It had been several years since we visited Bodegas Bentomiz in Sayalonga, the successful company of the Dutch couple Clara Verheij and André Both. At the foot of the rugged peak of the Maroma, the highest peak in the province of Malaga, the burgeoning vineyards basked in the faint April sun on the steep slopes of the Axarquia. Meandering down the driveway, the futuristic building of the bodega revealed itself to our eyes. We imagined ourselves in the Rioja where bodegas compete with each other for the honor of the most beautiful architectural masterpieces. The slate-clad 'lagar' (winery) powerfully represents what Bodegas Bentomiz stands for: making ultra-modern wines with great respect for the tradition and magic of its environment. The Malaga Wine Guide organized a visit with some winemakers and restaurant owners.
We were literally welcomed with open arms by Clara who emigrated to Spain in 1995 with her husband André. During the tour in the bodega, Clara passionately told us about the history of the company. She initially started a language school on arrival in Andalusia and he started a construction company. Their passion for the culinary delights of life soon tempted them to start a bodega. A daring project because starting a bodega is perhaps one of the biggest business challenges, given the enormously competitive nature of the wine world and the wide range of wines on offer. Moreover, they could not count on a great knowledge of winemaking at that time. Add to this the relatively great ignorance and little appreciation for wines from the province, even among its own inhabitants, and a real challenge was born. However, on what was once no more than an abandoned and overgrown vineyard with an old goat shed, a wine company of name and fame arose in two decades, inside and outside Spain.
The location and 'terroir' of the vineyards are also of great importance. The altitude of between 500 and 850 meters above sea level and the ever-blowing sea breeze (distance from the coast about 7 kilometers) provide much-needed cooling in the blistering summers. After all, no one can make good wine from 'cooked' fruit. A quality boost also comes from the age of the vines of up to 100 years, which Clara and André found on the old abandoned vineyards. This means low yield but high quality. On the hard slate soil, the grape vines have to work hard and grow their roots deeply to get enough water and nutrients. This also benefits the quality. The harder the vines work, the more intense and complex the grape juice.
Bentomiz sells most wines under the name 'Ariyanas', Arabic for aromatic. It is not coincidentally also the name of a small settlement that was located next to their vineyards during the Moorish occupation.
Some wines are given a well thought-out light, wood upbringing, as a desired structure and aroma addition without becoming dominant. All grapes are grown ecologically. For the shelf life, as little sulphite as possible is added to keep the wines as pure as possible. When wine making you always intervene in a natural process, Clara explained. After all, without human action there would be no wine. The trick is to do this as naturally as possible.
An excellent example of the typical Bentomiz style is the dry white wine Ariyanas Seco Sobre Lias Finas from moscatel de Alejandria. As one of the very first wines of its kind, it immediately caused a furore when it was launched.
Bone dry, aromatic, citric, spicy, mineral and a hint of almond. Many bodegas in the province now make comparable dry white wine from moscatel, the grape that for centuries seemed only destined to make sweet wines. It has become a real trend. The Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia recently published its latest guide to the 100 best wines from Spain not to be missed and included this wine, the only one from the province of Malaga.
Clara gave us the great pleasure to taste all her wines. The bodega has entered into a partnership with 'Lobban Wines of Barcelona' from Penedès, the cava region in Catalonia. Together they make sparkling wines under the name Lobban Bentomiz. Cava is made in the same traditional way as champagne, so it has had a second fermentation in the bottle. When the fermentation and maturation on the yeast cells in the bottle has been completed, the dead yeast cells should be removed from the wine. The bottles are hung upside down in wine racks and turned a small turn every day until all the yeast cells are in the neck of the bottle. The neck is then frozen and when the cork is removed the plug with dregs shoots out. The lost wine is supplemented with 'licor de expedicion', in this case the sweet wines of Bentomiz. A wonderful collaboration between north and south. We first tasted Lobban Bentomiz, with the basic wine from Penedès (the three classic cava grapes macabeo, xarel-lo, parellada) supplemented with 'licor de expedicion' Ariyanas Naturalemente Dulce: a fresh, cheerful, fruity bubble with beautiful acids that served as excellent aperitif. The second sparkling wine Lobban Bentomiz Edición Limitada (100% xarel-lo, ´licor de expedicion´ Ariyanas Terruno Pizarosso) is a true gourmet wine with more pronounced yeast, bread dough and brioche tones that can give a second fermentation in the bottle. These wines can only be tasted and bought in the bodega.
