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The Ministry of Agriculture has recently granted the best Spanish wine of 2019 award to the Fino Capataz Solera de la Casa, original from Montilla-Moriles (Bodegas Alvear) in Montilla (Córdoba). The quality of a wine that, as of today, is not very popular among users and is constantly undervalued by the world’s wine industry is finally acknowledged.

The DOP Montilla-Moriles (denominación de origen: an official record that guarantees the quality and origin of a product. In this case, the DOP Montilla-Moriles refers to a certain type of wine made in a certain specific way and in a very specific area within a region of Spain) has to overcome plenty of obstacles so that the brand and its product can be seen in a rigged market, as its wines have for decades fallen behind the popular Jerez or Sherry. Both are among the oldest DOPs in the country (around 1930) and, obviously, have had some issues between them. It is almost impossible to determine which DOP came first for we are talking about an industry older than Spain itself. The Romans imported from the Baetica minerals but also wines. For instance, we know that Seneca had a vineyard in Moriles and its grapes and wines were greatly appreciated by the philosopher.

In 1970 a clash between these two old and prestigious DOPs occurred. Marco Jerez managed to be the only DOP that could legally sell its veil-of-flor wines as “Fino”. Needless to say that the DOP Montilla-Moriles appealed this decision and won, hence, being able to legally use the brand name “Fino” for its wines too, as it had been for centuries. Plus there is a small but titanic difference: the DOP Marco Jerez, because of the sight difference in clime, needs to add aguardiente of wine (an alcoholic beverage made from wine) to reach the 15º that characterize a Fino wine. Whereas in the case of the DOP Montilla-Moriles this trick is not necessary as the clime makes it possible to reach the problematic 15º without extra help making it a 100% Fino wine. So, given the case, which one do you think makes for a better purer Fino wine?

The other injustice against Fino wines, in general, would be the price, as it does not account for the real value of the wine. In other words: in order to make a Fino wine two years of aging are required plus another two to four years inside the oak barrels protected by the veil of flor, a total of six years. Any other wine in the country with that many years would easily sell for 40 euros a bottle. However, these Fino wines are way undervalued in the market, one can buy them for as little as 3 euros a liter. Many factors are to blame for it: production, consumption and marketing. I take this recent award as sign of justice and fairness toward a wine and a DOP that despite its low market value has never ceased to try and make the best product honoring the tradition. Congratulation Bodegas Alvear!


Here you can appreciate the veil of flor and at the back the mother which is conformed by the rests of the veil; the veil is a living organism and is constantly growing, like a yeast.

 
HOW CAN YOU DISTINGUISH A FINO WINE?

We can say that it is a pale wine, dry, slightly bitter, light and intensely fragrant and with an alcohol content between 14º and 15º. The vast majority of Fino wines comes from the Pedro Ximénez grape with a total of 95% of vineyards being of this type. Fino contains a high level of alcohol for a wine while the wine itself is very sensitive to humidity causing it to frequently go bad; this is one the reasons why vineyards in Jerez no longer use the Palomino type grape.

Up until we obtain the mosto (that is how a young wine after its first fermentation is called), a Fino wine follows the same process that any other white wine. But once this mosto is obtained the wine will need to reach certain other minimum conditions and, for example, the impure sediments will be cleansed and the wine will go to the American oak barrels where gradually a veil of flor would form and protect the wine from oxidation. For a period of one to two years the wine will rest in these barrels, then a selection takes place. The wine experts will determine which wines will make a good oloroso, an amontillado or a Fino. If the wine has developed a delicate but sharp fragrance, a dry but subtle taste and it reminisces of almonds, then and only then, the wine will be developed into a Fino. The next stage will be the process of aging. 

The barrels are made of American oak and have a capacity of between 250 and 600 liters, of which a percentage is remove and used to fill other barrels. These barrels specifically have three or four different levels. From the bottom ones (soleras because they are closest to the suelo, that is the floor) a third is pull out for consumption. From the intermediate levels (first criadera or breeding level) a quantity equal to that that was pulled out is poured into the bottom level. The same rules applies to the top levels (second criadera). The top level is filled with new wine. This system allows for a very high quality product for in each level a large quantity of old wine “teaches” the new wine how it should be.

That is also the reason why Jerez or Montilla-Moriles wines do not have a specific vintage year: every bottle has a unique mixture of wines that have aged homogeneously. Here also lies the reason why antiquity is such a valued factor for a Fino winery, as with this aging system a trace of the original first wine poured into the levels remains, and this is quite a praised feature for a wine maker.


 

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