From Jon Rimmerman (Garagiste):
If you drive due south from Cordoba, across the heart of Andalusia towards the coast, you will cross the little known DO (Denominacion de Origen) of Montilla Moriles.
Few stop here – ever.
This hilly, undulating region is one of the sunniest in all of Europe. Summer temperatures can reach 115 with 2,500 hours of sunshine per year – for those of you keeping track, that’s a lot. Not only does this region absorb an inordinate amount of solar energy but the soil also acts as a reflector - the white, chalky limestone/carbonate mixture ("albarizas") can blind the weary hiker as they walk the land. Thankfully, there are hamlets and bodegas that are more than a mirage - all serving splendid local refreshments that are true to their origin but also honest and full of pride.
The vines in this region are at elevation (1000 - 3000 ft) which helps produce one of the widest hot/cold swings in Iberia. In addition, the soil can have up to 50% chalk which absorbs and stores deep water reserves to offset the torrid blaze above ground.
Why would I, a staunch classicist, venture to a place that seems diametrically opposed to my normal no fruit/all acid mantra?
...specifically, one of the great unknown producers of sweet wine in Europe that specializes in tradition-rich/organic/BIO Montilla Moriles.
Even if you don't enjoy dessert wine, it doesn't matter, you need to try this fascinating set of hand-made treasures.
Pedro Ximenez was brought to this region in the 16th century by a soldier of Charles V who gave his name to the grape. The varietal requires a torrid climate to ripen and then (after picking) an equal amount of sunshine to air-dry on mats to concentrate the must (for the top PX). What sets this type of dessert wine apart from something like Port or sherry is the natural level of fermentable sugar in the grapes - they do not need to be fortified after fermentation and contain no added alcohol – only what the season gave them.
Founded in 1927, Bodegas Robles is the star of the region. As the first and only certified organic wine of this Andalusian Denomination of Origin, they’ve been growing Pedro Ximenez grapes naturally and organically for over 75 years. When it was fashionable to use chemicals in the 1960’s-1980’s, they refused. Their soil has never been treated with anything but sunlight, rainwater and their own hard work. If there was an organic case-study to follow, to prove just how important it is to farm vineyards without interference, this is it.
As a producer of "en flor" (an extremely complex and delicate process), they use a veil (or flor) that forms on the surface of the wine in the barrel it help define the framework and character of each wine. The natural yeasts that form the flor render each rendition of Bodegas Robles with a flavor dimension that must be tasted to be understood.