From the rolling hills of the Northern Sierra Morena down to the Mediterranean-lapping Costa del Sol, Andalucia may be the most varied part of Spain – in every way. Cultures have melded together here for centuries: Muslims, Christians and Jews, peacefully living side-by-side. Architecture styles span from Byzantine to Moorish. With wines as sweet as azucar. This is Montilla-Moriles – a DO of Poe-etic proportions.
And one that truly takes advantage of incredible train travel.
History Through the Grapevine
The “registerd” name Montilla began back in 1912, as a way to designate the wine from this region, as well as to to participate in international wine fairs. Before then, the name Zapateros was used (and didn’t mean much to anyone judging these things.)
The Estatuto de la Viña y el Vino in 1932 protected the full name Montilla-Moriles, establishing that only the producers in this area could legally use the moniker. There are currently 84 wineries (bodegas) listed in the DO, spread out over 7000 hectares. Come judge for yourself.
Montilla-Moriles mainly produces sweet dessert wines using similar techniques to those used in the production of sherry. We don’t want to bore you with the technical, but here’s the basic premise. A layer of yeast forms on the surface of the “must” in the cask. This is the young fruit juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. A chemical reaction takes place, reducing the acidity and affecting the taste.
The result? Pure, sweet and delectable. Here’s a sample.
Fino is the most most common wine in the region and pales in comparison to the others – literally. This is the most “white” of the wines: pale yellow in color, drier in flavor. From here, tastes become more complex.
The Amontillado. Made famous by Edgar Allen Poe’s startling story of revenge, the story mirrors the flavors: complex, persistent, juicy. More amber in tone.
Moscatel: Often found on the “cordial” list you get after a nice meal, this natural sweet wine is the perfect accompaniment to dessert. Made when the grape is incredibly ripe and almost in a raisin state, the taste is akin to liquid candy.
At the heart of a wine cellar is the cask in which the wine is aged. Little is used to create a cask: just some steel instruments and fire. Each is comprised of 25 perfectly joined staves (wood boards) with an opening known as the unappetizing “bung hole.”
Montilla-Moriles has bodegas that have been making wine far longer than its recognized DO status. Founded in 1905, Pérez Barquero has spread to all corners of the world as one of the top exporters of the zone. The cellar has picked up several distinguished awards along the way for its Finos and Amontillados.
Even older, the 1844 Toro Albalá has classical Andalusian features, with numerous gardens and two important museums related to wine. One is dedicated to popular art and archaeology, while the other contains objects and implements. With tours and samples, this is a wonderful opportunity to see the wine making process from grape to taste.
The Must See: Mezquita
Montilla-Moriles is just 25 miles away from Cordoba and its magnificent Mezquita. The town delights travelers with its old Arab and Jewish quarters and the narrow, cobblestone streets lined with homes boasting flower-filled patios and balconies.
The miraculous Mezquita dates back to the 10th century when Cordoba reached its zenith as the most prosperous and populous city in Europe, outshining Byzantium and Baghdad in science, culture and the arts. The development of the great mosque paralleled these achievements.
Its most notable architectural design is its giant candy-cane arches and its forest of over 850 columns. These were taken from the Roman temple, which had previously occupied the site and other destroyed Roman buildings. Outside, the Courtyard of the Orange Trees (Patio de los Naranjos) is perfumed with citrus blossoms.
Toast to your Travels
The Mezquita is within reach when traveling onboard the high-speed AVE. From Madrid, the journey south takes less than two hours. But don’t stop here. As we said earlier, Andalucia is the apex of Spain train travel.
From Cordoba, make your way 2.5 hours to Granada, home of the palatial Alhambra. Part fortress (the Alcazaba), part palace, part garden (the Generalife) and part government city (the Medina), this medieval complex overlooking the city is a UNESCO Heritage Site and the most visited attraction in Spain.
Three hours from Granada is sexy Seville, home to the Plaza of Spain, the Door of Jerez and sour Seville Oranges.
Point to point tickets for each of these routes can be booked online up to 60 days in advance, and the tickets will be issued in a convenient ‘Print at Home’ electronic format. Choose from Economy (second class), Comfort (first class), or Premier (business class).
If you’re traveling with a rail pass that includes Spain, the pass will cover the ticket prices of these trains and you will just need to purchase the seat reservation supplements for the specific times you’d like to travel. We recommend ordering the reservations at the same time as your pass, and that way everything will be shipped together in one convenient little package.
Admire the fruit, taste the wine. Travel by train to this land of cultural divine.
(It’s not Poe, but it speaks the truth.)