Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Palomino Grape

There is probably no other grape which is so neutral and yet which is capable of producing such a majestic wine as Sherry. Perhaps it is precisely that neutrality which provides the blank canvas on which the brushstrokes of soil, climate, yeast and oxidation can complete the masterpiece.

Palomino is by far the most important Sherry grape, accounting for over 95% of vine plantings in the Marco de Jerez. As a plant it offers moderate vigour, good yields with large bunches of thin-skinned spherical grapes and moderate drought resistance, but is sensitive to termites and berry moth as well as cryptogamic attacks such as mildew. It is also well adapted to chalky soils and has good disease resistance. It is suitable for both the traditional vara y pulgar and the more modern Guyot training on wires, ideal for mechanical harvesting. As a wine it is light and pale with low acidity, moderate alcohol, usually around 12 degrees, and is slightly fruity with gentle herbaceous aromas.

Bunches of Palomino ready for harvest

There are two principal clones: Palomino de Jerez and Palomino Fino which originated in Sanlucar. The latter is preferred for its lower acidity, better flowering, yield and reliability, and has thus almost completely replaced the former. Palomino itself has all but completely replaced the many other varieties which once grew here. It has a marvellous capacity to convey terroir notes such as saltiness or minerality to the wine, and its low acidity is compensated for by bitter notes from flor or volatile acidity in older wines. In order to resist Phylloxera, all the vines are grafted, and the preferred American rootstocks are crossings of V. Riparia and V. Berlandieri which can tolerate soils high in calcium such as Richter 161-49.

Palomino in its spiritual home: albariza

The name Palomino originated with Fernán Yáñez Palomino, one of the knights who helped Alfonso X defeat the Moors in the XIII century, and who stayed on in the area growing vines to which he gave his name. Centuries later his descendants founded the famous bodega Palomino & Vergara. According to an old saying a beloved child has many names, and Palomino is evidently much loved as the following are only some: Listán, Orgazuela (sometimes Horgazuela), Albán, Palomino de Chipiona, Temprana and Palomino del Pinchito – and these only in the Marco de Jerez. The grape also grows in the Canary Islands and Castilla y León, but 95% of it is to be found in Jerez.

Palomino ready for the press

So here’s to Palomino, without which we would be in the unthinkable position of having no Finos, Manzanillas, Amontillados, Palos Cortados or Olorosos, not to mention some of the outstanding table wines now produced in the area.

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