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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.

Gonzalez Byass Leonor

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)

Exploring Sherry #1: Lustau Papirusa

I have dabbled with Sherry for a long time now, but for many years never really ‘getting’ it, if you see what I mean. But over the last couple of years I have really fallen in love with these wines, with their sometimes haunting aromas and their fantastically complex characters.

Sherry remains undervalued, and is therefore underpriced on the shelves. This brings many benefits for consumers, one of which is that here, in the UK, the big supermarkets can source their wines from some of the very best names in the region. Many own-label supermarket wines are made by Lustau, which is a little like having you own-label claret made by Denis Durantou, or your own-label Sancerre made by François Cotat.

I have been drinking some of these own-label wines, and will continue to do so, but I thought I should also branch out and try some other names, and other styles. First up, Manzanilla.

Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa

Manzanilla comes from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which lies a short distance along the coast from Jerez, the beating heart of the Sherry landscape. The town sits at the mouth of the Rio Guadalquivir, as I discussed in this write up of a Lebrija, from González Palacios. The style is traditionally bright and breezy, and that certainly comes across in this wine.

The Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa is aged 4-5 years in an American oak solera before bottling, and it seems like a very good example of the style. This appears to be, according to the back label, Lot 3333. A pale and bright hue here. The nose is very appealing, showing a salty sea breeze intertwined with the pungency of flor. It has a very dry palate, nevertheless it also has a full and substantial presence, with crisp, defining acidity. It shows breadth and yet remains light footed, a sensation reinforced by a dry, tingling energy on the finish. There are touches of citrus leaf and blanched almond to complete the picture. A good start to this Sherry exploration. 15.5/20

A footnote: I couldn’t help wondering where the term papirusa came from. It seems to be a Spanish word meaning “beautiful woman”; it is derived from papiros, the word for cigarette, but it took on a new meaning when many beautiful, chain-smoking Polish immigrants arrived in Spain. They became known by the papiros they smoked, and eventually this evolved into papirusa. So this wine is a “beautiful lady”. Of course, this could all be apocryphal, so any Spanish speakers who want to put me straight, feel free to get in touch.