The Denominated area of Montilla - Moriles is found south of Cordoba and the River Guadalquivir on an axis of the two towns after which it is named. This is the heart of Andalucia famous for its network of white towns set amongst shimmering rolling landscapes planted with vineyards, fields of sunflowers and endless armies of olive trees that march over the horizon in every direction.
It is also the hottest part of Spain and in summer the shaded courtyards and cool interiors of the bodegas offer a welcome refuge from the relentless sun. From this fierce environment the winegrowers manage to make outstanding wines both dry and very sweet. The predominate grape variety is the Pedro Ximenez ( PX ) reputedly named after a soldier returning from one of the interminable wars in the Netherlands with a new type of vine. It's hard to believe that a northern vine could prosper in the heat of southern Spain however on such are legends made.
Montilla is the origin of the name Amontillado meaning " in the style of Montilla " but for some reason never quite matched Jerez in repute. Maybe a port to ship from would have greatly helped land locked Montilla with poor roads. Luckily the producers kept to their traditions and today we can enjoy a wide range of top quality wines all made from the same PX grape.
Well known types such as Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso and more obscure wines like Palo Cortado and Rayas are still made very much in the ways of times long past. Because the grapes are exposed to unlimited hot sunshine they develop a high sugar content leading to above average alcohol contents after fermentation. In turn this permits wine makers to achieve around 15% alcohol content without having to fortify the wine with brandy as would be the case with Sherry made in Jerez. A quite distinct character emerges being entirely natural and defining the whole taste of the PX grape.
THE SOLERA SYSTEM: Vital to the making of Montilla wines is the Solera system whose origin and antiquity is obscure. It is an unique blending and ageing system needed to ensure continuity of style, character and quality of Andalucian wines. There are several stages of ageing the new wine - the oldest stage being the Solera stage, the next oldest is the First Criadera , then the Second Criadera and so on.
Fundamentally one should never remove more than half the wine from a butt in any one year.
So when a wine is needed for bottling and sale an equal quantity is taken from every butt in the ( last ) Solera stage. This wine is replaced by wine from the First Criadera and so on up the chain until the youngest Criadera is topped up with new wine made during the previous year. Of course this means that a bottle of Montilla always contains a wine blended from many years' harvests thus guaranteeing perfect consistency.
FLOR: Only found in this part of Spain is the use of flor, a naturally occurring yeast that develops on the surface of the maturing wine and prevents oxidation thus preserving the wine's essential light character. Flor thrives up to 15% alcohol but no higher. Bodega owners can add a small amount of alcohol to make darker and fuller bodied Oloroso wines by killing the flor and allowing oxidation to occur.
Thankfully the Andalucians discovered this unique natural product which helps enormously to ease down their incessant hospitality, where lunch rarely starts until 3pm and you may consider yourself lucky to sit down for dinner before midnight. This after delicious hours of tapas - copious nibbles of olives, anchovy fillets, salted almonds, fried peppers, squid - and glass following glass of wonderful chilled Montilla fino.
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