Sun, Sea and Sierras de Málaga

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

IC Compuesta Global (ALTA) CRDDOO

Although Málaga is now better known for its sun and beach holidays, it is one of the oldest wine regions in Spain: tracing its viticultural history back to the Greek colonisation of the Mediterranean around 600 BC. Production continued through later antiquity with the Romans, who struck imperial coins dedicated to wine in the region. Even through heavy taxation by successive Islamic empires the Malagueños persisted with wine production.

 

1st century Roman coins. Originally named Acinipo (Land of Vines) these coins were found near Ronda

1st century Roman coins. Originally named Acinipo (Land of Vines) these coins were found near Ronda

Following the reconquest of Andalucía by the Catholic monarchy, Málaga saw a surge in demand for their fortified wines aboard the grand Spanish ships of exploration. Their wines were also fashionable in the British Empire and eclipsed those of Jerez. Catherine the Great was so impressed with them that they were exempt from Russian taxation.

Then in the nineteenth century phylloxera struck and wiped out most of the vineyards across the region. Vineyards were replaced by olive and almond groves and any recovery was further inhibited as consumers moved away from sweet, fortified wines, towards drier, fresher whites. By the mid-twentieth century production was limited to small pockets in the east of the region and most of those grapes were used to create bulk sweet wines of little character.

Despite the fall in popularity, a number of producers persevered with quality wines from old vines. This caught the attention of wine makers from the north of Spain, who found abandoned old vineyards with terrific potential. Through investment and modern production techniques the region has seen a leap in quality in recent years. Alongside the traditional sweet wines are delicate dry whites and surprisingly elegant reds. For the intrepid wine traveller, Málaga offers a perfect opportunity to explore a dynamic region, searching for its identity on the world stage.

DO and Sub-Regions:

The production zones for Málaga wines covers most of that administrative region of Andalucía in southern Spain. Unsurprisingly this vast area has significant climactic and soil variations, so Málaga’s wine regions are sub-divided in to the five areas shown on the map. The most exciting sub-regions are Serranía de Ronda in the far west and Axarquía in the east.

Málaga and Sierras de Málaga production zones

Málaga and Sierras de Málaga production zones

There are two Denominación de Origen (production zones) for Málaga wines; confusingly these cover the exact same geographical area. It is the style of wine that determines which DO covers it.

IC Principal Malaga (ALTA) CRDDOOIC Principal Sierras (ALTA) CRDDOO

• Set up in 1933, DO Málaga covers the area’s traditional sweet wine production, made solely from the white grapes Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel.

• DO Sierras de Málaga was set up in 2001 to cover the newly rediscovered potential for dry wines. These can be produced from either red or white grapes.

Ronda
The area around the stunning town of Ronda is steeped in viticulture; and is one of the oldest wine regions on the Iberian peninsula. The Romans called the region Acinipo, Land of the Vines, revealing the importance of wine to the local economy. But in the nineteenth century, after two and a half millennia of uninterrupted wine production, Ronda was one of the first regions in Spain struck by phylloxera. Within a few years wine production, which once totalled over 13,000 ha of land, was wiped out.

 
Only in the past 35 years have vines made a return to the area with the help of huge investment; today there are over twenty wineries. Ronda has a continental climate; hot, dry summers and very cold, wet winters. The heat of the growing season is tempered by an altitude of 750-1,000 metres, giving a diurnal swing that can see days in excess of 40°C followed by 15-20°C nights. The calcareous rocks and quartzite sand allow the roots to bury deep in to the soil to find water. All of these factors allow winemakers to experiment with grapes and produce dry red and white wines with a surprising freshness and acidity.

