The Long and Winding Road
Dutch couple Clara Verheij and André Both have found themselves in the hills, NEE of Malaga, making wine and delicious food. When they still lived in Holland, they had accumulated a large cellar of excellent wines and often entertained and tasted wines with good friends. Frequent holidays to France and a quick tour into N Spain resulted in their decision to establish themselves in the warm climate of the Malaga region. Clara started a language school and André continued his work as a civil engineer, mainly building local homes.
It very soon became apparent that food and wine were their passion. The local wine industry is very old and established but with very little image beyond Spain. Locally favoured varieties are Muscat of Alexandria and an indigenous red grape called Romé. Their own property boasts 1.5ha of vines with around 3000 vines per ha and only 1kg of grapes per vine. At 3 tones per hectare, that is avery low yield. The vines are from 21 (self-planted, grafted onto rootstock) to 100 years old. The couple work very closely with the locals, managing another 30ha of vineyards and soaking up as much knowledge about winemaking and viticulture as possible.
My introduction came via Pamela Geddes, a Scots 'flying winemaker' with whom I used to work in Australia and who has introduced me to a number of the wineries whose wines we represent (Millaman from Chile and Artiga Fustel from Spain). We are also pleased to represent Pamela's own wines in NZ.
I was asked to arrive at 13h00. In good germanic fashion I was a few minutes early and politely asked to wait. Clara has taught herself how to make wine. Vintage had just started and she proudly showed me the muscat must bubbling away. André designed the Bauhaus-style winery and tasting building. It has been clad in slate, to reflect the soils of the region. French oak, predominantly Seguin Moreau, is used, but in very limited amounts. Lees contact is a major feature of the wines, giving superb/full mouthfeel. The wines have been highly rated by Jancis Robinson's Spanish wine scribe and a number of other publications.
If there is one story that portrays the couple's ambition and attention to detail it is this: When they had made their first few vintages, they decided to book tables for dinner at various 1 and 2-star Michelin restaurants in the UK. They would then bring a bottle of their wine and share that with the unsuspecting sommelier. More often than not, this worked and they have an excellent representation in top restaurants in Europe. Production is small at 50,000 bottles.
My tasting became a degustation as André proceeded to lay on a visually spectacular 4-course meal. The flavours were superb. A civil engineer who becomes a chef. More architect than civil engineer I would say.
The wines are branded 'Ariyanas', the name of a Moorish settlement in the area. It also means 'aromatic' and 'syrup' in Arabic. Important influences are the height of the vineyards - 450 - 850m; the slate soils, imparting minerality, and the ever-present Mediterranean breeze which flows up the valley. The climate is hot and hence vines are bush vines which allows the leaves to protect grapes from the piercing sun. The slopes are very steep, demanding that all vineyard work is done by hand.
Roma rosé (rosado) 2015 13% alcohol 8 months on lees, giving the wine an unctuous quality. Dry and yet with generosity. Beautiful salmon colour set off by a label of a similar colour and a pink glass stopper. Some minerality. NOT a berry-licious rose; much more serious. All in stainless steel, no oak contact.
Muscat 2015 Dry
Muscat of Alexandria grapes from old vines. Also 8 months on yeast lees, giving a similar generosity. Delightful lifted muscat nose, also spicy. With a mineral back-palate. Very enjoyable.
Tinto blend 2013 13.5%
This wine is a blend of rosé, cabernet franc, petit verdot and tempranillo. While the nose was quite oaky, the palate was elegant and spicy with some black pepper. Plush and silky with layers of complexity.
Petit Verdot 2015 12.5%
Clara is convinced of the potential of this variety in the region. Very definitely PV on the nose, distinctive. Quite new world in style, defined. Quite lean and not as complex as the previous red which is my preference. Needs some time to relax, soften.
We also tried the Ariyanas David 2013, sweet unfortified red wine. The wine has 13% alcohol. The grapes were spread outside in the sun to intensify the sugars and acids. Residual sugar of 115g/l. Raisins, plums, figs, dates and a little nutty. Excellent, expensive and not currently available.
Sweet Muscat 2011
Stainless steel only. Deep golden colour, honeysuckle, honey, delicious. 140g/l sugar but a superb drying and exceptionally long finish. This is a must have wine.
Sweet Muscat Old Vines 2009
The grapes are hand-picked off the oldest vines. The wine spends around 8 months in French oak barriques. The nose reminds of South African dessert wines of old. Cooked/ripe apricots and peaches, honey, nuts, Moroccan market. Expensive wine. 18/20 from Jancis' scribe.
André and Clara managed to procure an old still (it looks Arab) and have started making their own gin. First distillation of wine is to 40%, second fermentation to 80%, the third fermentation is when the local ingredients are infused: juniper, lemon and orange skins, cucumber, cardamom, cinnamon, liquorice, lemongrass, ginger and muscatel raisins. Not to like? This is watered back down to 43% alcohol. The involved process and labour mean that this will only ever be available in very small quantities and at a price that will mean that it will only ever be sold at the winery and/or given away as a gift. It is very flavourful although I found a few of the ingredients a little overpowering - cardamom for example. A good gin to mix with a subtle tonic.
Carla and André also regularly host events at the winery. Soon, the world-famous guitarist Daniel Casares will be playing at the winery. There will be an accompanying singer and food by André and wine by Bentomiz.
A delightful, focused couple who obviously love what they do and live.