The aroma is full of fresh dates and figs, while the taste is very broad and complex with dates, figs, English toffee, raisins, as well as a hint of warm spices like mace, clove, and Vietnamese cinnamon. It is a full, full flavor that is soft and furry, and explodes on your tongue with every sip, ending with a strong, long, and lingering finish.
If you like rum raisins and toffee you will go wild over this wine. I found it delightful served chilled in a small wine glass, and spent many hours in front of my fireplace taking tiny sips, and letting the syrupy goodness wash over my tongue and through my soul. I can't say enough good things about this sweet and luscious wine.
This wine is made from Pedro Ximénez grapes (see note1 below.) The grapes are usually hand picked in mid-September and dried on straw mats in the sun, being turned carefully by hand very day. This is done until they lose so much moisture that they are reduced to half their original size, and are nearly raisins. When they are crushed and squeezed they give off an amazingly thick and sweet brown must (juice) containing at least 300 grams of sugar per liter, creating what is known as the raisin wine style. (See note 2 below)
Then, before fermentation starts, the must is fortified with neutral spirits to nine percent alcohol. This young wine is called vino tierno (tender wine.) As the fermentation progresses the alcohol level is eventually increased to16-18 percent, partially through the use of more neutral spirits. Then the wine is matured using the slow solera (steps) and criadera (nursery) system (see note 3 below.)
Located in the town of Montilla, in the province of Cordoba, in Andalucia, Alvear S.A. was built by Diego de Alvear in 1729, and has remained under control of the Alvear family ever since. This is the oldest winery in the area and its fino wine is one of the top three in Spain. The vineyards are located at an elevation of 1,050 ft. and are formed of the famous chalky soil called Albariza with 40-year-old vines.
Only 300 cases of 375 ml half bottles of Alvear Pedro Ximénez De Anada 2003 were imported to the US, and the price is an extremely reasonable at $14-$22 per bottle. I'm going to try my darnedest to locate and sip as much of those 300 cases as I can lay my hands on.
Note: 1 Pedro Ximénez is also known as Pedro Jiménez and Pero Ximen. Although usually associated with sweetening sherry, sometimes small amounts of sherry-style Pedro Ximénez wines are used to soften blended whiskeys in the United States. Pedro Ximénez is widely planted in Spain's Montilla-Moriles area where it's often processed to make a sherry-style wine. It's also a major grape of Spain's Málaga region where it's made into high-alcohol, medium to sweet wines.
Note 2: The raisin style wine, minus the slight addition of spirits, is thought by some wine historians to be one of the oldest wine styles in the world, going back to Crete and ancient Greece. The first written description on making these wines can be traced to Hesiod in the 8th century B.C., and Homer prized these types of wine dearly.
Note 3: The Solera (steps) and Criadera (nursery) system is where wine is put up in a series of very large casks, set up in levels/stairs. As the oldest/lowest cask matures and has part of the wine removed to bottle, then wine is added to the oldest cask from the next oldest, and so on up the levels, so that over the years new wine is added to older wine, being added to even older wine. Usually there are 12-14 steps in a criadera with the bottom one containing the oldest wine called the solera, and the one up called the first criadera, then the second criadera, and so on up the stairs.