Málaga and Montilla claim their place among the greatest wines from the south

Wines from Condado de Huelva under review by the Guía

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Montilla and Málaga represent two denominaciones de origen consistently related to the production of traditional wines in Spain. Despite the current technological revolution, experienced in the wine industry, these regions maintain a significant portion of typical manufacturing procedures such as the practice of asoleo (practice consisting in sun-drying the grapes) or the solera and criaderas system (a unique and complex system of maturation using several casks and fractional blending). Follow this link to view the results/ ratings on Guía Peñín 2019.

In Málaga, kingdom of sweet wines (liquorised and naturally sweet), coexist a large variety of wines according to their specific indications and traditional terms: maestro, tierno (tender), pajarete, pálido (pale), nobles, añejos and trasañejos. It is an intricate and extensive vocabulary whose understanding has not commonly been taught to final consumers and ultimately hinders wine selection for the less experienced ones.

Yet, forgetting terminology, the denominación de origen Málaga offers excellent fortified wines, like the trasañejos from Bodegas Dimode who presents a dry and a sweet version of pedro ximénez from the Montes de Málaga, in which we savoured some interesting slate soils. Under the label Arcos de Moclinejo 1974 seco (dry) and Arcos de Moclinejo 1974, the family owned winery Bodega Antonio Muñoz Cabrera (Dimobe) bottles two superb traditional wines with an oxidative ageing of over 30 years and whose grapes overripe on the vines. The varietal nuances of Pedro Ximénez live harmoniously with the acetaldehyde, nail varnish and cocoa notes from a long ageing process, in the abovementioned wines.

Along the same lines, family winery Málaga Virgen, nowadays led by the fourth and fifth generation, surprised us with Don Juan Dulce de licor trasañejo aged following the criaderas and soleras system for over 30 years. It results into a very elaborated and expressive wine that shows serious, unctuous and extremely long and which we rated with 94 points

Muscatel wines are one of Málaga’s greatest strengths. The area of la Axarquía is home of many of these great sweet wines produced with Alejandría’s muscatel. However, we also discovered, in this region, some noteworthy romé’s wines with great results that can be attributed to the unusual vineyards orography and the characteristic slate soil blend with sandy clays that dominates this magic landscape.

Paseras seem to grow directly from the ground and become each cellar’s hallmark. We would like to introduce Don Salvador Moscatel (94 points), from the centennial winery Málaga Virgen, a wine in which its own varietal style blends with the singular character of the soil and the mark left by a long ageing process (criaderas and soleras system).

Finally, to obtain a thorough analysis of the area, we should not forget two great producers whose wines were among the highest rated in Málaga on the last Guía’s edition. We refer to Telmo Rodríguez y Pablo Egurquiza (Compañía de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez) and Jorge Ordóñez & Co. Over the next months, we will add their references to the final review of the region’s tastings.

Moreover, since the creation in 2001 of the Denominación de Origen Sierras de Málaga –the D.O. Málaga was founded in 1932– winemakers have been working hard to promote their whole range of wines. Their work initially originated as a way of protecting the still wines produced within the region and an effort of diversifying towards typologies of greater turnover.

The most difficult task of a recently created denominación de origen is to find a place among the large list of Spanish wines different styles. It is not easy, given the broad varietal assortiment chosen by Sierras de Málaga to breed their image. They include some of the most international varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, syrah or pinot noir.

Despite they do not share any historic link with Málaga’s oenological history, time and winegrower’s determination have managed to produce wines which draw near the podium and improve their ratings in Guía Peñín, harvest after harvest. This way, the work accomplished by winemakers such as Cortijo los Aguilares or Bodegas Vetas show perfection may also be achieved following a conservative path. The pinot noir from Cortijo los Aguilares 2016 (93 points) displays a mediterranean vein without compromising the distinctive identity of pinot noir. We similarly recommend tasting the petit verdot from Bodegas Vetas, Vetas Petit Verdot 2009, in which you will find the essence of this varietal together with a long and well-designed vintage. It is the result of bottle ageing that managed to enhance all the strength with which, certainly, this wine arrived at its vintage.

Ronda's vineyard

Most recently, we have witnessed exciting creative examples among local vine-growing wineries like La Melonera. Under the direction of her oenologist and vine director, Ana de Castro, this winery works to recover historic varieties. Their efforts start to pay off and lead the way to many other producers, using grapes as romé or tintilla de rota, deeply implanted in the regions wine history and capable of fostering high level wines as Mankind Heritage Vines MHV. This wine’s 2015 vintage has maintained its organoleptic properties unaltered for the last three years which raises the question as to what ageing or maturing capacity it will achieve.

It is, at the very least, striking the incredible documented history that exists about the Serranía de Ronda and their wine making tradition yet the small role it has played so far.

Montilla awakes from its slumber

Guía Peñín has been anouncing, for some years now, that such an important denominación de origen as Montilla Moriles needed a small nudge. Not long ago, in Guía Peñín 2014 edition, we stated “something happens in Montilla Moriles, when it seems nothing changes”. “While many of this country’s producers undergo exciting periods, constantly searching for new consumers, mainly abroad, the D.O. focuses its work on keeping their local stance. Something understandable though rather poor given the increasing number of wineries closing in the area, as in the 2007 edition the D.O. included 92 wineries and nowadays there are only 68”, in 2018 there are already 56 wineries.  

