Wine production in Spain’s most southerly zone dates back 3,000 years. However, Islamic Moors inhabited this part of the country from the 8th century through the late 15th century, during which time hardly any wine was made.
During the centuries after the Moors left Spain, wines from Andalucía have become synonymous with fortified dry and sweet offerings made in the so-called Sherry Triangle, as well as in the lesser-known regions of Montilla-Moriles and Málaga.
Fortified Sherry wines first gained popularity in Great Britain in the 16th century. Sherry is based largely on Palomino, Pedro Ximénez (P.X.) and Moscatel grapes grown in white-chalk soils called albariza. These wines range in style from crisp fino and saline-driven manzanilla (the latter made exclusively in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda), to richer bottlings of amontillado, oloroso and palo cortado. With the addition of sun-dried P.X. or Moscatel, Sherry producers can make sweet fortified wines with viscous textures and hedonistic flavors of chocolate, raisin and prune.
While fortified wines from the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar and El Puerto de Santa María shine as Andalucía’s best-known offerings, fans of Sherry should not overlook Montilla-Moriles, a small, denominated region south of Córdoba. Spain’s first solera-aged wines were allegedly made here. This method involves aging wines for long periods of time—often many years—in individual barrels. Small amounts of mature wine are periodically drawn from the oldest barrels for bottling and replaced with younger stocks. This process was later adopted by Jerezano producers. Today, the primary grape in Montilla-Moriles is P.X.
In Málaga, the best wines come from dry Moscatel de Alexandria grown on gnarled old vines at elevations eclipsing 3,000 feet, though the region also produces fortified wines.