Berlin Film Review: ‘Sherry & the Mystery of Palo Cortado’

Sherry and the Mystery of Palo

Though lacking the structure and balance of the wine itself, “Sherry & the Mystery of Palo Cortado” is a mildly engaging documentary that covers various aspects of the golden-hued liquor, from production to cultural standing. Once Spain’s most important export, sherry has taken a battering in the past few decades, often seen as a dowdy tipple rather than a complex, versatile drink. Jose Luis Lopez Linares aims to correct this notion, milking the ambiguity surrounding the highly prized “palo cortado,” a type whose spontaneous oxidation takes the taste to a whole new level. Food channels, more than fests, will be the natural consumers here.

The unwieldy title won’t help with marketing, making the film seem even more like a TV promo, and while vet docu helmer Lopez Linares keeps returning to the “mystery,” he arouses interest rather than satisfying viewer curiosity. “Palo cortado” literally means “short stick,” or “short line,” referring to the mark made on casks in which the wine begins to undergo an unprompted oxidation that transforms a “fino” sherry into a more complex variety. The process can’t be induced but occurs naturally; hence the mystery, which also makes it the rarest of all sherries.

As a name, sherry is an Anglicization of the city at the epicenter of production, Jerez de la Frontera, in the southern province of Cadiz, and the docu traces, albeit superficially, the oenological connections between Britain and Spain in terms of not only vineyards (many of the great sherry dynasties have British origins) but also popularity. Much of the film is composed of interviews with people involved in the creation, marketing and research of the wine, from barrel makers to cellar masters, producers to sommeliers.

Viewers learn the difference between fino, oloroso and Amontillado, though tasting is the best way to understand the types, especially when it comes to a palo cortado, with its deeper coloring and balance of sweet and dry. What the docu captures best is the culture surrounding the drink, from grandee producers like the Domecqs and Gonzalez-Gordons to the passionately loyal coopers and bottlers, many from families who’ve worked in the industry for generations. In the later sections, the director concentrates on the people trying to return the drink to its former place among chic imbibers: As wine writer Juan Manuel Bellver states, sherry must once again become an aspirational drink.

Film and TV clips — “Champagne Charlie,” “Tales of Terror,” Miss Marple — situate sherry in popular culture, though Lopez Linares leaves out Orson Welles’ much-parodied Domecq commercials. Also missing is “A Private Function,” in which Maggie Smith’s line “I’m going to throw caution to the wind and have a sweet sherry” epitomizes the wine’s descent from elite liquor to frumpy cordial. Excerpt visuals are largely bad-quality, seemingly shot off a TV monitor or poorly sourced, though otherwise tech credits are solid.

Berlin Film Review: 'Sherry & the Mystery of Palo Cortado'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Culinary Cinema), Feb. 7, 2015. Running time: 87 MIN. (Original title: “Jerez & el Misterio del Palo Cortado”)


(Documentary — Spain) A Lopez-Li Films, Zampa Audiovisual production. (International sales: Latido Films, Madrid.) Produced by Antonio Saura, Jose Luis Lopez Linares.


Directed by Jose Luis Lopez Linares. Written by Juan Fernandez Castaldi. Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Lopez Linares, David Escobar Ramos, Daniel Mauri Pascual, Rafael Reparaz Lopez-Barrajon; editor, Pablo Blanco; music, Jorge Magaz; sound (Dolby 5.1), Juan Carlos Cid Torrejon; associate producers, Ruth Gabriel, Arantxa Aguirre.


Jose Maria Quiros, Beltran Domecq, Eduardo Ojeda, Pepe Blandino, Cesar Saldana, Manuel Domecq, Antonio Flores, Begona Garcia Gonzalez-Gordon, Mauricio Gonzalez-Gordon, Pedro Revuelta, Jose Luis Jimenez, Joaquin Rivero, Helena Rivero Lopez de Carrizosa, Paz Ivison, Victoria Frutos Climent, Jesus Barquin, Julio Dominguez Gil, Jan Petersen, Alberto Fernandez Bombin, Manuel Bolli, Rafael Garcia, Carlos Gonzalez Saez, Paola Medina, Tomas Osborne, Rosario Barbadillo, Vicky Gonzalez-Gordon, Juan Manuel Bellver, Brita Hektoen, Alvaro Giron, Jose Ramon Estevez, Adela Cordoba, Rafael Cordoba, Josep Roca, Nicolas Boise, Romain Mespet, Guillermo Cruz, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Paco Perez, Alberto Luchini, Maria Jose Huertas, Silvia Garcia, Ricardo Sanz de Castro, Ana Cabestrero, Pilar Pla Pechovierto.