In the early years of the 18th Century an aristocratic Spanish nobleman, Don Diego Alvear y Escalera establish a modest bodega in the town of Montilla within the region of Andalusia in southern Spain. Since then a succession of Alvears has nurtured and expanded the original business to maintain a historic bodega which today is acknowledged to be the leader in Montilla â€“ Moriles.
Culture, tradition and innovation have gone hand in hand to best express the true taste of the Pedro Ximinez grape, the Queen of the Montilla-Moriles Denomination. The harsh and uncompromising climate of Andalusia challenges wine makers to overcome extremes of heat and lack of rainfall. The resulting wines are truly worth the effort.
The grapes when mature and ready for picking are extremely rich in sugars and the resulting wines reach a natural alcohol level between 14% & 15.5%, not requiring any added fortification as would be the case in Jerez where Sherry is made.
Over the centuries Alvear has equipped itself with a remarkable aging cellar that has a cooling floor of clay, a perfect world for the development of the unique "flor" a type of yeast that creates a veil over the surface of the maturing wines. When fermentation has finished the wines are transferred to one of the 20,000 butts of American oak to continue its slow birth emerging later to be examined by the Alvear cellar master, a man of immense knowledge and experience with Montilla wines.
Gradually the wine makes its way downwards from butt to butt mixing with older wines as it goes until it is finally ready to bottled with care to preserve the unique character the wines has acquired.
The cellar master decides which wines are best suited to be matured as fino or amontillado and his unique role symbolises the special relationship between the wine and its maker.
In its own home ground of southern Spain Alvear's CB brand of Fino reigns supreme as a visit to any bar or restaurant will prove. Wherever Andalusians meet to enjoy some convivial company the wine is not sipped from silly little waisted glasses at room temperature but quaffed with delight and is poured chilled to the bone, straight from the fridge.
Alvear owns 300 hectares of vineyards and is able to store consistently for maturing some 10 million litres of wine. Each year approximately 8.2 million litres of new wines are made meaning that just under 20% of a year's wine production can be sold. The bodega concentrate their expertise and traditional wine making techniques on four main styles of product.
Fino: The flagship of the winery popular throughout Spain under the CB brand name. It is pale straw-yellow and has a delicate slightly salty fresh taste with a trace of the floral tones associated with Pedro Ximinez grapes.
Oloroso: The oak butt has done its job then a touch of PX gives a deep amber colour with toasted aromas. A fine, long, dry aftertaste resulting from lengthy cask-aging.
Amontillado: A very old fino that has managed to preserve its origins after lengthy cask maturation keeping all the elegance and vitality of youth.
Pedro Ximenez: Mahogany in colour this is the unique star of the Montilla region. Long aging has donated toasty touches with pleasant bitter notes, a honey base and mellow traces on the palate.
To truly comprehend the range of different wines produced from just one variety of grape you must visit the Alvear cellar and vineyards, meet the people who live to make great wines, where centuries old methods have been seamlessly merged with today's knowledge of how to squeeze the very best from the fruit.
Innovation is always been a key word for Alvear, so at the start of this century they started a new venture producing a limited amount of top grade wines in DO Ribera Guadiana within the Extremadura region of western central Spain. This area is almost unknown as a source of quality wines so the results have been anticipated with relish. Plantings have been made of tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, garnacha and syrah. Exhaustive grape selection and strict control over the actual yield from the vines places first priority on quality production. These wines are just emerging on the market albeit in modest amounts. Initial responses from professional tasters have been very encouraging and as time goes by the wines will acquire more and more maturity.
It may be possible to taste these new stars when visiting Alvear in Montilla.