Montilla-Moriles, the Kingdom of the Pedro Ximénez grape variety
Alvear is one of the most prestigious and internationally renowned bodegas in Andalucía, boasting extensive vineyards that are located in the most famous estates in the Sierra de Montilla y Moriles (Córdoba). This privileged lands star grape variety is Pedro Ximénez, which is thought to have originated in the Rhine region, and is used by the bodega as the unique base wine for its sweet, Fino, Oloroso and Amontillado wines.
The Pedro Ximénez grape variety
The Pedro Ximénez grape variety is not only the star of DO Montilla-Moriles but also of the wines and vineyards owned by Bodegas Alvear. Legend has it that it was brought from the Rhine by a solider serving in the Spanish army in Flanders, who consequently gave it his name.
In general, the bodegas vineyards are cultivated on exceptionally chalky soils. The region boasts two very distinct soil types: white albariza or albero soils which are very chalky, porous, poor in organic material and produce low yields, and where the grapes are subject to a longer and more balanced ripening process; and ruedo soils that are red in colour due to the presence of iron oxides, and which, in contrast, accelerate the ripening process.
After the initial vinification process the wines are subject to the miracle known as ageing under a velo de flor; a natural biological process whereby a cream-coloured cap or velo de flor of yeast, indigenous to the region, develops on the top of the wine. The action of the yeast bestows extraordinary aroma and flavour to the wine, which is quite distinct from when it is first produced as a base wine. In order to encourage the development of the native yeast strain optimum temperature and humidity conditions are maintained in the bodega and the wine casks or butts are filled to about five-sixths, leaving enough free space at the top for the velo de flor to develop. Wines subject to a longer ageing process, usually until the nutritional capacity of the flor has been exhausted, are called Amontillado wines, which acquire a deep golden colour.
In the Oloroso winemaking process, in contrast to Fino wines, the flor is not allowed to develop and the process is stopped by fortifying the wine to an ABV of 18 per cent (flor needs around 15 per cent to grow) and by completely filling the wine casks to the top. As a result, the effects of ageing in these wines can be appreciated via the distinctive mark left by oak and time.
Pedro Ximénez is a sweet, smooth wine made by exposing the grapes to the sun once harvested. Grape clusters are spread over plaited esparto grass mats and the grapes are slowly sun-dried until becoming raisins. A dense must is then obtained from the crushed raisins to produce an authentic raisin juice. The subsequent winemaking and ageing processes give rise to the regions classic sweet Pedro Ximénez wines.
Criaderas y soleras
The barrels used to age Fino wines are called botas in Spanish (wine butts) and usually have a capacity of around 500 litres. The preferred wood used to make wine butts is American oak due to its porosity. However, new wood should never be used. In the bodega wine butts are stacked row upon row to varying heights; the stacks are called cachones. The walkway between two cachones is called an andana and each row of butts is called a criadera. The criadera closest to the floor is called the solera; the row above is called the first criadera; the next the second criadera and so on and so forth. Each criadera or row contains wine which has been aged for the same amount of time; the solera, contains the oldest wine, the first criadera the next oldest wine etc. until reaching the top where the youngest wine is stored.
Bodegas Alvear has the capacity to age 5 million litres of wine in oak wine butts that are distributed around various bodegas: La Sacristía and El Liceo, where the oldest wines are stored; Las Mercedes, known widely as C.B., and Las Higueras and Buganvillas, where the Pedro Ximénez wines are aged. The bodega called de la Casa, Alvears first property, which is located in the old town centre, is regarded as a site of Historic and Artistic Interest. This 18th century former manor house hosts the regions oldest soleras which contain 200-year old Amontillado wines.