When we speak of Montilla-Moriles, we must not forget that the best Andalusian wines are not simply just produced, they grow and they bloom, much as a child grows and a flower blooms. Sharp in colour, attractive fragrances and soft on the palate. All of this, plus the unique personality, verve and subtlety of each wine, makes the wines from this region real treasures to enjoy.
As proven by archaeological remains, the region has a vast history in the cultivation of vineyards and the production of wine. Recently, grape seeds were found that, according to experts, dated back to the 8th and 9th century BC. Also, on a farm owned by the Conde de la Cortina winery, located in the famous Riofrío de la Sierra de Montilla estate, terracotta items have been found with depictions of winemakers and growers, dating back to the pre Christian era.
In fact, the south of the Iberian Peninsula have passed many civilizations throughout history: the mighty Roman Empire, where Roma enjoyed with renowned wines from Further Spain; Muslim rule in which wine consumption was banned by the Koran, but was considered a drug against the evils of the time, and the Christian Reconquest where large tracts of vineyards, coming even to the gates of Cordoba, were distributed among the nobles who participated in it.
Although home to a vast history, it was not until the eighteenth century when the foundations of much of contemporary winemaking in the region were laid, with the introduction of the new solera system. The solera system was introduced as a new concept in ageing wines, where the classical vintage wines seemed to fall back slightly and a homogeneous type of wine was achieved. It is more than likely that the discovery of this method was by accident, perhaps because someone, in need of space, placed barrels on top of each other. This lead to wines such as finos and amontillados, wines which are actually Montilla style wines. It is said that Conde de la Cortina began sending this type of wine to Jerez, and enjoyed the fact that the people of Jerez began to produce wines following the Cordovan system.
The name of Montilla started to be used to designate the singular wines from that area in the mid 19th century, via participation in international wine fairs. The name of Moriles started to be used in 1912, when the old name of Zapateros was changed to the current name.
The full name, Montilla-Moriles, was first used in 1891 during the Arreglo de Madrid. However, it was only with the Estatuto de la Viña y el Vino in 1932 that the name was finally protected by law, establishing that only the producers in the protected area could legally use the name.The Spanish Civil War delayed the founding of the Regulatory Council of the DO until 1944, and the Regulations were finally approved in 1945, the first Chairman being Luis Merino del Castillo.
Climate, soils and varieties
The climate in the whole region in basically semi-continental Mediterranean. Although many think that Andalusia is also hot, welded with long, dry summers, the region is influenced by the Atlantic winds entering from the Valley del Guadalquivir which makes way for cold winters.
The vineyards in this region experiences some of the warmest temperatures in the world during the growing cycle, with little rainfall and high heat stroke, which affects the development of the vine and its phenological cycle, although the subsequent rapid maturation of the fruit is what helps mark the composition and characteristics of all resulting wines, along with the fermentation and ageing techniques used. The effect of the severe weather within the region, as well as the characteristics of the soils in the region, influence the specific characteristics of the wines produced here, whether it be young or aged wines, or fortified wines with natural high alcoholic content.
As for soils there are two distinct types: alberos and alberizas one hand, and los rudos on the other. The albarizas soils are rich in calcium carbonate; the soil and subsoil are formed by soft loams, poor in natural organic material, and are not very fertile. The soil has a very simple mineral structure, basically limestone and silica, and has a lumpy pastry-like structure, with a low content of chlorides and sulphates. The subsoil has high moisture retention properties. This variety of soil is regarded as slightly better for generous and liquor Moriles wines, and a located in a subarea of the region known as “superior”. Outside of this superior subzone are darker soils covering rich subsoils carbonate of lime, as well as soils with high silica content, enhancing the reverberation of solar radiation, like rough soils these are also less suitable for production quality wines, which are located in the lower parts of Montilla and are reddish due to the presence of iron, which gives to wines a more oxidative character.
In terms of grape varieties, Pedro Ximenez dominates, accounting for over 80% of production, followed by Moscatel, as well as other varieties such as Airen, Lairén, Baladi, Verdejo, Torrontes, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Macabeo.
Types of Wine
In regards to wines produced in the region, the solera ageing method used is identical to Sherry and wines in Jerez, therefore most of the wine produced in Montilla-Moriles is classified on the same system as sherry, finos, Olorosos, amontillados, vinos de licor etc. The only difference is, that unlike Sherry, the majority of the wines produced here are not fortified.
Blancos jóvenes (young whites). These are pale whites that have not been aged during production. Although currently only produced in small quantites, many large wineries are showing a great interest in promoting and producing this style of wine. All of the grape varieties can be used to produce this wine, although the best are made with Pedro Ximénez. From its youth and as the months go started bottling, there is a clear distinct taste of these wines. Exhibits clear aromas of pear blossom and a subtle exotic fruit with citrus sensations. These are easy drinking wines that are casual and light.
Fino. A fortified wine that is biologically aged for a minimum of 2 years with an alcohol level of around 15% vol. that is generally achieved naturally without fortification. These wines are have a pale yellow colour, with a sharp nose with hints of flower, yeasts and nuts. In the mouth, they are dry, fine and elegant, and slightly bitter with more body than Sherry.
