Exploring Sherry #2: Leonor
Back to Sherry now, and the world of Palo Cortado. As proper Sherry buffs (i.e. not me) know, the palo cortado style traditionally originates with wayward behaviour in a fino solera. With fino, the wine in each barrel has a coating of flor, the layer of yeast that protects the wine from oxidation (and yet, confusing to my palate, laces it with acetaldehyde, adding an aroma that is otherwise a firm feature of oxidation, while the wine remains pale, pure and fresh).
In the occasional barrel the flor would die before its time, exposing the wine to oxygen, and thereby altering how it aged. In this case the cellar master (could you use the word almacenista here? …. probably) would remove the barrel bearing its palo, a downward mark indicating it belonged to the fino solera. This would then be crossed (or cortado) with a second mark to identify the barrel, which is now palo cortado.
These days I suspect the production of palo cortado is left less to chance than the traditional description above. It is a very popular style (well, I adore it, anyway) and it seems fairly widely available, often at a good price. As with many sherries I drink, even fino, I find the wine is never at its best on the first day; a day or two open seems to bring it all together with a greater sense of harmony. This was certainly the case here.
The palo cortado style is rather vaguely described as half-amontillado (wines which age protected by flor, initially at least) and half-oloroso (wines which age without flor, i.e. oxidatively). I find it often has a very elegant, poised precision which can be missing from other styles, yet it has the same haunting scent complexity. This bottle, the latest in my Sherry adventures, is a fairly recently-introduced wine from Gonzalez Byass, a palo cortado aged (on average, it will be a blend of different wines) at least twelve years.
The wine, christened Leonor, has a very fine, convincing, toasty hue, with a golden rim. The aromatics seem fairly full on at first, as if they are all jostling for attention, but after some air – by which I really mean a few days of stoppered rest – this really comes together to show a much greater sense of harmony. The nose is one of baked earth, dried citrus zest, white raisins and pepper, with a fine, nutty seam underneath. The palate now feels polished, certainly harmonious, textured with a supple substance, and a dry and complex middle. Importantly, there is great energy to it, with evident zip on the finish. This is long and punchy, and just lovely to drink. 16.5/20 (July 2014)