MALAGA is making a comeback. Bizarrely, one of Spain’s most popular tourist areas is home to some of its best wine gems today.
With a long, distinguished history of making rich, intense, sweet, raisiny fortified wines, the Malaga wines now making waves are fresh, zippy, dry white table wines and elegant, sweet dessert wines.
About half of Malaga and Sierras de Malaga is planted with moscatel, as muscat of Alexandria is known here. It is grown in the western zone around Estepona and in the eastern coastal zone in Malaga of Axarquia on steep terraced vineyards and slatey soils. About 90 per cent of moscatel from here is dried in the sun on “esparto” grass mats in a process called “soleo”, but the new dry styles of table wine made from stainless steel fermented grapes to dryness are becoming increasingly popular.
These picturesque terraces are difficult to mechanise, so despite being planted as early as 600BC, with Greeks, Romans and Moors making wine here, when the vine louse phylloxera hit, many vineyards were abandoned and only a handful of bodegas lived to tell the tale.
The first in the modern era to make a modern style of dry wine here was one of Spain’s best known flying winemakers, Telmo Rodriguez. Having renovated the beautiful Remelluri estate, his family winery in Rioja, in 1994 he headed off into the lesser known regions of Spain.
Rodriquez’s floral, elegant Molino Real wine restored Malaga’s status. Today he makes Mountain Wine made from 500-1,000 metre high vineyards in the Sierras de Malaga.
In 2004 a local, Jorge Ordoñez, one of the US’s most prominent Spanish wine importers, set up a new winery with his sister Victoria and the Austrian sweet winemaker Alois Kracher. Together they established a new winery near Almachar. Sadly Alois died in 2008, but his son Gerhard carried on the partnership with Ordoñez and a new New Zealand winemaker, Alistair Gardner. Since 2010 they have been making fabulous wines from steep slopes and red slate soils. Victoria Ordoñez writes an amusing blog entitled Musings of a Malaga wine goddess. Ordoñez now make five excellent wines from moscatel.
Another new winery is Bodegas Bentomiz, run by Clara Verheij and Andre Both who left Holland for Sayalonga near Malaga in 2003, after falling in love with the southern Spanish way of life. They have restored one of Malaga’s many abandoned vineyards which had 80-100 year old moscatel vines growing between 500 and 1,000 metres.
With its Axarquia slate soils, good altitude, warm climate, a focus on using organic methods and a dedication to age-old methods, their sweet wines are sensational. Grapes for their Dulce are hand-picked and dried on mats. Four kilos of grapes make just one litre of wine and are sold under the name of Ariyanas, after a Moorish hamlet. They also make a dry moscatel on slatey terroir, sweet moscatels and a cabernet sauvignon/tempranillo/rome red blend.
Others to look for include Malaga Virgen, now run by the fourth generation of the founding family. They make some venerable 30-year-old Reserve de Familia aged in barriques and traditional clay tinajas – and have started to make reds. Others like Cortijo Los Agiulares near Ronda make interesting reds from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and pinot noir.
I hope Scottish retailers will read this and stock these wines as they are some of the best dry and sweet whites in Spain today.
Botani Blanco Moscatel Seco 2012 Jorge Ordoñez
(£9.79, www.vinissimus.co.uk; Fine & Rare Wines; Cambridge Wine Merchants; Wines of Interest)
This is a brilliant wine. People are often sceptical when they see the label as they don’t know what to expect, but this is always an absolute winner at tastings. Crisp grapefruit notes, fleshy mid-palate with minerally undertones and a dry, vibrant finish, it’s delicious served with sushi, shellfish or spicy Thai. Would suit those who like Alsace riesling. Alcohol 13.5 per cent
Mountain Blanco Dry Muscat 2011 Telmo Rodriguez
(£17.45 for half litre, Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com)
This has more tropical fruit and lavender on the nose, underlying candied fruit flavours, and is vivid, fresh and dry. It’s a beautifully made and unusual dry white from the Spanish guru Telmo Rodriguez. Alcohol 14 per cent
No 1 Selection Especial 2012 Jorge Ordoñez
(£14.25 for hf bt, www.ultracomida.co.uk; Highbury Vintners; Mill Hill Wines; D Bryne & Co Lancashire)
Made from 30 to 50-year-old vines – orange and spice aromas, rich sweetness on the palate, but not quite the intensity of the Victoria no 2. Could serve with foie gras, Serrano ham or Cana de Lomo. Alcohol 10 per cent
No 2 Victoria 2012 Jorge Ordoñez
(£18.95 for hf bt, www.ultracomida.co.uk; Ivy Wines; Wines of Interest)
Presumably named after Jorge’s sister Victoria. This is made from Ordoñez’s best-sited vines over 50 years old – and has been served at a birthday lunch to the Queen and Prince Philip alongside vanilla panacotta and rhubarb. Fabulous intensity and length with a wonderful caramelised apricot flavour with lowish alcohol and freshness from high natural acidity.
Alcohol 10 per cent
Ariyanas Naturalemente Dulce 2008 Bodegas Bentomiz
(£13.87 for hf bt, www.vinissimus.co.uk; www.georgesbarbier.co.uk; www.indigowine.com, 0207 733 8391)
Another beautifully made sweet muscat with tangerine notes, rich sweetness, fabulous freshness finishing dry: the bodegas suggests serving it with mango mousse. The attractive bottle has an unusual glass stopper.
Alcohol 13 per cent
• Join Rose’s Hidden Spanish Wine Gems and Charcuterie Masterclass at Abode Hotel, Glasgow, on Friday, £40, www.rosemurraybrown.com