John Ducker writes:-

I always find it exciting to discover wines that are completely new to me as well as encountering old half-forgotten favourites.   The tie-up in this case lies across the grape variety Palomino, the principal staple base of Sherry.    This first chosen example, Las 30 del Cuadrado 2016, from Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo, is unusual as being sold unfortified.     True to its title it comes from a thirty acre ‘pago’ or dedicated vine plot on one of the company’s estates in Balbaina Alta, a well regarded region between Jerez de la Frontera and the coast.   Two unique characteristics inform this wine’s style and taste: the vines supplying it are at least 70 years old and are deeply rooted in the classic crumbly-chalky ‘albariza’ soils of the region, the other is that the wine is fermented in wooden casks that have previously been used for Hidalgo’s ultimate grade of Manzanilla Sherry.

Does the former taste linger on in this wine’s background?

Tasting it in company on New Year’s Eve we could easily accept the clear step between Las 30 del Cuadrado which clocks in at a more than respectable 13.8% alcohol and classically elaborated fortified Sherry. Even on the eye, the wine’s colour resembles that of a good fino Sherry, and while not betraying any sign of the hallmark Sherry oxidization the wine’s dried-apple nose offers background hints of autumnal ripenesss although the palate in contrast is quite dry yet enriched with plenty of ‘old vine’ presence, lees-contact concentration and focus leading onwards to a bone-dry finish. The familial linkage between wine from the unfortified Palomino grape and the fortified article, Sherry, is consequently clear to read.

If I suggest that this is not a white wine for all tastes that is not to denigrate it in the slightest, especially as it commends itself as the perfect accompaniment to smoked fish – it was tasted alongside a smoked haddock soufflé on this particular occasion. For adventurous tasters, however, this wine is possibly ‘required reading’ in the interests of viewing Sherry’s broader background.

NAME OF WINE Las 30 del Quadrado 2016
STYLE Savoury dry white
PRODUCER Hidalgo (La Gitana) SA
ALCOHOL 13.8% Vol.
RETAILER Lea & Sandeman
PRICE £18.50 a bottle

At this point please forgive an impromptu wine quiz question: ‘Which of the world’s classic wines defies being made to order?’

Answer:   Palo Cortado Sherry.

Here’s the Palomino grape yet again, however in a much rarer and perfectly natural Sherry manifestation as a palo cortado, this time from another family concern, Bodegas Cayetano del Pino Cia., a company based in Jerez which in its heyday at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century was one of the official suppliers of Sherry to the Royal Household of King Alfonso XIII.   The progressive ebbtide of the Sherry trade as a whole meant that by the end of the 1970s, though still retaining its status as an almacenista , a bodega storing and selling its own wines onwards, Caetano del Pino had necessarily downsized, moving to a much smaller premises in Jerez .

A palo cortado? Basically a wine that is intended initially as a dry fino style but which subsequently loses the protective veil of yeasts called ‘flor’ that promote a fino’s characteristic lightness of colour and body.

Non-wine comparisons between any wines, let alone fino and palo cortado should certainly be avoided, so forgive me when I suggest that if the taste of a dry fino Sherry equates to a sound produced by a violin, then a palo cortado is more of a ‘cello, with deeper notes and, as a wine, fully dry yet with a rounder, toastier, nutty finish on the palate.

Needless to say, perhaps, a palo cortado is a relative rarity, an exception to the rule and a phenomenon which defies artificial creation by a winemaker. When it occurs its maturation barrels are traditionally marked up by a drawn line struck through at one end. A palo cortado, a ‘crossed stick’, as the name implies. The end result in the glass is therefore a stylistic compromise between a fino and an oloroso Sherry.

Having tasted a few palo cortado wines in my time I can confirm that this Cayetano del Pino product has been one of 2017’s happy discoveries, a shining example of authenticity – absolutely natural in every respect and, for me at least, an impressive ‘find’ indeed. Salud!

NAME OF WINE Palo Cortado Sherry
STYLE Nutty/toasty. dry
PRODUCER Cayetano del Pino Cia
ALCOHOL 20.0% Vol.
RETAILER Waitrose Cellar (On-line)
PRICE £11.49 a bottle