I love them and they are sometimes really great but palo cortados are probably the most overhyped of sherry wines – they bring the blarney out of makers everywhere. They get their name from the heiroglyphics that the cellarmen put on the barrels in the bodega. Specifically, they are selected as suitable for making fino under flor and therefore marked with a straight line or “palo” (literally, stick). However, shortly afterwards the barrel is chosen instead for “traditional” oxidative ageing (perhaps because the flor doesn’t develop as it should) and so the cellarman (“capataz”) strikes a line through the first one to make a cross – a cut stick, or “palo cortado”. The wine is then fortified to ensure the flor does not grow back and then the wine is traditionally aged.
As a result, what you get is a creature with a little time under flor – compared to an oloroso with none and an amontillado with plenty (amontillados are allowed several years under before the wine is fortified to allow oxidative ageing). The resulting difference in character can be amazing: palo cortados can be much lighter than an oloroso and punchier than an amontillado.
This one is Gonzalez Byass’ 12 year aged palo cortado – a young and mellow example of the class that would be an excellent dinner wine – could go anywhere a full bodied red wine can and beyond. Clear and chestnut brown, sweet on the nose and chocolate caramel in flavour. Maybe just a little bit of heat but not too acidic or concentrated – and overall nicely balanced.
It really is a nice drop and criminally inexpensive – this one was a mere 17 euros, which when you consider its age and the effort that went into it is quite remarkable. Given GB’s reach it should also be obtainable widely.