REDISCOVERING MALAGA

By Rose Murray Brown MW   Published in The Scotsman 25 March 2017

“Our greatest challenge has been and still is – trying to move from wine as a hobby to a profession and a profitable enterprise”.

Dutch couple Clara Verjeij and Andre Both (pictured above) had been keen wine drinkers, wine collectors and food lovers when they lived in Holland.  In the mid-1990’s they took the plunge to move to Andalucia in southern Spain in search of a warmer climate and more prospects for Andre’s building and engineering business and Clara set up a language school in nearby Competa.  But as they built their new home in the beautiful Axarquia region, a new idea emerged.

They found themselves in an extraordinary wine region.  “Axarquia has great raw materials and terroir with its special Terruno Pizarroso slate soils, mountain slopes in the Sierras de Malaga and a fantastic climate with good winter rain and long dry summers softened by sea breezes”, says Clara.  “As wine lovers and connoisseurs we were tempted to renovate the abandoned 80 to 100 year old vines and make our own wine”. 

“We started making ‘vino del terreno’, a local simple hobby wine.  It was all fun and romantic, but not a top product”, says Clara.  “We copied and followed up instructions from locals about growing grapes and making wine.  As soon as we saw the potential in our indigenous old vine Moscatel de Alejandria and Rome grape, we decided to professionalise”.

Their first unfortified sweet Muscat was successful inside and outside Spain.  The local style in Malaga had for many years been for heavy fortified wine, but what the new Bodegas Bentomiz produced was aromatic, delicate, fresh and very elegant dry and sweet table wines.  They called their wine range ‘Ariyanas’ after the Moorish hamlet which stood beside their bodega before the Reconquest – the Arab word for ‘aromatic’. 

By 2005 Andre had built a fabulous Bauhaus-style winery (pictured right) and Clara had sold her language school.  She turned her hand to winemaking full time, whilst Andre developed the restaurant side of their business.

“Nothing is easy here.  The only stable factor is the climate.  We call it ‘heroic viticulture’ trying to maintain our vineyards and harvest on our very steep slopes under the burning hot sun from vines that produce very low yields”, says Clara.

In the cellar Clara finds the unfortified sweet wines by far the most challenging to make.  “Our sweet dessert Moscatels are so vulnerable and sensitive, it can be extremely difficult to stop the fermentation without using alcohol, which is the way we do it – and they need to be perfectly ‘clean’ before bottling in order to prevent re-fermentation”.

This enterprising couple has worked hard to create one of southern Spain’s most successful wine ranges – with delicate whites, reds, rose, dry and sweet.  But not resting on their laurels, they are now turning their hand to making gin and sparkling wine. 

“Our gin will be made from Moscatel wine.  It will be very aromatic, to be drunk as a digestive – no need for tonic”, says Clara.

They welcome visitors year round to tour their vineyard and bodega, with summer jazz and flamenco concerts and harvest parties – and on other days, guided tasting and a superb lunch can be arranged designed by Andre and chef Juan Quinanilla to pair with their wines.  You can now even stay over at Bodegas Bentomiz in a holiday cottage Andre has just built amongst the vines.

 

DRY WHITE

ARIYANAS SECO, SOBRE LIAS FINAS 2015 (£14)
Grape: 100% Moscatel de Alejandria
Alcohol: 12%

Very aromatic, grapey aromas, rich textured leesy palate with a hint of saltiness on the finish.


ROSE

ARIYANAS ROSADO 2015 Bodegas Bentomiz (£13.14)
Grape: 100% Rome
Alcohol: 13%   
       
Very pretty floral scented citrus flavoured rose with delicious hints of spice, creamy with minerally length with an attractive bitter twist to the finish.  With its wonderful natural acidity it is as fresh and lively as any warm climate rose.  One of the best Spanish roses I have tasted – and certainly the best from Andalucia.


RED

ARIYANAS PETIT VERDOT 2015 Bodegas Bentomiz
Grape: 100% Petit Verdot
Alcohol: 12.5%

Rosepetals and pepper might sound like an odd combination in the aroma, but it works well in this deep coloured, well-structured, voluptuously fruity, very spicy Petit Verdot, softened with six months in French oak.


ARIYANAS TINTO 2013 Bodegas Bentomiz
Grapes: Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Rome & Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 13.5%

A softer style of red with more maturity.  Red fruit aromas, spicy undertones, distinct herby notes and soft tannins.


SWEET WHITE

Ariyanas Dulce Bodegas Bentomiz reviewed by Rose Murray Brown MWARIYANAS NATURALMENTE DULCE 2011 Bodegas Bentomiz (£18.99 50cl bt Waitrose Cellar)   STAR BUY
Grape: 100% Moscatel de Alejandria
Alcohol: 13%
        
Made from hand-picked Moscatel grapes which have been dried on mats.  Fabulous melon and honey aromas – with a hint of spice, floral undertones, gentle sweetness and dry finish.   Such delicacy and freshness is rare in this style of wine.  Serve with mandarin or orange sorbet or mango mousse.


ARIYANAS DULCE, TERRUNO PIZARROSO 2009 Bodegas Bentomiz (£24 hf bt)
Grape: 100% Moscatel de Alejandria
Alcohol: 13%

A more mature dessert wine with caramel and honey aromas, hints of raisins, figs and a hint of oxidative character.  Serve with crème caramel or crème brulee.


Stockists: Indigo Wines www.indigowines.com; Georges Barbier www.georgesbarbier.co.uk; www.waitrosecellar.com; Henris of Edinburgh; Hook & Ford Wines; Yorkshire Vintners.  Bentomiz wines are found on prestigious UK restaurant lists in The Ledbury, Ametsa, La Trompette, Montagu Arms, Story and Trishna.


HOW TO FIND BODEGAS BENTOMIZ:
Finca El Almendro, Pago Cuesta Robano, Sayalonga, Malaga, Spain
www.bodegasbentomiz.com
00 34 951 386 706 / 00 34 658 845 285

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