New promoting campaigns have drawn great attention to Montilla wine, rising the concern around this wine. The media boom provoked by the “new creations” from el Marco awakened Montilla’s producers who decide to introduce small changes in some of their products. This is how, celebrated winemaker, Alvear has partnered the boys of Envínate, with whom they already worked on their project Palacio Quemado in Extremadura, to develop a new venture “3 miradas” in which they aim to blend the essence of three special plots of Sierra de Montilla and Moriles Alto: La Viña de Antoñín, El Garrotal and Cerro Macho.

What is remarkable in this project is that, trying to express each plot’s identity, they decided to produce the wine with and without skin contact as maceration with skins is usually an obstacle when it comes to expressing the terroir. However, the wines are different and amusing, they possess a structure and strength in the mouth that would hardly be achievable without the presence of grape’s skins. They are wines that never disappoint. In this sense, we found that, as regards to the plot’s essence, the sin pieles (skinless) productions are the most revealing wines although they are not always the best scored. This is what we noticed when tasting the six wines that form this “segunda mirada”, a collection of six wines sold together to play with the consumer. Cerro Macho sin pieles 2016 (91 points) offers the finest, sharpest and smartest version of the three with an excellent limestone sensation in the mouth though rather weak comparing to its peers.  However, the strength lacking in this wine, arrives later from Cerro Macho skin contact, an exuberant and fun wine, incapable of leaving anyone indifferent (92 points).

The Garrotal sin pieles 2016 (91 points) shows consistency and strength. It is more direct than Cerro Macho, more open and tastier when skinless and rawer and more passionate when in contact with them (91 points). The Viña de Antoñín remains between these two, it is a wine that easily balances a fresh touch in the nose with the sharp hints of its boilogical ageing and ripe fruit in the mouth. Under the label 3 miradas vino de pueblo, the winery unifies in a sole bottle all these plots, and other selected ones, to offer a joint vision of the Sierra de Montilla (90 points).

In the last tasting sessions, the case of winery Pérez Barquero has been simply amazing. Their 1955 Palo Cortado Cincuentenario left us speechless, for its incredible elegance and consistency. Nothing we can write about this wine would be enough to describe it, except it scored 97 points, that represents an icon and becomes an accurate expression of a Montilla wine. The soleras the winery owns in Montilla are genuine treasures and many of its wines reach the glass as such.

After palo cortado hit our tasting glass, a sweet pedro ximénez arrived, the 1955 Pedro Ximenez Solera Cincuentenario (97 points). Another good example of what we discuss here, an impressive Pedro Ximénez with a vivid acidity that allows the characteristic pomposity of this wine but in a mild and delicate way.

At this point, we thought excitement could not go further but the arrival of Alvear Solera 1830 proved us wrong, and demonstrates what a perfect pedro ximénez should be: nuances of solera, varnish, acetalhydes, its acidity, refinement, intensity and everlasting lingering finish… 98 points.

Montilla Moriles remains the indisputable queen in the universe of Spanish Pedro Ximénez (PX), as endorsed by the latest ratings. To Solera Cincuentenario from Pérez Barquero joins La Cañada PX (96 points), Don PX 1988 from Toro Albalá (93 points) or Delgado 1874 PX from Bodegas Delgado (92 points). The tasted Tauromaquia range, Oloroso and PX, from Gracia Hermanos appears as a good option when looking to taste these wines at more affordable prices.  

Regarding finos wines, Alvear leads this classification with Alvear Criadera A (94 points), followed by Capataz Solera de la Casa (93 points), and Pérez Barquero with Gran Barquero en Rama a fleshy fino with character, in which the flor properties can be appreciated together with honey and nuts notes. An excellent fino of 92 points. Equally, the Alvear fino en rama 2012 (92 points) and Fino C.B reached our glass to claim the greatness of affordable biological wines (less than 8 euros).

We find beneficial the course taken by Consejo Regulador de la DO Montilla Moriles to begin an awaited change that we hope will continue and push even the smallest producers towards Montilla to give free rein to their creativity.

Condado de Huelva, the great unkonwn

Many Spanish wine consumer ignore the small denominación de origen known as Condado de Huelva, in the province of Huelva. It is located at Bollullos Par del Condado and includes all types of wines, as is usual in nearly all Andalusia. Fortified wines like el Marco wines from olorosos, Pedro Ximenéz to los pálidos (the pale wines) of biological ageing and still wines, generally white and produced with the variety called zalema. Follow this link to view the results/ ratings on Guía Peñín 2019.

An excellent oloroso, Misterio Oloroso Muy Viejo (Bodega Privilegio del Condado), awarded with 93 points.

The pure Atlantic climate marks the character of these wines, providing freshness and a rich acidity. However, it is remarkable, given the mentioned climate, that producers do not tend to play with vintages in the bottle. This region enables experimenting the ageing on lees followed by ageing in bottles. We hope someone takes up the baton and shares with us their progress and experiences.

Apart from all these mentioned wines, Bollulos also hosts the denominación de origen Vino Naranja del Condado de Huelva, a peculiar denominación de origen in charge of protecting a unique typology of Spanish wine, the orange wine. It is an aromatized fortified wine, macerated with oranges peel which undergoes an ageing process in wineskins or oak casks (bocoyes) following the criaderas and soleras system, for at least two years. If these tipology is still unknown to you, we certainly invite you to approach their uniqueness and quality.

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