When & Where to Stay:
Ronda is a stunning town, attracting millions of visitors each year, so avoid the sweltering peak summer months and visit mid-week in April/May or September/October.
Due to its popularity, there is no end of accommodation options on the websites listed below. However, one hotel that must be on your bucket list is Parador de Ronda. This luxury state-run hotel is expensive for Spain, but boasts jaw-dropping vistas over the Ronda gorge.
www.parador-de-ronda.es

Ronda Gorge with Parador de Ronda on left

Ronda Gorge with Parador de Ronda on left

 

Further Information:
Ronda Wines: www.ruta-vinos-ronda.com
Ronda Tourism Information: www.turismoderonda.es

Bodega Cortijo Los Aguilares
Set within an estate of over 800 ha of oak and wild pata negra pigs, this bodega is owned by a Burgundy-loving businessman from northern Spain. He tasked head winemaker, Bibi García, with the difficult job of producing Pinot Noir in this hot, southern climate. Thanks to heavy investment and avoiding any pesticides or herbicides, they won Gold in the 2008 and 2010 Mundial du Pinot Noir in Switzerland. As well as this pet project, they produce fine Petit Verdot-led wines of great freshness and pure fruit. Innovation is important on the stunning Cortijo Los Aguilares estate and each year new pockets of land are planted with international and indigenous varieties to see what vines best express the terroir.
When I asked Bibi why she moved from the premium Priorat DO to Ronda she simply replied that ‘history is here to be made’.
www.cortijolosaguilares.com

Axarquía

Located an hour and half drive north of Malaga, the villages of Sayalonga and Sedella are the heart of fine wine in eastern Málaga. Production is largely focused on sweet wines, but there are a growing number of wineries producing superb quality dry wines from old, indigenous vines.

Suggested Bodegas:
Vinos Telmo Rodríguez
Telmo Rodríguez was a well-known wine producer from northern Spain before turning his attention to Málaga. Setting up in an old traditional winery, Telmo uses the traditional method of drying Moscatel grapes in the sun on paseros (large straw mats), raisining and concentrating the flavours of the grape whilst retaining acidity. These are then pressed on capachas (smaller straw mats) by pneumatic press and aged in oak to produce outstanding luscious wines.

www.telmorodriguez.com

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Old pneumatic press gives low yields of excellent quality fruit

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The grapes are dried outside to partly raisin. Only perfect quality fruit will be laid out by hand.

Bodegas Bentomiz
Set up by a Dutch couple after their construction business collapsed, Bodegas Bentomiz recently opened a brand new winery. Designed in the Bauhaus style and finished in slate to match the local rock, this tasteful building boasts state-of-the-art equipment, producing beautifully complex naturally sweet and dry wines from 80-100 year old vines.
Any trip to Málaga has to include lunch in this winery. With a commanding view over the Mediterranean and surrounding mountain peaks, you can enjoy stunning dishes of local produce designed by renowned Málaga chef, Juan Quintanilla, paired with their stunning wines.

www.bodegabentomiz.com


Where to Stay:
The tranquil villages in the hills above Velez-Málaga boast traditional rural Andalucían white-washed houses. They are stunning to visit, but have little infrastructure for tourism. I suggest staying nearer the coast and driving up to the hills. Nerja is one of the prettiest coastal towns and is only a 25 minute drive from Sayalonga.

 

If you would rather work a city break in to your wine holiday, then Málaga city is a great choice. Small and compact, with plenty of beautiful restaurants and tapas bars, it is steeped in the history of Andalucía. Take a day to visit the Alcazaba, an Islamic fort built on the hills behind the city, and the adjacent Roman theatre. Then stroll through the Old Town, taking in the cathedral before visiting the Wine Museum located nearby. If you have the time I highly recommend the Museum of Glass and Crystal; a surprising gem located in a stunning old traditional Málagan house.

 

How to Get There:
Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly regularly from Dublin to Málaga airport year round and from Shannon and Cork airports during the summer.
Despite their proximity to the busy Costa del Sol, the vineyards are not easily accessible by public transport, so you will need to hire a car to explore any of the wine regions. The best value I found is Málagacar- excellent rates and no hidden refuelling fee. Shuttle bus runs from Terminal 1. You must book in advance.
www.malagacar.com

Further Information:
Consejo Regulador Málaga wines: www.vinomalaga.com
Málaga Tourism: www.malagaturismo.com, www.andalucia.org

 

Priorat- Part II. Clos Mogador

 

Celler Clos Mogador

Celler Clos Mogador

 

Although the phrase ‘living legend’ is often flung about with the hyperbolic abandon of wedding confetti, it is genuinely hard to find a more apt title for René Barbier.  Few wine regions in the world owe its success to one winemaker more than Priorat does to the founder of Celler Clos Mogador.

