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A Drink From The Porron

Cómpeta Málaga: Mal Camino, Buen Vino

The road winding up from Málaga is spectacular and dangerous. What the proverb, mal camino, buen vino (bad roads, good wine), says about this land that time forgot is telling. Once a major place for grape growing, this area is now being overrun by vacation homes capitalizing on its idyllic landscape and the proximity to the Mediterranean Sea that offers a view of Africa on clear days.

Grapes have been grown in Málaga since the beginning of Spanish wine culture, when it was brought here by the Romans. They discovered that these mountains had the capability to produce a golden elixir from the Moscatel grape. For many years the wines of Málaga were considered to be some of the best in the world. The mountains create an environment where the dry, hot air of the interior combine with Mediterranean influences to create a perfectly ventilated climate, conducive to late harvesting grapes. These grapes were delicious on their own but also had the capabilities to ferment into something spectacular.

One can still see the old mountain cortijos (farms) with their drying racks, but these have become disused relics from the past. The traditional sun-drying of grapes to produce raisins for immediate consumption exists by a thread, since people are loath to pay for such a labor intensive product. Vinifying these grapes has become even rarer.

Winemaking in the area had all but disappeared until Telmo Rodriguez and his partner Pablo Eguzkiza showed up. In Molino Real, Telmo’s first Spanish project after leaving Remelluri in the late 1990s, he and Pablo saw the same potential as those ancient Roman settlers and imagined how the region could be used as a launchpad for their ambitious project to recover the forgotten viticultural regions of Spain. In the beginning Telmo and Pablo partnered with an old family from the area, however they soon realized that they needed to rethink and update the current winemaking process.

Due to the nature of the dried grapes, the pressing created incredible challenges in regards to maintaining the freshness. The older ways to press the grapes did not preserve freshness well enough so a new press had to be invented: one that would extract the purity of the juice while using the traditional fiber pads to separate the solids from the liquids. The solution was a modified olive oil press that could handle the pressure associated with extraction of the juice while respecting the raw material. All of these changes were overseen by a young winemaker from Sauternes named David Dupuch, who has been working in the area since responding to a 1997 advertisement for adventures in southern Spain.

As the team acquired vineyards and reclaimed old terraces, the wines started taking shape. Today the wines clearly define the region: from the MR cuvée to the Old Mountain barrels, the expectations are being exceeded. The Molino Real and Old Mountain wines are made respecting the tradition of drying the grapes outside on mats exposed to the sun. Once the grapes are raisined they are pressed; the juice is then fermented and aged in small barrels (through experience they discovered that the best barrels where actually the 225 liter ones that are traditionally used in the Sauternes region of France). The MR is a more modern take on a wine from the region with the grapes picked, crushed immediately, and fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness.

In addition to these glorious expressions, a new product was added to suit the times. Mountain Blanco is a dry wine but is also made from Moscatel grapes. Harvested early, the wine is fermented with no residual sugar. Like the other selections from Molino Real, this wine benefits greatly with a bit of bottle age.

Telmo, Pablo and David have taken the first steps in revitalizing the wines of Málaga. The challenge today is to create awareness and make these wines known to a broader audience that has never heard of these great wines hidden beyond bad roads.