There are as many myths about wine tasting as there are about Father Christmas. Many stand up though: if you give expert tasters the same wine twice in a blind tasting competition, it will almost always get different scores.
Try blindfolding someone and offering them a glass of red wine and a glass of white. Usually they will not be able to tell which is which. Even skilled tasters fall for this one. Another, slightly harder to prove is that a wine tastes different depending on which hand is holding the glass. So where does all this cant about “I only like red wine” or “I can’t drink white wine with cheese” come from?
It is interesting that the first wines to be exported from Spain were overwhelmingly white. The shipping ports for northern Europe and South America, the main markets, were in Andalucía, and white was the colour of nearly all wine produced in the region. We are more than familiar with the statement that Shakespeare put into Falstaff ’s mouth about, “If I had a thousand sons… I would teach them… to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack.” This was back in the 16th century, and practically all wine shipped then was referred to as “sack”.
It was naturally sweet and transported in wooden butts, although it was not until the first English travellers began to roam around Spain, later writing books about their experiences, that the possibility of there being other types of wine even began to be considered.
The Rev Townsend was a vicar from Pewsey, in England’s Wiltshire, who would have gone almost completely unnoticed in the annals of history were it not for his literary references to Málaga wines. Anyone familiar with 18th century English travellers in Spain, such as George Borrow, Henry Swinburne and Richard Ford, will find frequent references to local wine, something which seems to have been ignored by Spanish historians. Around the same period another famous traveller, French writer Teofilo Gautier, went on record as hating Málaga’s gazpacho (“only fit for dogs”) but he did enjoy the local wine.
You did need courage to travel around Spain in those days. The risk of robbery was constant, and “accidents” on the road were common. The food was execrable, and beds had to be shared with fleas and cockroaches – and sometimes fellow travellers. But by the end of the 18th century there were no fewer than 14 foreign-owned wine shippers in Málaga, then Spain’s second-largest wine region. The star product, known predominately as Mountain, had taken over from sack and was very popular in England and South America. Unfortunately nothing lasts forever, and successive infestations of mildew, and finally the deadly phylloxera, ruined the once-profitable business. Vineyards were abandoned and thousands of agricultural workers became unemployed. At one stroke the region’s principal industry ceased to exist.
When the first expats arrived on the Coast the only local wine worth bothering with was the sweet stuff, hard to digest in any quantity and not congenial to accompanying food. The subsequent transformation lover a few decades has been nothing but sensational. Today every class of wine is made in Andalucía, from smooth Chardonnays to excellent red Crianzas and Reservas.
Even the historic Mountain Wine has been reborn, thanks to a few nostalgic and competent local winemakers, not an easy task when the first step was identifying vineyards with vines old enough to have a direct lineage to the original. Well-known local winemaker Victoria Ordoñez has taken 10 years to produce what she claims to be the nearest replica to the original, with her Voladeros. No producer has a monopoly of the Mountain Wine designation, although the controlling body, Málaga’s Consejo Regulador, maintains it is “a dry wine made from the Pedro Ximénez grape, no less than 15º alcohol”.
If you scratch around you can discover all sorts of interesting products in this category, but my accolade goes to a family-run bodega north of Málaga, which has shown itself to be more capable than most of using local grapes to produce wines that can be put up against the best of any other region. Cortijo La Fuente, in Mollina, has developed from a sweet wine-producing bodega to one that now has an amazing selection of dry, but fruity, whites, and young and aged red wines, several of which have been awarded prizes.
Starting with the Don Pepe dry, an authentic Mountain Wine at the incredible price of €6.90, compared with others on the market costing four times that and, working through the excellent selection of Muscatels and Pedro Ximénezs to the most expensive of the two barrel-aged reds, there is nothing that costs more than €9. Indeed, there are few other producers in the Málaga area offering such a wide variety of local wines at such acceptable prices.
By AJ Linn