Despite the Agricultural Ministry recognising it as having potential in 1932, a combination of phylloxera in the 19th century and political upheaval through the 20th saw most Priorat vineyards abandoned and the area heavily depopulated.

Coming from a long line of winemakers, René Barbier arrived in Priorat in the late 1970’s when the region was producing little more than bulk jug wine for the Barcelona market.  Determined that it had huge quality potential, René convinced seven* other winemakers to experiment on this parched, baked llicorella (local slate) soil.  These early pioneers formed a winery producing one wine from their collective grapes, but released under their respective names.

Their powerful wines quickly gained international attention for the concentration, minerality and purity of fruit.  They went on to become some of the best known wines in Spain: l’Ermita, Clos de l’Obac and Clos Mogador.  Old, abandoned vineyards were snapped up as investment poured in to Priorat, tripling the area of land under vine in 35 years.

This oenology revolution culminated in 2000 when Priorat was awarded DOQ status by the Catalan government; one of only two Spanish regions (Rioja the other) to achieve this premium accolade.

Despite his global recognition in the wine world, René Barbier is an immediately hospitable, approachable and likeable gent.  On a recent visit to the Clos Mogador winery he gave me a private tour of his vineyards in an old Mitsubishi 4×4.  He told me in his dulcet, deliberate manner (so even my elementary Spanish could keep up) that Clos Mogador was the first wine awarded Vi de Finca staus, recognising it as a single vineyard wine of unique character.  Using no pesticides or herbicides these steep terraced vineyards are teeming with insects, wild flowers and grasses; the oldest vines producing as little as 250g of exceptionally concentrated fruit per year.

 

 

Back in the winery I was entrusted to the next generation of Barbier winemakers, René IV, whose perfect English gave my miniscule Spanish a welcome break!  Working with his father for over 20 years, René Jr is as affable in manner and as he is passionate in winemaking.  Unwilling to simply grasp his famous sire’s coattails, René Jr is continuing to innovate with his wines, both in Priorat and neighbouring Montsant; full-bodied whites, ageworthy rosé, natural wines, and the use of large local amphorae are just part of his experimentation.

Drawn to wine styles of unique character- sherry, aged Rieslings, Tokaji- René makes a lot of wines that wouldn’t have mass market appeal.  Instead he makes the wines he likes to make and drink; a fortunate luxury when your name is René Barbier!  Luckily for us he is incredibly talented at what he does.  A morning (and well in to the afternoon!) spent trying his wines shows his impressive range of winemaking skills.  Each wine unique and crafted with consummate skill; the Barbier family, synonymous with quality, is in very capable hands to continue their impressive legacy of innovation.

 

* Although we now refer to them as the Big 5, René Jnr assured me there were originally 8!

Emilio Moro

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

emilio-moroJosé Moro looks like the archetypal traditional Spanish winemaker. With his salt-and-pepper hair swept to the side and a face that could have been hewn from the rock of the meseta, he is a man whose very heritage is tied to the vineyard. However, there is a lot more than just tradition to the current head of Bodegas Emilio Moro, as Wine+ recently found out.

There are few names more synonymous with Ribera del Duero than that of Emilio Moro, whose family tradition in winemaking stretches back over 120 years. It was José’s grandfather, Don Emilio, who founded Bodegas Emilio Moro with a focus on selecting the best individual vines in the vineyard and grafting these on the next generation to produce the purest expression in the winery. This clonal selection is now common place, but in Don Emilio’s day it was cutting edge winemaking.

