Palo Cortado is a rare variety of sherry that is initially aged under flor to become a fino or amontillado, but inexplicably loses its veil of flor and begins aging oxidatively as an oloroso. The result is a wine with some of the richness of oloroso and some of the crispness of amontillado. Only about 1–2% of the grapes pressed for sherry naturally develop into palo cortado.
Often you will hear that mystery surrounds Palo Cortado because nobody fully understands its origins. However nowadays cellarmasters have a good understanding of the underlying process and have a good nose for selecting the right casks that have a high chance of developing the Palo Cortado profile. Malic acid, grape varieties, harvest times and glycerol are some of the keys to Palo Cortado production.
The name means 'cut stick', in reference to the mark made on the cask when this style of wine is recognized. Since the wine was originally destined to be a fino or amontillado, it will initially have had a single stroke marked on the cask. When the overseer realizes that the wine is becoming a palo cortado, he draws a cross (or cut) through the initial stroke (or stick), resulting in a crossed stroke or 'cut stick' (
/). At this time the wine will be fortified to about 17.5% alcohol, to prevent spoilage from contact with the air. As the overseer continues to monitor the wine over time, he may feel it necessary to add additional measures of alcohol to the casks to continue its development. These additional measures are marked on the cask as additional crosses, and the resulting wine is designated 'dos cortados', 'tres cortados', etc. according to the number of 'cuts' marked on the cask. The greater the number of cuts, the greater the age of the wine.
- Jerez Cortado is a variety of palo cortado made not in Jerez, but in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the most westerly of the three points of the 'Sherry Triangle', properly known as the denominación de Jerez. The city of Jerez is the most easterly point—and Puerto de Santa María lies southwest of that.
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Palo Cortado can be served as an apéritif with olives, nuts, cheese, or foie gras; it can also accompany fowl, red meats, or game. It should be served slightly chilled.
As palo cortado falls between amontillado and oloroso, it is relatively stable and may be stored for a few years before opening. After opening, it can be kept, corked and refrigerated, for a few weeks.
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