Sunday, 20 December 2015

A Palo Cortado Without the Mystery

Luís Arroyo knows what he is holding in his hand. It is a natural wine, frank, rounded and balanced; a wine that speaks of the greatness of Jerez, for meditation and pleasure. And this is a star Palo Cortado from a little over 200 butts at Bodegas Arfe, an acronym for the owner's surnames: Arroyo Felices. It was by chance that the bodega has become the only one in the Marco de Jerez dedicated exclusively to this most fashionable style of Sherry, the wine of the world’s connoisseurs.

“De La Cruz de 1767” is the brand name of this oenological treasure which is aged for over 15 years in a small bodega complex at 12, Calle Molino del Viento, an old bodega stronghold where once the famous firm of Rivero CZ (established in 1650)was located. This street in the Barrio San Miguel just by the little square, achieved fame in the past for the production of great Finos thanks to its location in the highest part of old Jerez and its orientation toward what were then known as the Marshes of San Telmo.

Luis Arroyo with his nectar in the bodega (foto:diariodejerez)

Bearing testament to the bodega’s antiquity are the wall, floor and double-sloped roof as well as it’s layout in the form of two naves separated by semi-circular arches supported on old stone pillars. Here can be found an old Jerez coat of arms with a cross on a background of waves, which has been chosen as the logo, and a stone plaque which states the bodega was rebuilt in 1767 under the direction of Orbaneja, another Jerez bodega family of that era.

The bodega was bought by Luís Arroyo in the year 2000, with the idea that when he retired he would have a place where he could remain active by producing VOS and VORS Sherry. He had been an oenologist at Garvey for the last 20 years of his 35 year career, but his retirement plans were brought forward by the firm entering voluntary receivership.

Luis with a bottle of De La Cruz 1767 (foto:diariodejerez)

With an old building with old fashioned wine, Luís is delighted that his bodega has become his principal activity sooner than expected. He saw the possibilities as soon as he had closed the purchase of the property which was ideal for the accommodation of some 200 butts. He decided to start from scratch, and instead of buying wonderful old soleras he bought musts from the cooperative in Chiclana which he would age oxidatively as Olorosos. As time went by he noticed a particular finesse in the wine which had the elegance and complexity of Palo Cortado so he decided to concentrate on that.

The debate about this style of wine centres on whether it is made or just happens, as the purists would have us believe. “Quite possibly it just happened in the past”, says Arroyo, “but nowadays there is much more knowledge and skill which allow it to be made. Although the wines make themselves, having a bodega with suitable conditions and the right wood, helps you make a Palo Cortado.” He believes that this duality is the only mystery in Palo Cortado, “a wine which though not all bodegas have, all of them sell.” The controversial practice of blending Amontillado and Oloroso will soon be ruled out by the decision of the Consejo to exercise stricter control of stocks according to type.

Palo Cortado has the nose of an Amontillado and the body of an Oloroso, it combines elements of crianza biológica with the weight of Oloroso. All the Arfe wines are made in the strictly legal way. The first saca is now on the market and is bottled virtually en rama, with a very light filtration to eliminate any sediment. The 216 butts of this wine should provide an annual output of about 6,000 bottles. The Consejo only allows one twentieth of the wine to be bottled annually if it is to be a VOS, so Luís is thinking of not bothering with that as he has a superb product with innovative presentation: a tall black bottle with a black label and orange lettering and a Palo Cortado cask marking. The back label gives a brief history of the bodega and bears the coat of arms. The wine is available ex bodega and also at the great new wine merchant Licores Corredera in Calle Corredera, Jerez.

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