Sherry and the Mystery of Palo Cortado: A Documentary

Posted on: May 26th, 2015 by

Since one drinks-related documentary is not enough (see my preview of The Birth of Saké), I was also able to screen “Sherry and the Mystery of Palo Cortado“. This film will be showing at two locations next week as part of the Seattle International Film Festival.

What is Palo Cortado Sherry?


sherry bodega

This is where the title of the documentary comes in. It’s a bit of a, well, mystery. A Sherry that’s a world unto its own. As Talia Baiocchi, in her cool book “Sherry: The Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret”, explains, “It is the only style of sherry that has an official classification but no real definition.” Palo Cortado is described in the documentary as “perhaps the king of wine for its strangeness and complexity.” (BTW, this sherry gets its name from the markings on a barrel. A chalked “cut stick” signifies a barrel that will become Palo Cortado.)

sherry documentary cast


Though Palo Cortado is in the film’s title, it’s a bit misleading as “Sherry and the Mystery of Palo Cortado” focuses on Palo Cortado for brief bursts throughout the film. This documentary is more about the past, present, and future of the wine and wine region as told through those who make it, run the bodegas, and sell it in restaurants. There is archival footage galore in the form of photos, film, and old TV and movie clips.

Some quick Sherry facts:

  • It was once 10% of all Spanish exports
  • Over 500 films mention Sherry
  • Shakespeare name-checks it a total of over forty times across eight plays

sherry soils vineyards

There are montage moments in the film that screen like 30-second commercials for the region and its wines. (“Sherry and the Mystery of Palo Cortado” is a collaboration in part with Vinos de Jerez.) Particularly one featuring the high “Parker Points” recently received by prestige bottlings. (And it should be noted that Luis Gutiérrez scored these wines, not Robert Parker himself.)

But many moments of great candor are depicted in “Sherry and the Mystery of Palo Cortado”. When asked about the future of Sherry, a long-time cooper has this to say: “It looks dark, completely dark.” One bodega executive sees the complexity and diversity of the wine as a “marketing and sales nightmare.” Another bemoans that though the process of making Sherry is a mystery to most, “People who drink Champagne don’t know how it’s made.” And a widow who took over the family bodega (rather than selling it at a great loss) notes that while she got a great deal of support from women in the community, received none from the Sherry trade.

The film ends on a more upbeat note, profiling the sommeliers and chefs of the region who are working hard to restore Sherry to its place among some of the world’s best wines (if not the best) for the dinner table. Sea urchin and Palo Cortado, anyone? And the newest generation of winemakers and bodega leaders are energized to restore Sherry to its lofty heights, reputation-wise.

“Sherry and the Mystery of Palo Cortado” is a great introduction to one of the world’s most historic–and misunderstood–wines. Watching the roundtable of generations, glasses and bottles in front of them, discussing Sherry’s place in their family life is a fascinating and historic occurrence. The sum of people and place depicted in the documentary cannot help but make you thirst to explore the spectrum of flavors–both readily apparent and tantalizingly mysterious–in each glass of Sherry.

Trailer: Sherry and the Mystery of Palo Cortado

Sherry & the Mystery of Palo Cortado (trailer from López-Li Films on Vimeo.)


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Podcast: The Versatility of Sherry With Master Sommelier Christopher Tanghe

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