Alvear – a small sherry?

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Bodega Monumental Alvear © Alvear

Together Editor Catherine Feore visits  the oldest bodega in Andalucia.

The Alvear bodega was founded in 1729 by Diego de Alvear y Escalera. It is located in the town of Montilla, about 30 miles south of Cordoba, and it has been in the Alvear family for ten generations.

Outside of Spain, sherry was something that an older generation might have as an aperitif, it wasn’t something that young people ordered and in the 80s exports plummeted. This period was known as the ‘sherry crisis’ and the sector’s international reputation has taken time to recover; but with a new appreciation of all things artisanal, chefs and the wider public are turning the tide on this most under-rated of drinks. There is also something for everyone, I particularly love the finos, as well as the more aromatic amontillados and palo cortados. I visited different bodegas with a friend who loved the depth and sweetness of the Pedro Ximénez wines.

“Alvear bodega was founded in 1729 by Diego de Alvear y Escalera”

Adrián Mancheño, Executive Chef of Hispania, sings its praises: “These wines are extremely underrated, and it is unfair.  They are unique in the world for their organoleptic characteristics. Personally I love them. At Hispania we pair them with all kinds of dishes, even desserts. For example, our caramelized torrija with vanilla ice cream and orujo cream, is normally paired with an Oloroso Lustau.”

“Andalucia has three recognised Denominación de Origen”

Andalucia has three recognised Denominación de Origen, or DO wines. The best known are those from the so-called ‘Sherry Triangle’: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar and El Puerto de Santa María. Málaga and Montilla-Moriles are less well known, but have their own unique terroir and wine making traditions. In fact Alvear, founded in 1729 is the oldest winery in all of Andalucia. Málaga also produces a lovely wine from Moscatel de Alexandria grapes, grown at high elevation. 

One of the key factors that makes the Alvear fortified wines unique is their use of the Pedro Ximénez grape. This grape’s origin is still shrouded in mystery. According to legend, the variety originally came from the Rhine, brought to Spain by a soldier in Carlos V army. More plausible theories, however, point to the Canary Islands as its place of origin.

“Pedro Ximénez automatically brings to mind the raisin and prune like perfumes”

Pedro Ximénez automatically brings to mind the raisin and prune like perfumes and the thin molasses like texture of the very sweet sherry of that name; but the grape is in fact remarkably versatile as Alvear demonstrates with the wide range of fortified wines it produces, including fino, amontillado, oloroso, palo cortado and – of course – Pedro Ximénez. Each of these wines is made using traditional methods that have been passed down through generations of Alvear winemakers. The pre-eminent grape in the sherry triangle, by contrast, is Palomino Fino.

The vineyards owned by Alvear, and those it manages through long-term agreements with regional growers, include those from the Sierra de Montilla. The area has fewer than 2,000 hectares and is certified as ‘Calidad Superior’, the equivalent to the Grand Cru denomination. It isn’t easy to find these wines in Belgium, but Xpertvinum based in Leest has a remarkable selection and the good news is that they deliver to Brussels. 

Here are just a few of our recommendations

Alvear, Vino De Pueblo, is fermented in traditional earthenware ‘Tinajas’. It is a light wine with  notes of pear and wild fennel, €14.20.

Alvear, Cerro Franco, Macho and Antonin are vinified in old fino casks. Franco has floral notes, with touches of roast almond and a long finish. Macho grapes are from the highest slopes of the Sierra de Montilla which are exposed to strong winds, there is a marked salinity which makes it the perfect choice for seafood, especially oysters. The Antonin has touches of aniseed, baked apple and a subtle sour finish which pairs well with tapas and pork. All €28.30

We found the best selection of Alvear wines at www.xpertvinum.be