Grand Cru Sherry: Valdespino Coliseo, Cardenal - 1st Time in U.S.

Posted by Joe Salamone

Rare Treasures from Jerez
Valdespino Amontillado Coliseo VORS &
Palo Cortado Cardenal VORS
The Grand Crus and First Growths of Sherry

Finally Sherry, one of the world's great wines, seems poised to be embraced by wine lovers in the U.S.

The only issue? Many of Jerez's most impressive jewels are totally absent from the market. Or were absent...

When I traveled through the sherry region in September, I was shocked by the number of incredible wines that have NEVER made it to our shores.

These wines are so good; this is a story that needs to be told. This is a long email, but I hope it's also compelling.

Today we offer two very old treasures from one of Sherry's finest bodegas: Valdespino's Amontillado Coliseo and Palo Cortado Cardenal. I've been working on securing these wines since I returned from Jerez at the very beginning of October.

Both Cardenal and Coliseo represent the regal grandeur of sherries: rigorously selected, lovingly tended to in the bodega, beautifully refined and stunningly concentrated thanks to extensive aging in the solera system.

Amontillado Coliseo boasts an average age of over 60 years and Palo Cortado Cardenal is over 80. There's no getting around the fact that these aren't cheap, but they look like bargains once you compare them to other wines at this level.

In short, both of these wines are simply epic. They offer mindbending complexity, finishes that go on and on, and concentration that borders on painful. These are the Grand Crus and First Growths of sherry. Collectors and wine geeks should take note here: The finest that sherry has to offer is, qualitatively, absolutely on par with the most exalted names in existence.

They are also just as limited, if not more so: The world only sees around 400 bottles (400 bottles!) per year of each of the wines on offer today. Releasing much more than this would compromise the age of the wines in the solera, which multiple generations have worked hard to achieve for quality purposes.

Valdespino is a bodega where no corners are cut, where winemaking is carried out with acute insight. A hallmark of Valdespino's brilliance is the way they begin with wines that possess particular characteristics, and then they exploit that unique potential throughout the aging process so as to create an end product that's utterly singular.

In the case of Amontillado Coliseo, it begins with a base of Manzanilla wine. For all the wine's grandeur of scale with its depth, power and concentration, Coliseo maintains a cut of saline-accented acidity that betrays its distant Manzanilla origins and adds yet another riveting facet to a wine that in no way wants for complexity. Valdespino also adds a touch of very old Pedro Ximénez wine to round out some of the rough edges and soften the intense concentration that has resulted from its 60+ years of aging.

The Amontillado Coliseo seems to transcend any analytical and descriptive framework that I have. The nose is intensely fragrant, hitting you with layers upon layers of nuts, citrus, spice, sandalwood and plenty more. The palate explodes with an intensity that forces you to stop and focus on the wine and nothing but the wine. It's so concentrated that it's almost unsettling if you're not expecting it.

As for the Palo Cortado Cardenal, it begins with wines from Macharnudo Alto - Jerez's highest altitude vineyard and one of its best. The wines are selected from particularly unique, earmarked barrels of Fino Inocente and Amontillado Tio Diego. From there, they go into a younger, intermediate solera before certain barrels within that are selected to refill the youngest Cardenal criadera. Palo Cortado defies neat categorization, and almost any simple description here seems a vulgar reduction, but noting that it maintains Amontillado's steeliness and verve but shows off Oloroso's weight and richness at least gives you a sense of what to expect.

Cardenal comes across as a little more accessible off the bat than the Coliseo, a little less challenging in its concentration, but in the realm of all sherries, this is still a veritable powerhouse, managing to deliver an impressive elegance along with its relentless drive and power. The mid-palate is hugely expansive with saturating flourishes of spices, chocolate and burnt orange rind.

Both are colossal, intricate wines that place demands on the drinker. They are not to be confused with easy-going, light-hearted or light-bodied aperitifs. Enjoying a bottle of either of these is sort of like deciding to commit to reading something like Joyce's Ulysses or Derrida's Of Grammatology - the demands are high, but so are the rewards. They will forever change your understanding of sherry.

Both wines also benefit from some time open. Tracking them over the period of a week or more is recommended. Take your time with them, let them evolve. They have plenty to say. Both will probably be best enjoyed at the end of a meal as meditation wines or with more substantial food. Amontillado Coliseo is a perfect match for beef dishes, in particular braised oxtail prepared as they would prepare rabo de toro in sherry country. Palo Cortado Cardenal would be great with squab and other wintry game dishes.

In the end of a long email (sherry seems to cause these), maybe it's best just to simply say: these are very exciting wines, and this is a very exciting time for sherry. I strongly urge all serious collectors, all self-proclaimed wine geeks as well as anyone curious about wines that are singular and show off world-class quality to try at least a bottle of each today.

To order, please click below, email us at or call the store at (212) 980-9463.

Joe Salamone
Wine Buyer
Crush Wine & Spirits

Bodegas Valdespino