We race into the outskirts of Córdoba today, a city with a rich and multicultural past. It was captured by invading Islamic armies in the 8th century, when it was named Qurtubah and annexed into the Caliphate of Córdoba. At that time, the city was one of the most populous in Europe and was a center for advanced education – universities and medical schools were state-of-the-art, and the population as a whole was cultured and well-educated. It was also a society in which Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in harmony and collaborated in advancing a society to which all made significant contributions.
I’m not optimistic about the cyclists getting on well, however. Unlike the past few days, there will be no ocean breezes to cool them as they slog their way through today’s long, exhausting stage. This part of Spain bakes every summer under oven-like conditions that are the hottest in the country. Not to mention that the peloton will be laboring up and down steep hills the entire way, creating potential for serious upheavals in the overall race. Unrelenting stages like this one are what the Spaniards call rompepiernas or leg-breaking. Sounds fun to watch though, doesn’t it?
Saturday will be a day for the climbers, with a Cat 3 and Cat 2 climb, followed by an HC (beyond category) ascent up the Sierra de la Pandera, the highest point in the Sur de Jaén mountains. Oh yeah, this last climb tops out at just over 6,000 feet. It’ll be a long, slow, push to the summit for those who have made it this far. As we watch the GC contenders carry out strategic attacks on their rivals, only to be reeled back in, let’s toast their perseverance – and their quads – with a glass of local wine.
Montilla-Moriles: The Original Amontillado
This hot, dry land is home to the DO Montilla-Moriles, best known for its fortified wines that resemble Sherry in style. In fact, wines from this area are thought to pre-date Sherry and in some cases are still used in blends crafted in Jerez. Aged Fino Sherry, well-known and appreciated around the world, takes its name from the wines of Montilla-Moriles: Amontillado literally means “in the style of Montilla.” Ironically, because of DO regulations, wines exported from Montilla-Moriles cannot label themselves as Amontillado, a term that may be used only by producers in Jerez.
While the styles of the wines from the two regions are similar, there are some striking differences. The chalky albariza soils of Jerez, credited for producing wines of finesse and elegance, comprise only a small portion of the terroir in Montilla-Moriles. As a result, the famed Palomino grape which is the foundation of Fino Sherry, does not fare well in Montilla-Moriles. Instead, wines are based on Pedro Ximénez (a.k.a. Pedro or PX), a grape that accounts for over 70% of all plantings, and is commonly used for very sweet varietal wines. These wines are aged in tinajas, earthenware (or perhaps concrete) vats that derive from the amphorae used by the ancient inhabitants across Europe to produce their libations.
For today’s sipping suggestion, I recommend a Fino or Amontillado Sherry from Jerez. If you can find a bottle from Montilla-Moriles, so much the better. And, as you raise your glass, take a moment to remember the original Amontillado wine, which hails from a warm, sunny spot high above the sea.
I’ll be back with some ideas for Sunday’s race, Stage 15, which brings us to the highest point in the 2017 Vuelta, the Sierra Nevada. Dominating the landscape above the city of Granada, this mountain will deliver over 8,000 feet of climbing pain to the peloton. At day’s end, they will have ascended more than 10,000 feet. It’s a stage that could shake up or cement the overall classification. Don’t miss it!