The efforts of his forefathers is not lost on José, who readily appreciates their commitment, ‘when you perceive this from childhood, this care, this sacrifice, you retain a warm feeling of pride in family’. The result of their dedication and hard work is the Tinto Fino clone; the purest expression of Tempranillo, claims José. But a good grape is nothing without terroir and in Ribera del Duero, this small, thick-skinned grape is perfectly married to the conditions. It is here, situated high on the Spanish plateau, with its extreme continental climate, varied soils and influence of the meandering Duero river that Tinto Fino produces some of Spain’s best quality, longest-lived and powerful wines.

But it is not only by looking to the past that the Moro family is driven forward. When asked about the philosophy of the winery, José answers in his deep, heavily-accented deliberate manner that it is ‘necessary to establish a balanced triangle on three fundamental pillars: Tradition, Innovation and Social Responsibility’.

The traditions of the family run deep, with José eschewing the practice of blending his beloved Tinto Fino grape with the Bordeaux varieties allowed in the DO. Instead he strives to retain pure varietal character in all of his wines. Each of these wines is supported by the other two pillars of José’s philosophy. Through their socially responsible vineyard techniques they refuse to use fertilisers with heavy metals, avoid irrigation and harvest grapes by hand to ensure they are in the best condition when they reach the winery. Bodegas Emilio Moro firmly believe the quality of their wines is directly related to their commitment to sustaining the land.

José knits together this commitment to Tradtion and Innovation seemlessly, ‘I learned everything from my father and grandfather but of course we have many universities to study modern techniques. In associaiton with the University of Valladolid we have developed GPS systems to look at many aspects of our vineyards’. This system allows José to identify problems with individual vines in the vineyard and address any deficiencies in the plant. Targeting individual vines reduces the need to interfere with the development of healthy plants.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

In 2007 José’s core philosophies came to fruition when the family opened Bodegas Cepa 21. Located outside the town of Peñafiel on 50 hectares, this brand new winery complements and enhances the landscape. Two years ago I arrived at the winery door without an appointment. Instead of turning me away, I was warmly welcomed like an old friend by enthusiastic staff and given a private tour of their state of the art facility. We tasted their beautiful wines in the intimate tasting room overlooking the ageing cellar; accompanied by the sweet and sour scent of younger vintages patiently ageing in oak.

Not content to simply replicate what they were doing at Emilio Moro, José and his team carefully selected old-vine clones of Tinto Fino for planting on the cooler, north facing vineyards of Cepa 21. José explains their philisophy. ‘We chose north facing slopes, less hours of sunshine. The growing cycle is longer; this produces totally different aromas- more freshness, a high aroma’. This attention to detail produces an elegant range of wines with lovely freshness and aroma, very different to those produced at Emilio Moro.

However, José doesn’t like to call these modern wines. Instead he refers to them as a different expression of the same fruit, ‘I do not like to use traditional versus modern but prefer to talk about the different terroirs that produce different wines’. As at Emilio Moro, these wines are aged in a mix of French and American oak and abandon the traditional terms of Reserva and Gran Reserva. This gives the winemakers freedom to innovate with ageing terms.

Cepa 21 creates innovative wines that encapsulate José Moro’s core philosophies- Traditional Tinto Fino clones used by the family for decades married to the very best innovative vineyard and winery practices, and a firm focus on a respect for the land and enviornment that produce the unique conditions of the Duero valley.

And all this effort and attention to detail is certainly worth it. Today José’s wines are stocked in fifty countries on five continents, regularly winning awards and top marks from critics. His family owns almost 170 acres in one of the most exciting and beautiful wine regions in the world and his company is growing at about 15% per year. As well as this, Bodegas Emilio Moro just became the first visually impaired accessible winery in Castilla y Léon, carrying on from labelling their wines in braille, and also run a successful charitable foundation. The future looks very bright for the Moro family.

‘Wine is an art. If you know how to listen it speaks to you… It is like a living being that you have to understand, look after and care for.’
-Don Emilio Moro.