Amontillado. A fortified wine that is obtained from a fino wine that has been aged for at least 5 years, followed by at least another 3 years undergoing oxidative ageing via the solera system. These wines have an amber or old gold colour, and the taste increases in complexity. It has a persistent, dry and flavoursome taste in the mouth.
Oloroso. This wine is obtained from a white wine that has not been aged, which undergoes 2 years of oxidative ageing via the solera system. They are mahogany color, very aromatic, full-bodied, full and velvety palate. They can be dry also.
Palo Cortado. This is a wine that shares the aromas of the amontillado`s, and the flavour and colour of an Oloroso. These are Oloroso wines of a higher quality. The development of this wine is scarce.
Dulce Pedro Ximénez. This is a natural sweet wine. These wines have an intense and dark ruby colour with tones up to tones of light mahogany. These wines have an intense and heady aroma, with notes of fruit of raisined grapes and ripe figs, nuts and syrup. In mouth they are unctuous, tasty and sweet, with a good aromatic persistence.
Dulce Moscatel. This is a natural sweet wine that is made with Moscatel grapes, where the juice is subjected to partial fermentation and fortified, although sometimes the asoleo method can be used (sun drying the grapes before production, and can be marketed without ageing or undergo the solera system. These wines usually have a 15% vol. alocohol level. Vinos generosos de licor. These are the wines “Medium”, “Pale Cream” and “Cream”, obtained from fortified wines or wines aged under veil from the juice of raisined grapes. Neutral alcohol is added of viticultural origin to prevent fermentation, for example natural Pedro Ximenez sweet wine.
Montilla-Moriles wines and wineries
Except for the young white wines, the Montilla-Moriles wines follow the principles of the ‘solera’ system. This system consists of blending different vintages and ages in different aged casks. The system consists of a succession of mixtures, beginning with taking a certain amount of the youngest wine, and decanting it into barrels from the previous year. In order to make room for the new wine, these barrels must be emptied by a third, which is removed and is drawn off to the casks containing wine from the vintage before that, which in turn has been emptied by a third, and again added to the previous vintage. This process is continued until it reaches the floor (with the barrels forming almost a pyramid). The solera method is refered to as “Criaderas y Soleras” in Spanish. Criaderas being the name given to the casks, and solera refers to the fact that the sherry come from the casks resting on the floor, “suelo” at the base of the pyramid of casks.
Montilla-Moriles is home to one of the pioneering and oldest wineries in Andalusia, Alvear. Thge winery was founded back in 1729 in Montilla where it began producing house wines. With such a history the winery has managed to establish an authentic winemaking structure, and today, in addition to strengthen its presence in Cordoba, has projects vintners outside its borders, in Extremadura and Argentina. Alvear is home to extensive Pedro Ximénez vineyards situated in some of the most famous plots in the region. The winery has a capacity to age 10 million litres in oak barrels, spread across their 20 wineries, which between them produce the numerous labels by the winery. The cellars of the Sacristy, the Lyceum, the Great, and the Shield, next to the manor, welcome the precious old wines. At Las Mercedes, now known as Capataz, one will find the solera of one of Alvear’s best known wines: el Fino C.B. The best thing about this wine is its naturalness. This wine is made using Pedro Ximénez grapes that undergo biological ageing in American oak casks using the solera system.
Other charismatic wineries include Conde de La Cortina, as well as Trabajadero, Ronda, Las Palmeras, Oloroso Viejo, Los Deanes, San Rafael, Don Diego and Presidente, which have coexisted today and throughout history. Along with their wines produced using the solera system, such as the Alvear collection (fino, amontillado, oloroso, solera cream, fino en rama and PX de añada), the PX 1927 and 1910, the Festival Pale Cream and Count de la Concorde, they also produce younger wines .El Marquis de la Sierra, a young white made from Pedro Ximenez grapes with a small contribution from Riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. It bypasses wood and has the peculiarity that comes from grapes harvested before full ripeness, which gives a peculiar balance between sugar and acidity. It was also a pioneer in marketing Fino en Rama and PX de añada.
Bodegas Toro Albala. This winery was founded back 1922, although its history dates back to 1844, in Córdoba's countryside at the foot of the castle of Aguilar when Antonio Sanchez, founder of the winery, plant the vineyard called La Noria. A century later the winery moved to the premises of an old power station, where they begin to develop new technologies wines. From this arises the affectionate nickname of Antonio: "electric". The philosophy of its founders, giving priority to quality over quantity, is still carried out by the firm. Since 1922 Toro Albala has been producing wines in Montilla-Moriles and is now under the direction of Antonio Sanchez Romero, grandson of the founder, still trying to improve the quality of its fino, amontillado, Pedro Ximenez and young white wines. Among all its labels,Fino del Lagar, Fino Rama, Joven afrutado Eléctrico, Gama Amontillado (Viejísimo Solera, Convent Amontillado), Toro Albalá holds a treasure, its sweet PX from the Range Don PX, the Gama Especial Don PX old vintages, made with dried grapes sunny for 15 or 20 days after the harvest, until the oldest series as the Marquis de Poley.