Õåðåñ, Jerez, Xérès, Sherry wine

Sherry analogues

Montilla-Moriles wines

Olga Nikandrova and Denis Shumakov.

Moriles and Montilla

Montilla-Moriles is a wine region in Spain which has a D.O. (Denominación de Origen) status and is situated in Andalusia, in the province of Cordoba, approximately 200 km to the east of the Jerez Region. Montilla-Moriles includes 17 towns (there they are on the map), the main of them being, of course, the towns of Montilla and Moriles.

Montilla-Moriles is hilly, vineyards are located at elevations of 125-600 meters above mean sea level there. The best vineyards are laid out on grounds with soil similar to those of the Jerez Region, only there it is called not albarisa, but albero. Nowadays, there are more than 6,000 ha of vineyards in Montilla-Moriles. The weather is typically Andalusian in the region — up to 3,000 hours of sunlight and 500-1,000 mm precipitation per year, summers are hot and dry.

Two zones in Montilla-Moriles Region are singled out for their specially good conditions for vinegrowing: Sierra de Montilla and Moriles Alba — their vineyards are located at elevations of 400-600 meters amsl and, naturally, on albero soils. The productivity of these zones is limited to 60 HL/ha (for the rest vineyards of the region, it is 80 HL/ha). The main grape variety for Montilla-Moriles is Perdo Ximénez — it occupies three fourths of the vineyards. The region produces different wines, but here we are primarily interested in fortified (let’s call them so at this point) ones.

Fortified wines from Montilla-Moriles are stylistically very close to sherry. The criadras and solera system is used for their ageing, the same terms are used in their classification (except for the word Manzanilla, of course). Thus, the wines from the neighboring regions are not really confused with each other, but, if you like, are lumped together. If you don’t want to enter into details (e.g. while distributing bottles on store shelves), then this lump-together approach may be rather adequate. But ià you do, you can find very interesting distinctions between sherry and Montilla-Moriles wines.

The first distinction is that the main grape variety in Montilla-Moriles, as was already said, is Pedro Ximénez and not Palomino as it is in the Jerez Region. All variants of fortified wine — sweet or dry, from Fino to Pedro Ximénez — in Montilla-Moriles are produced from Pedro Ximénez proper.

The second distinction is in the fact that sugar content in Pedro Ximénez grown in Montilla-Moriles can be so high that during fermentation its must gains more than 15 degrees alcoholic content all by itself (without fortification). Upon that, naturally, wine yeasts die and fermentation stops. Such a romantic yeast suicide results in the creation of favorable conditions in wine (as is the case with dry sherry as well) for the growth of flor, whose future — should it live or die — will depend on what the producer will want to get. Flor lives and works in Montilla-Moriles well, it allows them to create wines which go through full or partial biological ageing: Fino, Amontillado and (very rarely) Palo Cortado.

Amontillado is an altogether special wine for the region, its name literally means “done in the manner of Montilla”. It is also worth mentioning that in Montilla-Moriles Amontillado can be produced without additional fortification. The production scheme of such wine is simply beautiful. First, must is fermented and turns into wine, which gradually gains alcoholic strength making further fermentation impossible — thus the wine fortifies itself. Thereafter a film of yeast (flor) starts to evolve on the surface of the wine and in several years it turns base wine into Fino. A part of this Fino is withdrawn from the solera and bottled, another part is used for replenishing a different solera system where flor subsequently dies due to the lack of nutrients (not due to additional fortification) and the wine passes from biological ageing to oxidative one. It gradually turns into “low-alcohol” Amontillado (about 16°). The total ageing time of such Amontillado can be very long — say, 20 years (8 years under flor and 12 years without flor).

Of course, Amontillado in Montilla-Moriles can be produced in a more simple way — with additional fortification. Montilla-Moriles’s Olorosos go through additional fortification with no option. These Olorosos, by the way, may retain quite a large amount of sugar — about 30-40 g per liter.

In the past, there were used large (several thousand liters) clay vessels for vinification in Montilla-Moriles. Sometimes they were dug into the ground and sometimes built into buildings. Nowadays, everything is easier, and vinification takes place in stainless steel tanks, old “clay” technologies are used very rarely.

However beautiful and elegant the production technologies of Fino and Amontillado in Montilla-Moriles are, the hallmark of the region are natural sweet wines. Or rather one wine — Pedro Ximénez. Moscatel is also produced in Montilla-Moriles, but is almost invisible against the Pedro Ximénez’s background.

Being harvested, grapes for future Montilla-Moriles’s Pedro Ximénez are withered on mats in the sun during several days (up to 10). When sugar concentration in them reaches 26-29° Baume, all juice that can still be pressed out of them is pressed. From 100 kg of grapes something like 30 liters of must are obtained, with minimal sugar content of 272 g/l. After pressing, the must is fortified (with this high sugar concentration, it cannot start fermenting itself) and then sent for ageing.

Pedro Ximénez from Montilla-Moriles is fortified less than its brother from the Jerez Region (up to 14-15° in Montilla-Moriles against 17-18° in Jerez). Besides, barrels for ageing Pedro Ximénez in Montilla-Moriles are filled full (in the Jerez barrels are usually by 3/4 — 5/6). All of this (together with the terroir, of course) makes Montilla-Moriles’s Pedro Ximénez absolutely unique wine. Exceptionally soft, with almost no traces of alcohol at all, with amazing fruit and citrus notes. Rather often Pedro Ximénez in Montilla-Moriles is bottled very young, after only two or three years of ageing — and it turns out good. But the PX wines aged properly (30 years is not uncommon) are often real masterpieces.

Montilla-Moriles produces quite many vintage wines, which were aged not dynamically, but statically. First of all, they are Pedro Ximénezes again. They also produce brandy, which technologically close to Brandy de Jerez.

This is the web-site of the Regulatory Council for D.O. Montilla-Moriles. And here is the list of the wines from this region which we have tasted so far (in Russian):
Alvear Fino CB
Alvear Moscatel
Alvear Oloroso Asunción
Alvear Pedro Ximénez Solera
Alvear's Fino
Cruz Conde Pale Cream
Don PX Gran Reserva 1982
Fino Cobos
Gran Barquero Amontillado

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