Talk about a bridesmaid – the Montilla region has existed in the shadow of its better known neighbour the sherry region for centuries – even though it lent its name to one of sherry’s most popular styles, amontillado or ‘in the style of Montilla’, many years ago. Thank heavens that in both these Andalucian regions in southern Spain there is now a new generation of producers determined to rescue their unique wines from obscurity. Jerez now has a number of bodegas with real energy and top quality wine besides and the dominant Montilla company Alvear is now run in thoroughly dynamic fashion.
Alvear Pedro Fino en Rama Anada 2002 Montilla-Moriles is Alvear’s regular fino, low in acidity but positively bursting with life, unfiltered with a distinctly salty tang. It’s sold in zappy-looking half-litres and is vintage-dated to inject a bit of much-needed interest into this style of wine that we are all in danger of taking for granted. Where else can you buy a four year-old wine with this much character and at this sort of price? They are moving on to the 2003 next year.
It’s not easy to make a wine as delicate and film yeast-dependent as a fino without refreshing the flor yeast by moving wine through a solera. In a solera system the yeast nutrients are replenished every time the wine is transferred to another scale, or criadera, in the solera. Making a single-vintage fino, as Alvear have since 1998, is more precarious, even if the wine rests only two years under the flor. Apparently if the flor looks in need to refreshment, they spray the wine in the butts with the small stock of the same wine they keep in reserve for this purpose. Alvear's winemaker Bernard Lucena lavishes a disproportionate amount of time on this special wine.
En Rama means straight from the butt or cask. The idea with this wine is that you are able to taste a fino every bit as fresh as if it were drawn straight from the cask, with only the most minimal of clarification. Share this as an aperitif, with lunch or a host of first courses.
I see this wine is very widely distributed in the US, and at last, thanks to Genesis Wines of London, it is being imported into the UK. The standard price is £5.95 a half-llitre in a mixed case. You could do a lot worse than mix it up with some of Alvear’s other offerings. The Pedro Ximenez grape reigns in Montilla just to the north east of the Jerez region,, a bit hotter but with very similar soils. Indeed the Jerezanos have always bought their PX from Montilla anyway. Alvear Pedro Ximénez Anada 2004 Montilla-Moriles is a real marvel at only £8.95, $16.99 or 12 euros for 50cl – the most delightful raisin syrup with freshness – pure, round, thick and extremely gratifying. Great for winter entertaining.
There is also a super-stickie Alvear Pedro Ximénez Solera 1927 Montilla-Moriles for £12 a half-litre that should sweeten any 80th birthday celebrations next year - very, very dark, like ancient raisins steeped for years. If the octogenarian still has their own teeth, this should put paid to them.
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