amontillado thereafter). The base wine is made from first extraction must of Palomino grape, then it is fortified up to 15-15,5° and is stored for a while expecting its turn to join the Criaderas and Solera system (at this stage the wine is called sobretabla). The differences arise later.

Sobretabla is constantly being tasted . Upon these tastings the wine may be found unsuitable for further biological ageing (or, if you prefer, more suitable for oxidative ageing. Such wine would be fortified again (up to 17-18°), then aged without flor (either dynamically, or statically) and become a Palo Cortado.

The main intrigue about Palo Cortado lies in the reason for transferring the wine from biological ageing scheme into oxidative one. In the relatively recent past, when sherry technologies had not been mastered yet and when more grape varieties were used for sherry making than now, the main reason for such transfer was an unpredictable death of flor. So barrels, where flor had uncontrollably collapsed, were withdrawn from biological ageing. Sherry there would be fortified for the second time and left for oxidative ageing. This approach was good from all sides — winemakers didn’t lose their wine, and the market received a rare product with high collectible potential.

Nowadays, unpredictable death of flor became a more difficult case. It is still possible to lose it — while transporting barrels from bodega to bodega, for example, or as a result of some technological mistake, or something else — things happen. But rarely. So, at present, very often the prospective Palo Cortado is intentionally withdrawn from biological ageing and flor is killed there on purpose by fortifying the wine up to 17-18°. Thus, the period that future Palo Cortado spends under flor depends mostly not on when the winemaker found out that flor had expired, but on when he decided it was time to make a rarest sherry. And this period may comprise from a few days to several months.

This crafty approach, however, does not deprive Palo Cortado of its status of the most mysterious and rare sherry — it is still beneficial to all parties concerned as before.

In case Palo Cortado is produced, it comes out dry wine with sugar content less than 5 grams and alcoholic strength of 17-22°. Its color may vary from chestnut to mahogany, its aroma is close to the one of Amontillado, and in its taste there are signature notes of Oloroso. On top of it, this already complex combination is aggravated by bitter citrus and lovely creamy tones.

Palo Cortado’s neighbors in the sherry line are Oloroso ans Amontillado. Palo Cortado is different from Oloroso by the fact that it had a period (though short) of biological ageing and by the raw material (first extraction for Amontillado and second — for Oloroso). The main formalizable difference between Palo Cortado and Amontillado is the length of biological ageing. For Amontillado it is minimum two years, for Palo Cortado — no more than a year (mostly much shorter than a year). This seemingly insignificant difference may have a rather strong impact on the taste.

Palo Cortado, as well as other oxidatively-aged sherries, may become the basis for the following sherry specialties.

1. Old sherries certified as V.O.S. è V.O.R.S. — that is sherries with average age of 20 and 30 years respectively. And other old sherries.

2. Vintage sherries. Usually they will be labeled with the word Añada (as a synonym for the word “vintage” and direct reference to the static ageing method) and, naturally, the year of the vintage.

Palo Cortado in Spanish means “crossed stroke”. A stroke is traditionally used to mark barrels where the wine which is to become Fino is aged. If at some point the winemaker would find out that flor in such a barrel has expired, the stroke on this barrel would be crossed and sherry would transfer to oxidative ageing. Marking sherry barrels with special symbols is still used at many bodegas — but Palo Cortado has long ceased to be a result of correcting technological mistakes.

Palo Cortado aged in Sanlúcar de Barrameda is sometimes called Jerez Cortado.

Palo Cortado. Rare as it should be
Palo Cortado. Rare as it should be

Since Palo Cortado is actually defined as a drink combining the qualities of Oloroso and Amontillado, it may be served and tasted in the Oloroso-Amontillado style. Serving temperature for Palo Cortado is 12-14°C with possible deviation in both directions. The principle of selecting glasses for Palo Cortado is also the same as for Amontillado and Oloroso. Special sherry glass Catavino or its ITG-alternative to be used at regular tastings, possible downscale of the glass-ware (up to a small distillate glass) — for drinking Palo Cortado on its own or with light snacks, and possible increase in the size of the glass (up to a white wine glass) — when paired with main dishes. Once opened a bottle of Palo Cortado may be stored in the fridge for at least a month and a half. A longer storage of an opened bottle most probably won’t do any serious harm to it either.

Official gastronomic recommendations for Palo Cortado are rather eclectic. Marinated and smoked fish, different mature cheeses, various stewed, roasted and chopped meat — that is almost anything can be matched with Palo Cortado. Although, naturally, Palo Cortado’s basic functionality is not gastronomic.

Over-simplifying, we can say that almost any Palo Cortado can be replaced with an Oloroso or Amontillado analogue. And if (a frightful suggestion) Palo Cortado is excluded from classic sherry assortment, technically we lose almost nothing.

Except for a rare and a bit mysterious sherry with a high collectible value and rich potential for marketing legends. An attractive, confusing and, of course, delicious sherry.

Palo Cortados reviewed on the website (in Russian only):
Lustau V.O.R.S. Palo Cortado
Lustau Almacenista Palo Cortado (Vides)
Barbadillo Palo Cortado V.O.R.S.
Barbadillo Obispo Gascón Palo Cortado
González Byass Apóstoles
González Byass Palo Cortado Añada 1982
Pedro’s Almacenista Selection Palo Cortado
González Byass Leonor Palo Cortado
Palo Cortado Alexandro
Palo Cortado Tradición V.O.R.S.
Palo Cortado Regente

You can also read a great essay about Palo Cortado on Sherry Notes web site or skip to Pedro Ximénez.

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