Palo Cortado, the rarest form of sherry, said to have the richness of oloroso and some of the crispness of amontillado, is an exciting addition to a blender’s repertoire of casks. Originally destined to be an Amontillado, a Palo Cortado’s deviation is usually described as an accident. Still, if used effectively, it’s a sherry that can display a complex bouquet of aromas, accentuating whiskey to another level.
It gives me great pleasure to return to Dunville’s for this review. The news of three new additions to the Dunville’s range has been long coming, with teasers presented at ‘Whiskey Live’ in Dublin and various other tastings led by Dunville’s ardent ambassador, Séamus. But it’s also been seriously welcome. Truthfully, Dunville’s probably has one of the eclectic core ranges, matched by regular releases of single casks, so whilst welcome, it’s slightly excessive. This ultimately isn’t a negative; it reflects Dunville’s success and innovation as a brand.
Furthermore, this isn’t Dunville’s first foray into using Palo Cortado casks. Palo Cortado casks have been used in the production of casks 1203, 1196 and my personal favourite, 1211 (which I intend to review shortly). These bottles sold out almost instantaneously, and whilst they don’t attract big money at auction, they exemplify the quality of Dunville’s Irish whiskey and the ability to manipulate a whiskey to bring out its unique qualities.
Jarlath and the Dunville’s team have always talked and banged the drum about Dunville’s global reputation for excellence and taking another step towards restoring ‘The Spirit of Belfast’ to its rightful place among the world’s best whiskeys. Dunville’s recent performance at the World Whiskey Awards will go a long way in reinforcing that sentiment. Their 21-Year-Old Palo Cortado Sherry Cask Finish Single Malt was a Category Winner as ‘Best Irish Single Malt 21 Years & Over’, and the Dunville’s 20-Year-Old Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish Single Malt was a Category Winner as the ‘Best Irish Single Malt Aged 13-20 Years.’ Whilst there is some animosity towards these awards, you can’t argue with 13 accolades, including Old Comber being named among the best pot still whiskies.
The new range includes a 20-year-old oloroso matured single malt, a 21-year-old Palo Cortado matured single malt, and a humble 10-year-old Palo Cortado single, of which I will review the latter two. Whilst I would have much preferred to review all three, they command £194.95, £185.95 and £69.95 at retail. Whilst I don’t think these prices are particularly steep, they come at a time when the most frugal of us are trying to make our money go further. Anyway, the 10-year-old doesn’t give any indication of finishing time; however, it does state that it’s non-chill filtered. I’ve also been a massive fan of Dunville’s presentation, and I think the colour scheme they’ve used for this bottle is absolutely stunning and stands out a mile. It’s sourced, and whilst it doesn’t state origin, it’s a consensus that it’s a Cooley base spirit.
Dunville’s 10-Year-Old Palo Cortado Cask
Price: £69.95 (available from Dunville’s website here)
Nose: Beautiful orchard notes of fresh and crisp pink ladies with a little hint of dried mango. The fruit notes continue to ripe peaches and red grapes, light and crisp. The Palo Cortado maturation typifies the sweetness; love hearts and parma violets lead the nose, eventually morphing into Ribena concentrate or even red wine.
Palate: This is all about cherries in various forms. Initially, there’s flat cherry coke which leads to maraschino cherries. There’s a clear indication of the old ‘hot lips’ sweets, red liquorice and hard-boiled sweets.
Finish: A subtle warmth is generated, laced with black pepper and some nutmeg. Whilst medium in length, it’s enough to go back for another sip….
Dunville’s 21-Year-Old Palo Cortado Cask
Again, like the 10-year-old, it doesn’t give any indication of finishing time but does state that it’s non-chill filtered.
Price: £ 194.95 (available from Dunville’s website here)
Nose: Initially, it’s quite light and florally, opening up with parma violets and some desiccated coconut. Lots of beautiful sweetness comes through too, with flat cherry coke and some caramelised orange peel. Then there are love hearts and a hint of kiwi fruit which ultimately ends up as ripened nectarines.
Palate: There’s a beautiful balance here of sweetness and spice. Firstly, there are fizzy cola bottles, red liquorice and love hearts. Then it changes slightly from cinnamon lozenges, fully into the spice zone, with pink peppercorns and cloves generating a joyous heat. There are also hints of midget gems and marzipan throughout, which adds some extra warmth.
Finish: Turns quite sweet, caramelly, Christmas cake and Jamaica cake. Lemon drizzle.
These two whiskies are a serious addition to the Dunville’s range. That’s my bottom line up front, and there are no two ways about it. After trying all three Palo Cortado single-cask offerings, my palate craved more. So firstly, the 10-year-old is a nice whiskey, but I feel like I want more. I know, it’s a 10-year-old with an ABV of 46%; maybe I’m asking a lot, but what it does give is an intriguing and enticing balance of sweetness and spice. Dunville’s have really managed this cask well and paired it with the whiskey expertly.
The 21-year-old is fantastic. I feel that most of the notes I identified were amplified in the 21-year-old offering. The stoned fruit notes are really apparent, but the spice is balanced perfectly. I sometimes feel that the nose and palate are somewhat out of sync, especially when it comes to sherried whiskies, but the fact is that this delivers. Fortunately, the sample was provided free of charge; I’m not entirely sure I would spend over £150 on it.
A quick Google search has shown me that whilst Dunville’s have not discovered something completely new, only a handful of brands have attempted to use Palo Cortado. I’m not sure why that is; it could be cost, sourcing or even trepidation in using such an unpredictable sherry to showcase a whiskey’s best quality. However, Dunville’s have really hit the mark here.