Montilla-Moriles: The Original Amontillado
We begin in Córdoba today, a land 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. (Photo of Cordoba Mosque, above, courtesy of Wines of Spain.)
Unlike the past few days, there will be no ocean breezes to cool the riders as they slog their way through today’s long, exhausting stage. This part of Spain bakes every summer under oven-like conditions that each year are the hottest in the country. Add to that the fact that the peloton will be laboring up and down steep hills the entire way, and you have the potential for serious upheavals in the race. Unrelenting stages like this one are what the Spaniards call rompepiernas or leg-breaking. Sounds fun to watch though, doesn’t it?
For about the first 180 km, the riders will pedal through hilly terrain that culminates in the Cat 3 ascent up the Alto de Baeza. Then, as if race officials flipped a switch, the upward routes become dramatically steeper and more punishing. Our finale today is a daunting 20 km climb up to Alto de Cazorla, also a Cat 3, leading to a sharp descent at the bottom of which the riders will haul themselves straight up again to the finish line. I’m exhausted just writing about it! Look for one of the locals, perhaps Alejandro Valverde, to make his mark today.
What About Wine?
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. 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.
Viva la Vuelta!