A second novelty was PiXel, a white wine made from 90% pedro ximen and 10% muscatel. The pedro ximen grapes do not come from the province of Malaga but from the pedro ximen region of Montilla Moriles (Cordoba), which means that the wine may not have the designation of origin from Malaga (Denominacion de Origin Sierras de Malaga). The wine was aptly named 'Vino de Andalusia' by Clara, an original and new marketing concept that opens all kinds of doors for new wines. The wine itself is accessible, easy to drink, but also has a certain complexity (eg due to 4 months of aging in the yeast cells). It's the level of wine you hope it can, at least in the province of Malaga and Andalusia, somewhat supplant the ubiquitous, uniform verdejo wines from the Rueda in the restaurants and bars. The sleek and hip designed label betrays Bentomiz's ambition to also serve a younger audience with these types of wines.
Clara said that she mainly wanted to use the long period of lockdown for good to experiment in the bodega. Ariyanas Rayya 2020 (tempranillo) ´maceracion carbonica´ was born from that wish. 'Maceracion carbonica' is a very special technique for making very young fruity wine, especially known for Beaujolais Primeur. The whole bunches of grapes are put in a closed fermenter and due to the weight of the grapes, some grape juice runs out of the lower layers (can also be added by adding must). The must begins to ferment and the CO2 thus created 'suffocates', as it were, the whole grapes in the barrel. The juice inside these still whole grapes starts to ferment spontaneously, the grapes function as very small natural wine barrels. The result is maximum fruit extraction from the juice and minimum tannin extraction from the skins, in other words wines brimming with fresh fruit. So is this deep cherry red wine from Bentomiz, as far as we know, the very first wine in the province made with this technique; a crunchy candy full of young red summer fruit with a hint of raspberry. Drink cold, a real pleasure.
A beautiful place between red and white had the acclaimed Ariyanas Rosé 2019 from 100% Romé. This autochthonous red grape variety lived an almost forgotten existence in the province for many years. The grape was mainly used to provide wines with extra color. Romé is undergoing a spectacular revival, the bodegas fighting for the small quantities left on the vineyards. Bentomiz harvests the grape on as many as 25 small plots. A lot of work, with the spectacular result of a gastronomic rosé with a completely unique character. Downright floral perfumed nose with a hint of honey in the background, spicy, mineral, velvety in the mouth, a wine with 'body', subtly flowing into a delicious bitter in the aftertaste. Anything but a light drink for the beach. A mature wine that asks for mature food to befriend.
Wine and food pairing
In addition to his work, especially in the vineyards, André also holds sway in the kitchen. While enjoying some 'amuses' (including a fantastic soft-cooked oyster in 'buerre blanc'), we talked about the future of the wine industry in the province of Malaga. All winemakers and restaurant owners agreed that quality should be sought above all by making full use of the unique characteristics of the autochthonous grape varieties, the thriving of various other internationally renowned grape varieties, the terroir and climate. The often very laborious vineyards do not allow for any other vision of the future. Mass production will never be possible in the province.
As if our senses weren't stimulated enough, the wine tasting was followed by a three-course lunch in which the right harmony was sought between the food and the wines of the bodega. To this end, the bodega has opened a special restaurant with a beautiful view of the valleys of the Axarquia. It is in line with Bentomiz's philosophy to also give wine tourism plenty of room.
The main course consisted of 'Carriladas' (this time pork cheeks of the Iberico breed) marinated in sweet wine, the meat of which fell apart in all its delicious doneness with the slightest touch of the knife.
With the starter, ´tataki de atun´ (tuna marinated in soy sauce), we drank Ariyanas Seco. Aromatic dry moscatel wines pair very well with spicy Eastern dishes. Even against the hot wasabi (just a tiny pinch on the tuna) this wine stood up straight. It
Ariyanas Tinto 2019 (merlot, tempranillo, romé) was an excellent choice. A young wine with ample supple 'flesh' on the bone and a soft light tannin structure that nicely complemented the 'sweet', soft pork and not 'overpowered'.
To finish we drank Ariyanas David Tinto Dulce, a full-fat red sweet wine from Merlot. A dessert wine is often a dessert in itself and in this case it certainly was (bitter chocolate would be great with it, by the way).
The dessert 'Crêpe Suzette en Profiterol' was nicely balanced with Ariyanas Naturalemente Dulce, a wine which, among other things, due to its beautiful acidity, did not make the overall taste experience too sweet, but balanced it.
Bodegas Bentomiz is a guiding example of the dynamic development and new impetus with which the wine world in the province of Malaga is storming the future. Bodegas Bentomiz opens its doors for guided tours, wine tastings, lunches and dinners by appointment. Wine tourism on a high level, literally and figuratively.