The ancient lands of southwestern Spain have been planted in vineyards for nearly 3,000 years. But this part of Iberia was long under the control of the Moors and Islam, and winemaking was discouraged if not outright forbidden here from 711 to 1492.
To some visitors, Andalucía appears as more moonscape than landscape; hot and arid, rugged and hard. But Andalucía’s mountains carry other possibilities. With abrupt shifts in elevation and some of the greenest landscapes in Spain, fascinating wines have been produced across all of its regions, proving that finding a good red from here is not a one off.
Andalucía’s regions of Jerez (Sherry) and Cádiz receive more rainfall than most other parts of southern Spain. That rain is captured by the special limestone-rich soils of the area, called albariza, that bake in the summer sun into a hard crust, trapping cool moisture for the vines’ needs.
Though better known for sherry until recently, Andalucía’s diverse terrain lends itself to different reds that cannot be grown as successfully in other parts of Spain. Ronda’s rolling countryside is home to exquisite Petit Verdots and Pinot Noirs. Cádiz and the wetlands of Huelva produce unique versions of Syrah.
Denominations of origin:
Vinos de la Tierra (VdT)
Cádiz is home to dry desert and lush green mountains alike. In the first, the grapes destined for the sherries of Jerez thrive in the heat. Closer to the mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema, beautiful Syrahs predominate. Different in character from their French and Australian counterparts, they tend to be more subtle on both the black pepper and black fruit components of Syrah. These are well worth taking the time to explore, at every price point.
Sitting beneath the mountains lies the small winery of Huerta de Albalá. Its wines can be found throughout the villages of the Sierra, and represent extraordinary value for their quality. All blends are decided by the three principals around a small wooden table in the cellar. They determine not just the proportion of each grape variety, but the proportion of each type of oak. Six different types of premium French oak barrels are used, each apportioning different qualities to the wine. If you are in the area, it is highly worth arranging a tasting here.
Vinos de la Tierra
Condado de Huelva is an old DO in south-western Andalucia, close to the border with Portugal. In the southern section of the DO lies the Coto de Doñana, a natural wetland and ornithologists' paradise now classified as a natural park.
Huelva County enjoys ideal conditions for growing grapes: mild in winter and spring and long, hot summers of evident Atlantic influence, with an average annual temperature in the region of 17 ° C and oscillating relative humidity between 60% and 80%.
Denominación de Origen
This classic DO has been known for centuries for its sweet fortified wines made from Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez grapes. Now, however, it is producing seriously top end reds that are making the rest of Spain sit up and take notice.
Geographically, the DO forms a T-shape, with the vineyards running along the coast to the east of Málaga city, and back up towards the sierras.
Close to the clifftop village of Ronda lies Cortijo los Aguilares, one of a select group of 32 wineries in Spain that belong to the Grandes Pagos de España. This elite group consists of independently owned wineries with wines so unique and singular that they have been apportioned special status.
Denominación de Origen
Montilla-Moriles lies at the centre of a historical triangle that may be drawn between the cities of Granada, Seville and Córdoba. It lies in Córdoba province. Today the vines share the space with wheat and olives to give the classical Mediterranean trilogy: bread, wine, and oil.
Its wines are often wrongly thought of as simply another Sherry, although its history is as distinguished as that of its more famous neighbour, Jerez. The grape that makes it distinct is the famous Pedro Ximénez (PX). The region’s PX wines are of increasing importance. A distinctive feature of Montilla Moriles wines are their dry PX wines.
Whilst initially confusing, the concept of sherry is actually simple: all Sherry begins its life as a dry wine. It’s then fortified after the fermentation.
Sherry is initially classified as one of two wines: fino or olosoro. A fino is intended to be a light, crisp, delicate wine even at its usual alcohol level of 15% or more. The great finos are delicate. They are aged in barrels underneath a yeast film called flor (or “flower,” though it looks more like pond scum), and the flor protects the wine from oxygen, adding flavours and aromas as well.
Great finos have the tangy aroma of the flor with its distinct almond character and aromas similar to mushroom and sometimes cheese rind. The finos aged in the bodegas of the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda take on even more of the aromas of the ocean and are given the distinct name of Manzanilla.
Finos that eventually lose their flor will be topped up, fortified to a higher level of alcohol (around 18 percent), and allowed to age into something called amontillado. Amontillados contains echoes of the character of the fino from which they grew, but pecans, honey, caramel, nuts, figs, and many other aromas and flavours begin to take over.
The other great category of Sherry is oloroso. These are usually made sweet, although a handful of them are left dry. The term oloroso can be loosely translated into something powerfully aromatic, and the long barrel aging required for great oloroso certainly gives it aromas, which might include toffee, walnuts, prunes, cherries, orange rind, spices, and chocolate.
A distinct feature of sherries is its solera process of aging. Solera is a system of graduated blending whereby a portion of Sherry is drawn from an old barrel, which is subsequently filled from a barrel of younger Sherry. Barrels of younger Sherries cascade downward so that old and new Sherries are gently and systematically blended together.
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