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Although Montilla – Moriles fortified wines are every bit as good as those from neighbouring sherry region in Andalusia the former are less well known.

Montilla-Moriles close to Cordoba, Granada, and Seville, all well known tourism centres, enjoys less popularity with tourists but is more interesting because of its authenticity.

     Andalusia, a naturally hot region on the Mediterranean coast of Spain has been attracting tourists for centuries and horse lovers, who like to watch their pure white horses in dressage.

     Historians tell us that Romans brought viticulture to Montilla Moriles approximately 45 B C. Vandals, and Visigoths, with the Moors arriving in 711 from Northern Africa, followed them. They stayed in south-western Spain and parts of Portugal for almost eight centuries until their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 by Cardinal Mendoza with the help of Cardinal Richelieu, the “prime minister” of Louis XIV.

     Today Montilla Moriles is an important fortified wine producing region that offers sherry-style products at bargain prices.

     Unjustifiably, their more famous rivals to their south and west have overshadowed the wines of Montilla Moriles.

     It is no accident that “amontillado means “in the style of Montilla”. Indeed, the technique of drying grapes in the hot sun until they are raisinized – yielding intensely sweet wines was invented and perfected in Montilla

     In the past many Montilla wines for export went through the ports of San Lucar de Barameda and Santa Maria a shipping route that took longer than sherry wines. The winemakers in Montilla, well aware of the problem that caused oxidation, started fortifying their wines a little more, and sweetening them just a smidgen to preserve them better. Thus was born Amontillado - in the style of Montilla

     In this hot region the grapes are Pedro Ximenez (PX), Moscatel, Airen, Baladi,Verdejo and Torrontes. PX represents 90 percent of the crop, and practically all of PX wines used of Jeres originate in Montilla. This is legal and recognized in Spanish wine law.

     The soils consist of chalky, for fino style wines, sandy (a k a Ruedas) for olorosos, and albero a mixture of chalky and sandy soils.
The undulating landscape between 300 – 700 metres of altitude inland enjoys a dry growing season, eliminating much of the spraying required in other regions further north.

     The climate is continental with annual precipitation ranging from 550 – 950 mm, much of which occurs during the winter. The temperatures range from  - 5 to 45 C in the summer and sunshine averages 2500 hours per annum.

     Montilla Moriles wines granted D O (Denominacion d’Origen) status in 1932 and come in three categories:

     Vinos generosos (15 percent ABV and above soera aged, i.e. Fino, amontillado and oloroso)
     Vinos 13 – 15 percent ABV aged in solera ( pale dry, medium-dry, pale cream or cream)
     Vino Jovenes Afrutados  (young fruity wines) 10 – 12 percent ABV un-aged young wines

     Approximately 11,000 hectares of vineyards are in production, the best if which are located around the town of Montilla on more chalky soils called zona calidad superior.

     The biggest vinification difference between the Montilla and sherry is the initial fermentation occurring in clay jars measuring 250 – 1600 litres clay jars. Some wineries still use tinajas for both fermentation and aging. It is proven that clay jars keep liquids cooler than stainless steel and/or wooden barrels.

     They were used in antiquity to allow cool air to circulate around the earthenware, which evaporates and keeps the contents cool. After the initial fermentation the wines are classified, transferred to American white oak barrels  and enter specific soleras for finos, amontillado, olorosos and cream.

     Alvear, an old, well-established Montilla winery, was founded in 1729 and is still managed by the descendants of Diego de Alvear y Escalera. The company  produces a range of delightful, well-priced Montillas that deserve the attention of all wine enthusiasts.

     Fino Capataz is dry, fruity, and goes best with tapas and fried dishes.

Amontillado Carlos VII is a classic amontillado with a nutty aroma and flavour, particularly suited for pairing with Spanish sausages, aged cheeses, dishes containing salt cod, and pizzas with anchovy fillets.

     Oloroso Asuncion with its softness and sweetness is best with rich pastries, and old hard cheeses.

     Solera cream consisting of old oloroso and sweet PX wines, whose  unequalled harmony between the nuttiness of an oloroso and natural sweetness of PX grapes, is remarkable. It is ideal to complement old cheeses and game pates. For those who like biscotti this would be an excellent accompaniment.

     Solera 1910 is a “heirloom” wine produced according to traditional methods. The solera started in 1910 and is still being maintained. This complex wine can be enjoyed on its own, with fruit sorbets and rich chocolate desserts. There are few wines that can stand up to desserts containing chocolate, this is one of them. Solera 1927 represents another version of traditionally aged Montilla, which to my taste offers more nuance and refinement than Solera 1910.

     PX de Anada, a specialty of Alvear, is made with sun dried PX grapes of exceptional vintages.  The wine does not enter a solera and is bottles as a vintage product. Although sweet but not cloying the wine emanates ripe fruit aromas, particularly suited to enrich the flavour of ripe fruits, and blue cheeses.

     Last but not least, the Montilla vinegar must be mentioned for all who like to eat well. Alvears solera 10 vinegar is made from fino quality wines by acetic fermentation of sun dried PX grapes and aged in a special solera for more than five years. It complements warm shellfish salads, game dishes, berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and currants) and can be used for marinades.

Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu

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