When I first came to Spain 5 years ago, I was just starting to get into wine. As someone who was a mere 9 months into their 21st year on Earth, the world of alcohol was still somewhat new. (Yes, I was one of those nerds who didn't drink until I was almost legally of age.)
However, I had it in my head that wine was a classy and sophisticated drink: my family always drank it during big holiday dinners, it was served at fancy-pants restaurants and there was an air of suavity when people spoke of it.
And I wanted to be classy, sophisticated and suave adult...so, wine it was!
(Side note: there have been plenty of times since I started drinking wine where it was not a "classy, sophisticated and suave adult," but that's another story for another day.)
But regardless of my desire to be classy af with a glass of vino in my hand, wine was probably THE drink of choice in Spain anyways. So, win-win (wine-wine?)
When I was here in 2011, I remember spending an embarrassingly long amount of time staring blankly at the towering rows of dark glass bottles in front of me at grocery stores. It was hard enough for me to pick out wine in the United States without knowing "wine lingo" and now I was trying to do it in another country and in another language.
I would hesitantly take a bottle of red wine down from the shelf, turn it over in my hands, glance over the gibberish (aka Spanish) on the label, only to put it back on the shelf again.
After several long minutes though, I would always cut my losses, grab the closest bottle and just be confident in my knowledge that I was drinking a bottle of red wine that was "a product of Spain," and had a 13.5% alcoholic content.
...But it was usually delicious. And most of the time under 5 Euros.
This time around in Spain however, I am much more knowledgeable when it comes to wine. Several years of drinking it, along with living and working in Napa Valley, will give you a little more confidence when picking out bottles.
But I still wanted to know a little big more about this Spanish Nectar of the Gods I was drinking on a nightly basis (#SorryImNotSorry.) So I did a little bit of research about the history of winemaking in Spain and the new, up-and-coming wine region of Montilla Moriles.
A Little History
Spanish winemaking is believed to have originated over 3,000 years ago in southwest Andalucia. The Phoenicians planted vines throughout the hills of what is present day Cadíz and Jerez and soon wine became one of the most sought-after trading products in the Mediterranean.
Wine continued to flourish under the Roman Empire, where they introduced some of their own techniques that added fruity, floral aromas and flavors. Wine production slowed during the subsequent Arab rule, but after the reconquest of Spain by Catholic kings, winemaking flourished as it played a significant role in religious rituals, became a popular part of the local diet and had the potential for commercial exchange and success.
The winemaking sector faced difficult times when vineyards were hit with the arrival of phylloxera, the Civil War and World War II. In the 1950's, Spanish winemakers "began a renovation and modernization of the winemaking processes and wineries," which has now developed into the unique and unforgettable wines produced throughout the country today.
The Montilla Moriles Wine Route
One of the most intriguing wine regions in Andalucia is the up-and-coming Montilla Moriles. Situated in the heart of Andalucia, between the destination points of Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba, Montilla Moriles has a tranquil beauty and charm that rivals that of Napa and Sonoma Valley. And this region offers more than your simple wine tasting experience. The seven towns along the wine route form what is known as "Campaña Sur" and each is more intoxicating than the next. (And I'm not talking about alcoholic content.)
It is hard not be entranced by their strong and unforced sense of artistic, architectural, historical and ethnographic heritage as you tour through the Arab Muslim medieval palace of Medina Azahara in Córdoba or find yourself surrounded by the authentic pottery and ceramics of La Rambla.
If there is one thing that makes Montilla Moriles stand out from the rest, it is the non-commercialized and almost untouched feel throughout the region. Wine-makers have small unique wineries where grapes are pressed in lagares, usually located at the center of the vineyard. Traditional white-washed farmhouses, or cortijos, can still be found between the vines and olive trees. This is a place to live and breathe quintessential Andalucia.
Living in Sevilla, I like the thought of buying this local wine and I'm already thinking about a possible weekend get-away. But for now, the only trip I'm taking is to the local store in search of a Oloroso, a "full-bodied wine with a solemn aroma of vine, sun and oak wood."
And if that doesn't work out, the Tempranillo for 3.20€ is usually pretty darn good too.
References: www.espavino.com, Wines from Spain, NYTimes.com
Published by Lindsey O'Connor