Montilla and Highland Park

The sherry industry and the whisky industry appear to go hand in hand with the passing of old sherry casks from Bodega to distillery to allow such “sherry-bombs” as Aberlour A’bunadh and the Macallan sherry oak range. Despite being the leading fortified wine in the UK market, with figures of £89million, it still, to some, seems to retain its reputation of Grandma’s Christmas tipple.

I recently went to Andalusia and had an opportunity to head to Montilla. Whilst it is not in the sherry triangle, Montilla is a major centre for wine production and has inspired the Amontillado style sherry – Amontillado meaning “in the style of Montilla. I went to the Alvear Bodega and enjoyed their very welcoming hospitality. Unfortunately, due to EU directives on overproduction of wine, 65,000 acres of vineyard has been reduced to 6,000 acres with a massive increase in olive groves. For the last hour and a half of driving towards Montilla, nothing but olive trees were visible in any direction, as far as the eye could see.

Although not technically sherry, Alvear do produce a fantastic Olorosso wine. The opportunity to taste the flavours that influence the Sherry Bomb whiskies was a fantastic education. Interestingly, Alvear suggest they send their old and decrepit barrels to Scotland, where the distilleries in whisky’s homeland say they are fresh and new “sherry” casks. Unfortunately, I was unable to ascertain which distilleries Alvear supply their casks to but, if anyone knows, I’d love to find out. The flavours in the olorosso were phenomenal: plums, peaches, dried cranberries, red berries, cloves, nutmeg, but combined both molasses type sweetness and deep, rich savoury notes.

So, trying this Highland Park and tasting those notes come through the whisky, suddenly the “classic sherry matured flavours” that whisky writers everywhere talk so much about made far more sense. Being able to separate the honey and smoke flavours from the peat and the barley and the fruity, Christmas cake, spicy flavours from the sherry, along with the vanilla hints from the oak itself. As a brief aside, Alvear (and, so they say, many other sherry manufacturers) use American oak in their casks, as they suggest that true Spanish oak is now a very rare commodity.

This is an interesting variation on the Highland Park theme – more precise flavours coming through, a refinement of the normal presentation rather than a departure. Very drinkable, just as the 12 year old, but provides that extra talking point by being a) a specific vintage and b) travel retail only, thus forcing whoever you share this with to listen as you regale them with tales of your holiday and the obligatory slide show. Thankfully, the whisky may distract them enough to put up with it.

Highland Park 2001 Vintage
Colour: deep honey
Nose: milk chocolate, barley sugar, cool smoke, earthy notes, with floral honey.
Body: warm and viscous
Palate: creamy milk chocolate, satsumas, floral heather smoke, creme brûlée.
Finish: caramelised sugar and chocolate, slightly smoky trail, but left with a distinct taste of honey.

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