Friday, 15 November 2013

A Century of PX

Toro Albala Don PX Montill-Morilles, with Antonio Sagata


Last Wednesday morning was perhaps the most hedonistic of my life, thanks to a tasting of some of the sweetest wines in the world, spanning a hundred years.  A recent 100 point score, in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, for one of these wines just put the whole region of Montilla-Morilles in the spotlight so I was eager to find out more for myself.

Coming to Andalucia in the 16th Century, the Pedro Ximenez grape (PX) has long been grown in Montilla-Morilles. Toro Albala was established in 1844 and like the other wineries in the region it sold its PX in bulk to Jerez, for use in sweetening their Sherries.   In 1950, Toro Albala decided instead to raise the quality and start to bottle the wines themselves.  This proved successful and the business soon outgrew its original premises.  Production was moved to the local disused electrical power station and their Fino became known locally as ‘Electrico’ or ‘High Voltage’! 

Unlike most sherry production, Toro Albala’s PX wines are not blended in a Solera but are single vintage.  It takes some 5 kilos of raisined grapes to produce every litre of PX.  This results in up to a phenomenal 650 grams per litre of residual sugar.  The latest vintages are cold filtered in steel tanks for one month at -20 C before being left for a further two years, during which time they deposit sugar crystals.  Some vintages receive the addition of between 5 and 20% Amontillado in order to increase acidity and reduce the overall sweetness and maintain balance.  This balance is fundamental to the ageing capability of Don PX.  Wines are not released in consecutive order but instead are offered as and when the winery believes they are drinking best.

Recommended food pairings include chocolate, Fois Gras and blue cheese but personally I’d enjoy them on their own as an aperitif.  Antonio advised that due to the oxidative nature of the production, these wines can easily be kept for six months after opening. 

Prior to tasting these, my preconceptions of Montilla, were of a region playing second fiddle to Jerez and I have to admit to wondering whether I would find the PX all very similar across the range of vintages.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Sure, they’re all sweet but that’s where the similarity ends.  The bouquets and palates are so unbelievably complex that no two years are the same.  Even the colours vary significantly, with older not necessarily signifying darker.

The Tasting:

2010 Don PX Dulce de Pasas
Amber coloured. Freshly peeled orange zest, pink grapefruit, fig and Greek honey aromas. Thickly viscous. Utterly unctuous. Caramelised bananas, vanilla ice cream. Pure and fresh, with a delicacy that belies its richness.

1983 Don PX Gran Reserva
The colour of molasses. Complex aromatics of bitter chocolate, intense dried fruit character of figs, prunes and cranberries. Although very sweet, the wine is defined by its vibrant, rapier like acidity. Fresh and vigorous. Madeira cake with glace cherries.

1976 Don PX Double Label
Very dark brown with a reddish tinge at the rim. A very different aromatic profile. This has a distinct smokiness and notes of dark soy sauce, cracked black pepper and game. As it evolves in the glass, quince and intense cassis aromas come through. This is more delicate and feminine, with rosewater, ripe red cherries and raspberries. Fresh and invigorating. This has a long, tapering finish. Amazingly harmonious and energetic for its age.

1962 Don PX Double Label
Dark brown with orange / yellow rim.  Complex aromas of cigar box and spice. Licorice too. Supple and soft. This has had all the edges knocked off. Ripe and full, loaded with fruitcake flavours. Perfectly balanced with extraordinary depth and concentration, again lifted by precise acidity. So so long.

1949 Don PX Double Label
Significantly more faded brown. Tobacco, vanilla pod, beeswax and tropical notes. This is a bouquet to linger over like a fine aged Cognac. Ripe Gallia melon, sweet potato and roasted butternut squash. Elegant and feminine. Mind blowing complexity and length. The finish is like a dark, caramelised toffee fudge. Awesome.

1946 Don PX Double Label
Darker colour this time. Mahogany. Cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger and rose perfume. This is exceptionally heady. Hard to tear myself away from the nose, it is almost addictive. Pure and sensual. Mocha and cinnamon. The way this caresses the palate is unbelievable. I can still taste this well over a minute later.

1939 Don PX Double Label
A slightly lighter mahogany. Espresso coffee and black chocolate, followed by highly aromatic beeswax. Thickly textured but balanced and refined, just avoids becoming cloying. Coffee liqueur and clotted cream. One of the most intensely concentrated wines I've ever experienced. Very long miso paste finish.

1911 Don PX Double Label
Dark red brown, like a 40y.o. Tawny. Oxtail and soy initially then more tropical fruits and finally antique furniture. Passion fruit and wild strawberry. This is the most intense wine here. Bitter black cherry and dried apricot. An almost medicinal quality. Would that my cough linctus tasted this good, though!

By Simon Quinn - BWI

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