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Málaga, part II

By Melvyn Cran, 11/12

This is a two-part feature on the wines of Málaga. Part I introduces the region, grapes and wine styles and some of the traditional sweet wines of the Málaga D.O.

Sierras de Málaga D.O.

Ronda For the wines of this denominación traditional grape varieties are often replaced by classic French and other foreign grapes, but these are early days. Syrah and Merlot are particularly popular. Wines may be red, white or rosado and the familiar Spanish ageing hierarchy of Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva applies.

Many of the bodegas specialising in these wines have been established only in the last 10 years or so. The highest profile producer must be the ubiquitous Telmo Rodriguez, who makes wines in so many parts of Spain. His Mountain Blanco (obviously harking back to the old British name) is made from fruit from vineyards around Competa and Arches, high in the hills of Axarquia. It is very modern Moscatel, fragrant from cold fermentation, with a lovely ripe nose of flowers and oranges, full flavoured but with a dry, long finish. (It's available from the Wine Society.) He makes two other Moscatels under the Málaga D.O. - again modern interpretations, involving stainless steel and French oak barriques.

Bodega F. Schatz

A more significant figure locally is the German, Friedrich Schatz. He came to Ronda in 1982 from a long established family of wine makers. He planted three hectares of vines at Finca La Sanguijuela after researching the soil and climate. Bodegas Schatz was the first in the Málaga region to use biodynamic production methods. He was the driving force behind the creation of a D.O. for Sierras de Málaga Serrania de Ronda.

This is known to be an area where the Romans planted vineyards (the remains of an amphitheatre can still be seen). Its traditional name is Acinipo, meaning "land of wines", but from the 1950s until recently most of the vines had disappeared, to be replaced by olives.

When Schatz planted his vineyards his choice of grape varieties was unexpected. His signature red wine, 'Acinipo', is 100% Lemberger. Based on the character of German and Austrian wines made from this grape I suspected the 2003 vintage I tasted might be over the hill, but it managed to combine lightness of touch, featuring lifted fruit characteristics, with good length and concentration - drinking perfectly. His other wines draw on a range of varieties including Chardonnay, Muskattrollinger (or Black Hamburg, best known as a dessert grape), Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are the most expensive Sierras de Málagas I have come across. At present there is no UK availability, but that seems likely to change.

Doña Felisa

Just down the track from Schatz is Doña Felisa. Gema Alonso Araico and José María Hernando, a husband and wife team from northern Spain, started planting the vineyards in 2000. The varieties are Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

These Ronda vineyards are at an altitude of 850 metres. The soil is predominantly sandy, but with some areas of limestone. Rainfall is variable so drip irrigation is used if drought threatens to stress the vines. Yields are low.

Dona Felisa The approach to winemaking is modern, with early morning picking, a triage table, cooling of the grapes for 24 hours and then cold soaking to extract colour and flavour before fermentation (using yeasts from Ribera del Duero for the Tempranillo and from Bordeaux for the French varieties) typically lasting around 10 days at 24 to 26 degrees centigrade. All the wines undergo malolactic fermentation and ageing is in French oak barricas, used for three years.

The wines are produced under the Chinchilla label and are nicely varied. Nuevo is a 90% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Saivignon blend so fresh, light and juicy that it drinks well with crab. Seis y Seis is named for the six months in barrel and six in bottle before release. A blend of Tempranillo and Syrah, it combines freshness and perfume with deep plumy fruitiness. There is spice and liquorice on the palate.

The richest wine is Conarte, with 15 months in new oak barricas. The mix is predominantly Cabernet, blended with Merlot and Syrah. I tasted the 2007 vintage, still with youthful colour and thick, deep, spicy, mouth filling flavours and a long finish. Impressive.

There is no doubting the quality of these Ronda wines. The problem on the international market is how to differentiate them from all the wines now being produced from a similar combination of grapes in many parts of Spain. The producers at Bodegas Bentomiz seemed to have come up with a solution which involves combining tradition and modernity to create some unusual wines.

Bodegas Bentomiz

It was pure good luck that this was the first Málaga region winery I visited because it happened to be near the finca in which I was staying. I was thrilled by the unusual wines made by Dutch couple Clara Verheij and André Both. What started out as an interest has turned into a successful enterprise and the bodega is still growing. They currently produce 30,000 bottles and are aiming for 100,000 as the maximum at which they feel they can guarantee the quality. They have one-and-a-half hectares of their own vineyards with another 30 hectares of associated vineyards.

The Bodega is located near the white village of Sayalonga and the soil is slatey. The vines are at an altitude of 450 to 850 metres and within sight of the sea, both factors important in moderating the heat. Some of the vines are between 80 and 100 years old, mainly Moscatel de Alejandria and Romé.

The wines go under the name of Ariyanos and are produced under both D.O.s. Ariyanos Moscatel Seco Sobre Lias (sur lie) is a light, dry wine (13.5%) with an attractive rose petal fragrance, satisfyingly mouth filling and dry in the mouth. (The 2008 vintage of this wine was chosen as the dry white in Spain under 10 euros in a Spanish wine guide.)

Their only red is Ariyanas Tinto de Esamblaje, a blend of Tempranillo, Petit Verdot and Romé, with four to six months in French and American oak. This is a medium weight wine, with forest fruits lurking under a cloak of oak, which suggests the benefits of aeration and suitable accompanying foods. The tannins are fine, the finish dry.

