AMONG high-end sherries, palo cortado is a mystery. A century ago, perhaps longer, tasters would check on the casks to ensure that the sherry inside fell into its proper category. Was it the lighter manzanilla or fino? The drier amontillado? Or the darker oloroso?
Occasionally, sherry noses stumbled on a wine that was none of the above. Unable to classify it, the tasters marked the barrel with two slashes of chalk. This palo cortado (cut stick) meant the barrel could not be sold, and the wine inside was often tossed.
What a pity, many sherry-makers thought. That a sherry could not be defined did not make it a bad sherry. So many bodega owners decided to keep a few barrels around for limited sales or for personal use. The sherry was appealing in its enigmatic way. It refused to be defined with its own rebellious spirit, much like the sherry-makers themselves.
Their bodegas are concentrated in a region called the Sherry Triangle, demarcated by three cities in southern Spain. The tradition for many there is to drink as many as eight glasses of sherry a day, starting at noon, often earlier. Locals go to the bodegas with plastic jugs and have them filled with the lighter and younger manzanilla or fino for only a few euros. In contrast, palo cortado is hard to find and can retail for upward of 40 euros per bottle (about $52, at $1.29 to the euro) and higher, a price point that is out of reach for daily sherry drinkers. There are bodegas that serve it, though, or will plunge their tasting canes into their private barrels to indulge the curious and thirsty. While many palo cortados out there are merely different sherries mixed together, and arent considered pure by aficionados, some bodegas have been in the business of making the real thing for more than a century. Below are three who opened their doors to a visitor last summer.
Bodega Gutiérrez Colosia
The space felt like a dark cathedral, cool and damp, and hanging lanterns glowed against the old arches and the faces of the big oak barrels.
Resting his tasting cane over his shoulder like a hunting rifle, Juan Carlos Gutiérrez walked to the back, through a door, and into a chamber where he kept his oldest, most prized creations. He removed the cap from one barrel, plunged the cane into the liquid and began the intricate pour: a flick of the cane up fast, letting the amber-colored sherry drip from the flute at the bottom of the cane like a rainbow. It fell in a perfect stream, and landed several feet later into the pit of a glass.
I cannot tell you how to make this wine, he said, handing the glass to me. It was a surprising statement, considering that Mr. Gutiérrez has been making sherry wine all his life in El Puerto de Santa María, one of the three points on the Sherry Triangle.
What he meant, of course, was that he couldnt explain that specific sherry. But he insisted on giving me an overview of the process before I had a sip. Think of making sherry as the opposite of making other types of wine, he told me. In traditional winemaking, for instance, the vintner is mainly dependent on the natural world for the quality of the wine. The terroir of the grapes, what the weather was like the year that they grew there and how well they aged. With sherry, none of these factors matter. The only grape that sherry-makers here use and that grows well in the dusty, sun-baked soil of Andalusia is the palomino, a small, lightly colored variety. Vintages are also irrelevant since the sherry process doesnt rely on a particular year. It relies on all of them.
There is a science laboratory feel to sherry-making. The system ? called solera ? relies on an elaborate network of tubes that flow between the barrels, slowly pumping the newer wines into the older ones, and the older ones eventually into bottles. The goal is to create a uniform taste, all years mixing with one another. The process gives sherry drinking a timeless quality, as opposed to the experience of uncorking, say, this years Beaujolais nouveau.
Tasting his own palo cortado, Mr. Gutiérrez had no idea how old the original batch was. It could be 50 years old. Could be older.Seguir @masjerez
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