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Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado

One of my personal revelations of 2012 has been sherry. Of course, I've long been familiar with the wines, and I've paid them appropriate lip service now and again. I say appropriate, because although I didn't always feel a shiver of excitement on tasting the wines, I recognised that they were interesting, distinctive, spoke not only of their origins but of a grand winemaking heritage which was of real interest to me, and for those that enjoyed them they were certainly good value. They were very fine wines in some cases, it's just that they didn't really 'float my boat', so to speak.

In the past I have, with some of life's more challenging flavours, trained my palate to appreciate tastes which at first seemed displeasing. I know I have made this association somewhere within the pages of Winedoctor before, but it seems more relevant now than ever so I will trot it out once again. Genetically, we have evolved to find beneficial foods - those rich in fat, sugar and protein - immediately palatable, but our palates may not take immediately to more challenging flavours, especially those that are bitter, spicy or unusual in other ways. My first taste of olives - and we are talking ripe, glistening, jet-black olives here - was not a pleasant experience. All I could taste was antiseptic cream, and I just couldn't see the joy that I knew other people experienced with these little fruits. Nevertheless, recognising this disconnect between my experience and that of others, I soldiered bravely on. Once I had worked my way to the bottom of a second jar, however, things seemed no different. Ever on. It was somewhere in the middle of jar number three that I began to realise I was actually enjoying them.

Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado

So it was with sherry, perhaps. There was something about the acetaldehyde, that molecule which when present usually signifies oxidation, that just seemed to completely dominate the palate. It's not an aroma or flavour I have enjoyed much over the years. Even those wines where oxidation is not a feature, the pale, fresh and clean fino and similar styles, are by some curious feat of nature still imbued with the same aroma, here the compound having been produced by the flor, the thick coating of yeast which otherwise protects the wine. This seemed something of a cruel twist to me, but so be it! But then, earlier this year, a revelation; suddenly, sherry tasted different. It was not that I took to 'training' my palate again, as I did with olives, I had long given up on that, although surely the many bottles tasted or consumed over the years must have had some effect. But the switch seemed sudden and very dramatic; I felt a sudden an inexplicable need for sherry, and picked up a bottle on the way home. And, strangely, it was delicious.

Has my palate changed? Or has sherry changed? I don't know for sure, as I haven't religiously followed the sherry scene. What I do know is that, having cleaned a local supermarket out of their own label sherries (from Emilio Lustau) in order to confirm this development (valuable research, naturally) I started to look further afield for other wines to try. Of the several I came across, the sherry featured here produced the loudest moans of pleasure (yes, seriously). It comes from an almacenista named Cayetano del Pino (something of an abbreviation of the full name I think, I hope I will be forgiven that) and is bottled by a bodega named Sánchez Romate. That probably seems a bit confusing, but the first name is the one to look out for, and the label above (the little world of sherry has some of the best labels I think - I love this one) should be easy to spot. The wine in question, a Palo Cortado, has an average age of approximately twelve years, and is bottled under screwcap (don't let that put you off). It has a gloriously toasty-golden hue in the glass. Aromatically it offers notes of toasted almond, tinged with vanilla and with a coffee and caramel harmony to it. Like the best palo cortados it shows a very silky substance (I hope with my limited experience I can say this - it has long seemed to me a distinguishing feature of the style) on the start of the palate, before revealing more substance and weight in the middle, and then a really appealing grip and a dry, lip-smacking finish. There are notes of almond and hazelnut, all with that toasty overlay, but most importantly a very harmonious integration of structure and flavour. And a long, long finish. Delightfully elegant and impressive. And, like so many of these wines, just amazing value for money. 17.5/20

Without a doubt, I will be featuring more sherry during 2013, including other wines from Cayetano del Pino. I'm looking forward to it already! Until next year, then.... (31/12/12)

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