Sherry wines are incredibly diverse. Many people think of Sherry as merely a sweet dessert wine and nothing more, though this is far from true. Sherry can be sweet, certainly. There are some delicious sweet Sherries out there, in different styles and at different price points. There is also completely dry Sherry available, again in a multitude of styles and variants.
Types of Sherry wines
Some Sherry is said to be “biologically aged”. This means that after the wine is made, it is aged underneath a layer of biological material – yeast, referred to as “flor” – for a certain period of time. Others are said to be “oxidatively aged”, whereby the ageing takes place with – you guessed it – oxygen. Here, there is no flor, and the wine interacts directly with the air. These two styles account for many of the Sherry wines that you will find, such as those labelled Fino or Manzanilla (biologically aged) and Oloroso (oxidatively aged). However, this is not the whole picture. Some Sherries are made through a combination or intermediate process, combining aspects of both. One such type is Palo Cortado Sherry.
Palo Cortado Sherry: What is it?
You won’t have to look too hard to find Sherry wines labelled as “Palo Cortado Sherry”. Any serious fine wine shop or retailer will stock at least one example, or be willing and able to get their hands on one for you. So what is it?
Palo Cortado Sherry can be complicated and difficult to understand. The official classification rules of the Sherry DO describe it as a Sherry that combines the nose and aromas of an Amontillado sherry with the weight and structure of an Oloroso on the palate. It is a rare variety of Sherry that is first aged biologically (aged under flor) like a Fino or Manzanilla, though subsequently loses this layer of floor and finishes its ageing oxidatively, like an Oloroso Sherry. The loss of flor is difficult, if not impossible, to explain, which makes the production of Palo Cortado Sherry something of a mystery.
A happy accident
Production of this type of Sherry in its truest sense is thought to be accidentally, naturally occurring and difficult to control. Between 1% and 2% of Sherry wines will naturally become Palo Cortado Sherry. Why this occurs is hard to state definitively, though aspects such as the grape varieties used, the barrel itself or the biological makeup of the flor are all thought to be influential in the process of the wine losing its flor and finishing its ageing oxidatively.
Making Palo Cortado Sherry
Though traditionally this wine “happens” more so than it is “made”, its popularity has created huge demand and as such winemakers can now replicate the style with greater control. One way of doing this is to blend Amontillado with Oloroso Sherry, with the hybrid result displaying the characteristics associated with Palo Cortado. Skilled and creative winemakers can also influence the growth and survival of the flor through careful control of temperature and other winemaking conditions. Other techniques to stimulate the development of Palo Cortado Sherry include strict grape selection and earlier harvesting of grapes to minimise levels of malic acid.
Find out about Pedro Ximenez, another popular type of Sherry.