Montilla-Moriles is a DO wine zone in Andalucia, southern Spain. Centred around the towns of Montilla and Moriles, it is located about 25 miles (45km) south of Cordoba and 60 miles (100km) north of the Mediterranean coast at Malaga, making it the most northerly of Andalucia's DO wine regions. The landscape here is dry and flat, speckled with wheat, olives and vines, the makings of the ancient essentials: bread, oil and wine.
This area's long winemaking history, which dates back to the 8th Century BC, is quite possibly the oldest in all of Andalucia. For a long time much of the wine produced here was used to make Sherry and Malaga, as these names were significantly more marketable and more famous than either Montilla or Moriles. This remained the status quo right up until 1945, when Montilla and Moriles were granted their own 'Montilla-Moriles' DO title with which to label and market their wines.
The Montilla-Moriles DO covers an area about 25 miles (40km) wide and roughly square, with Montilla at its centre. As well as Montilla and Moriles, the area incorporates five other parishes in their entirety (Dona Mencia, Montalban, Monturque, Nueva Carteya, Puente Genil) and a further ten in part (Aguilar de la Frontera, Baena, Cabra, Castro del Rio, Espejo, Fernan Nunez, La Rambla, Lucena, Montemayor and Santaella).
Even though Montilla lies 100 miles (160km) northeast and inland from Jerez de la Frontera, the soils here are remarkably similar. The same blinding-white Albariza is present throughout the region, and is just as valued here as in Jerez for its high albedo (the amount of sunlight it reflects back up to the vines). Its excellent moisture retention is also a significant boon – this area is hotter than almost anywhere on the entire Iberian Peninsula.
The climate is also not dissimilar from that in Jerez, with roughly 600mm of annual rainfall and summer and between 2800 and 3000 hours of effective sunshine annually. Average summer daytime temperatures are around 30°C, but have been known to rise well above 40°C when the hot levante wind blows in from the east. Both Jerez and Montilla are measurably hotter than Sanlucar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa Maria, which enjoy the cooling influences of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Montilla-Moriles region is known for its rich dessert wines, which are categorized via the same classification system as that used for Sherry in Jerez. The wines produced in Montilla-Moriles, however, are generally not fortified (with some exceptions, such as Oloroso), as the Pedro Ximenez grapes achieve extraordinary ripeness in this hot and dry climate – a mix of Mediterranean and semi-continental.
The wines ferment to between 14 and 16% alcohol, leaving behind plenty of residual sugar. They are then matured using the solera system and classified into the following styles:
Joven Afrutado (young and fruity): these are the most basic wines from Montilla-Moriles, dry or slightly sweet and consumed young. All the grape varieties grown in Montilla can be used for this wine.
Fino: produced using the same techniques as Fino sherry, although the flor yeast responsible for imparting its distinct character to the wine is often not as effective in Montilla due to its hot climate (the average temperature in July is 97.2F/36.2C). These wines are dry, nutty and light in texture.
Amontillado: means 'Montilla-style'. This wine starts its maturation period under a film of flor, but once the yeast dissipates, the wine gradually oxidizes, changing its colour to brown or amber. As the oxidative maturation continues, the wine gains amazing complexity – a hallmark of this style. Most Amontillado Montillas are sweet, made from the region's noble grape variety, Pedro Ximénez.
Oloroso: a richer, heavier and darker style of Montilla made from Pedro Ximenez.
Palo Cortado: an intermediate style between an Amontillado and Oloroso. These Montillas display the crispness of Amontillados and the richness of Olorosos.