Two sweet Moscatel wines are produced under the Málaga D.O. Ariyanas Naturalmente Dulce, with an unfortified 13% alcohol has an intense raisined Muscat nose and a palate that combines richness with freshness and delicacy. It made a fabulous combination tasted with mango mousse spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and lime juice. This can be compared with another unfortified Moscatel, Terruño Pizarroso, aged six months in new French oak. To the raisined fruit character is added spiciness from the oak, providing a delicious long finish.

The most surprising wine is Ariyanas David Tinto Dulce, a sweet Merlot. The grape sugars are concentrated in the paseros, but without fortification. Cold maceration is used so that there is plenty of colour but no tannin in the final wine. It has the typical Bentomiz touch of combining concentration with delicacy. It provides a delicious combination with a chocolate dessert.

In the pipeline but not yet perfected, a rosado is being developed, made from the local Romé grape, already mentioned several times. Its light fruity character should make it very suitable for a rosado. When the wine eventually appears it might possibly do something to bring the variety out of its deep obscurity.

It's a good pointer to the quality and individuality of Bentomiz wines that they are on the wine lists of a number of top British restaurants through agents Georges Barbier and Indigo Wines.

Bodegas of Málaga and Sierras de Málaga

In view of the relatively sparse amount of information available concerning the wines of the region I have listed those producers of which I have some details. This may be useful to wine enthusiasts holidaying on the coast or in the hill villages, but note that not all bodegas allow visitors and those that do normally require arrangements to be made in advance.

Bodegas Almijara Crta de Canillas de Albaida s/n, 29754 Cómpeta
Telephone: 952553285
Dry and sweet Moscatel under the Jarel label. Accept visits by individuals and parties.

Bodega Antigua Casa de Guardia, SL
Ctra. Olías - Comares, s/n; Finca El Romérillo, 29197 Barriada de Olías - Málaga
Tel. 952 03 07 14 - Fax 952 25 21 50
Traditional, mainly sweet wines. Open Monday to Friday for tours and wine purchase from 11:00 to 13:00. Cost: 20 euros per person and includes a visit to the vineyard, old wine cellar, wine cellar, explanation of processes of preparation and tasting of 3 wines

Bodegas Bentomiz
Finca Almendro, Pago Cuesta Robano.29752 Sayalonga
Visit with tasting 5 euros, or 9 euros with tapas

Bodegas Dimobe (El Lagar de Cabrera wine)
San Bartolomé, Nº5 29738 Moclinejo (Málaga)
7 sweet wines, 2 dry red, 1 dry white. Visits to the estate with tasting by arrangement

Bodega Doña Felisa (Chinchilla Wines)
Apartado de Correos 432, 29400 Ronda
Telephone: 951 166 033
Visits with tasting 15 euros; with tapas 20 euros per head

Bodega F Schatz
Finca Sanguijuela, 29400 Ronda
Tel: 952871313
Visits 25 euros per head

Bodegas Joaquin Fernandez
Finca Los Frutales, Paraje Los Frontones, 29400 Ronda
Six modern style dry wines. Visits with meals or snacks; 3 wines, or 4 wines with lunch.

Bodegas Jorge Ordoñez
Bartolomé Estaban Murillo, 11, Pol Ind La Pañoleta, 29700, Veléz-Málaga
Joint enterprise between a local family and Alois Kracher's family. Mainly sweet wines.

Bodegas Lunares
Apptdo. De Correos, Ronda.
Only one wine listed at the moment (Syrah/Cab S)

Bodega Málaga Virgen
Finca Vistahermosa, Autovía A-92 Km.132 Dirección Sevilla (Camino Servicio)
29520 Fuente de Piedra (Málaga)
Teléfono: 952 319 454 / Fax: 952 359 819
Large producer, two estates west of Málaga. Traditional and modern wines. No indication of visits.

Bodegas Medina y Toro
C/pontil No. 30, Torrox CP29770
Tel 952 53 80 24
Turn off coast road east of Málaga towards Cómpeta. Visits by appointment. Various wines, mainly French vars.

Bodegas Perez Hidalgo
Avenida Virgen de Flores No. 15, 29500 Alora. Málaga
Phone: 649 436362, 678 619384
NW of Málaga. Two modern red wines. To organize visits and tastings tel. +34 649 436362

Bodegas y Viedos El Chantre
Bodegas El Chantre, Acinipo, Ronda, Spain , 29400
+34) 637 51 79 93

Cortijo los Aguilares
Puente de la Ventilla, Ctra. Ronda A Campillos Km. 5
Apartado Correos 119 29400 Ronda
Tel/Fax 952874457
Classic grapes, dry wines. Visit and tasting of 3 wines 20 euros

Finca Descalzos Viejos
C/ Montes 40, 29400 Ronda
Three modern style dry wines. Visits of small groups, with tasting, by appointment

Tierras de Molina
Avda. de las Americas, s/n 29532 Mollina (Málaga)
Tel. 952 74 10 52
North of Malaga. Traditional and modern wines under both D.O.s. No indication of visits.

Go to Part I - Introduction and traditional Málaga