Special wine-making methods in the province of Malaga
The long history of wine production in Andalusia in general, and the province of Malaga in particular, has given rise to some unique wine-making methods that characterize the region. With some basic knowledge of these techniques, it is easier to recognize the taste patterns of these wines and read the labels. The best known technique is the solera / criaderas, the barrels stacked endlessly on top of each other in true 'wine cathedrals'. But also the various special ways to make sweet wines are characteristic of the region. During the golden glory years of Malaga wine (the second half of the nineteenth century), the sweet wines in particular were considered among the best in the world.
Solera / Criaderas
Anyone who has ever visited such a wine cathedral will have had an overwhelming impression. The fascinating play of the many wooden barrels, the very special scent and the incoming rays of light are enchanting. The solera / criaderas system is world famous, especially for its application in the sherry region. But it is also widely used in the province of Cordoba (Montilla Moriles) and Malaga. The basic philosophy is to mix different vintages of the wine in search of constant quality.
Wine barrels are placed on top of each other in long rows. A certain amount of wine is extracted from the bottom layer (the 'solera') to be bottled. The same amount is added to the solera from the layer on top (the first 'cradera'). The same takes place between the other layers. The young wine is added to the top ´criadera´. The various vintages mingle by finding their way down. The older the solera / criaderas is, the better and more complex the wines are.
An important choice is also whether the wine receives an oxidative or a biological upbringing or a combination thereof. The cellar master makes that choice based on the quality of the base wine. In the sherry region this leads to a fascinating range of wines from finos, amontillados, palo cortados and olorosos (these wines deserve their own article).
As long as the wine does not contain more than 15.5 degrees alcohol, a yeast layer can form on the wine, the so-called Flor, which seals the wine from contact with the oxygen in the air. The wine remains clear and does not discolor (biological aging). The Flor is a living organism and feeds on the wine. The exchange between the two leads to the characteristic taste of a 'Fino'. In Malaga, organic upbringing is hardly ever found (with the exception of Don Pepe from the Cortijo de la Fuente bodega). The oxidative ripening, on the other hand, is plenty. By fortifying the base wine to 17 degrees with added alcohol, no Flor is created and the wine is exposed to oxygen from the air (the barrels are not completely filled) and the beautiful intense amber and deep brown tones of these wines are created.
Depending on the length of stay in the solera / criaderas (or other form of upbringing), the classification takes place:
Palido 6 months, Noble 2 to 3 years, Aňejo 3 to 5 years, Trasaňejo 5 years or more.
The older dry wines (Malaga / Cordoba; Pedro Ximen, sherry region: Palomino Fino), have warm round aromas of nuts, vegetation, tobacco, autumn leaves, animal notes, truffle and leather. The wines are complex and powerful. The alcohol percentage can rise to 20 degrees, because some evaporation also takes place due to the long maturation in the barrel.
The older sweet wines are home to an explosion of flavors with an enormous depth of currants, raisins, honey, dates, anise, coffee and almond
There are many different ways to make sweet wines. In the province of Malaga from Pedro Ximen and Moscatel grapes. The starting point is always the sugar content of the grape and must. During fermentation, yeast cells convert sugar into CO2 and alcohol. When a winemaker lets the wine ferment in its entirety, all sugar is converted into alcohol and a dry wine is created. The art of making sweet wines is to have enough residual sugar after fermentation to the desired alcohol level so that the wine tastes sweet. Nature gives a helping hand. With a must with a high sugar content and approximately 15 degrees alcohol, the yeast cells no longer work. If there is still enough residual sugar, a sweet wine is created.
The sugar content is primarily determined by the general climate, the weather of that year (the warmer and more sunshine, the sweeter), the orientation of the vineyard (south or north) and the time of harvest (the riper, the more sweet
Alcohol can also be added to the must to stop the fermentation (after all at 15 degrees alcohol the yeast cells no longer work) so that enough sugar remains to obtain a sweet wine. Or the must is gently reduced in a bain marie to increase the sugar content ("arope").
In addition, there are all kinds of techniques to influence the natural sugar content of the grapes. The most famous, which is used extensively, especially in the Axarquia, is the drying of the grapes in the 'paseros', the grape beds that you see everywhere lying against the hills (in the Zona Norte around Mollina the grapes are dried on mats). In this way, water is extracted from the grapes and the natural sugar content is increased. If you completely dry out the grape, you will end up with raisins. During late harvesting and grapes drying in the 'paseros', a lot of moisture and wine is lost. The better the wine, the more kilos of grapes are used for a liter of wine. For quality wine this is more than compensated by the price, but there are also cheaper techniques.
The classification on the label says a lot about the techniques used. The Denominacion de Origen Malaga has the following terms:
Naturalmente dulce: These sweet wines are always made entirely from late harvested grapes. No other 'tricks' may be applied to it. After fermentation, the wine contains enough residual sugar for a beautiful sweetness that is completely natural. They are the best sweet wines with a good balance of sweetness and the freshness of sufficient acidity (very important for a good sweet wine)
'Dulce natural': Sweet wine from normally harvested grapes where the fermentation has been stopped by the addition of alcohol.
'Vino meastro':. Sweet wine from normally harvested grapes with extra alcohol added before fermentation has started.
"Vino tierno": Sweet wine from grapes that are sun-dried in the "paseros" and where the fermentation has been stopped by the addition of alcohol.
'Dulce': Sweet wine where also 'arope' may be used. Arrope also provides the dark color (in addition to maturing) of many sweet wines, which are made from white grapes.
'Lágrima': Sweet wine made from the first must that is released just by the weight of the grapes while it is not pressed yet.
The best sweet wines also age in turn, for example in a solera / criaderas or simply on a static wooden barrel. Arcos de Moclinejo Dulce of bodega Dimobe, a "vino dulce natural trasaňejo" by Pedro Ximen has matured for at least thirty years, a wonderful example of the province's heritage of the best sweet wines in the world. Created with the region's most authentic winemaking techniques for sweet wine and aging in the unique solera / criaderas. What a sunny province cannot be great at.