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Wine tasting in the Serranía de Ronda - Descalzos Viejos & La Melonera - Part I

— 4 Sep 2016, 22:31:00


The atmospheric entrance to the garden at Descalzos Viejos

Enotourism in the Serranía de Ronda has really taken off in the past few years and for good reason: Wine tastings here are slow paced, intimate and memorable. Whilst this appellation may not compare to the best Priorat, Ribera del Duero and Rioja might have to offer, there are some really interesting, complex and delicious wines on offer and the hospitality of your host will be hard to beat - these are some of the loveliest people you will ever have the joy of meeting.

Views of the vineyards down in the valley

Descalzos Viejos is a beautifully verdant winery, intimate, romantic, magical

Bodega Descalzos Viejos is situated in a beautiful C16th monastery on the edge of the limestone outcrop that forms part of el Tajo - Ronda’s infamous gorge. Of all the bodegas in the Denominacion Origen de Sierras de Malaga, Descalzos Viejos is the most intimate and produces only 35,000 bottles per year. Amidst the toasted plains and arid mountains of the Serranía, the fecundity of this bodega is striking. There is a lingering romance and a magical atmosphere that stays with you long after you have left the place behind.

When you arrive at DV, as it is known locally, the first thing to hit you is the view. A far reaching panorama stretching over the patchwork valley to the mountains of the Serranía. If you don’t know Ronda, this is typical of many parts of the city - breathtaking, bird’s eye views of archetypal Andalucia. - The next thing that impresses you is the beauty of the building itself.

The later, classically proportioned outer building conceals the medieval building within

Refined style in a fantastically restored monastery

When Flavio and Paco bought the place in 1998 it was a wreck. The central building, which dates from 1505, was roofless and being used to house livestock. The entire building had been damaged by an earthquake a few centuries earlier when the resident nuns of the Trinitrian order upped sticks and moved into town. Architect Flavio set about restoring the old buildings which consisted of a C16th central church and a series of later additions.

The vineyard is named after the ‘barefoot elders’ that remained in the monastery after the younger Trinitarians had departed on their crusades during the Medieval period and worked this fertile land barefoot. In the process of restoring the monastery, a fabulous C16th fresco was uncovered beneath 2cm of limewash that had built up over the centuries. Specialists from the University were brought in to uncover the artwork which revealed two patron saints, Santa Justa and Santa Rufina, beautifully preserved on the rear wall of the church, now a fabulously atmospheric cellar, a place of whispers, stillness and serenity.

Two Patron Saints of Seville keep watch over the casks

Fabulous frescoes adorn the cellar

We were shown around by the delightful Miguel, Paco’s son and his charming partner, Carmen. Trailing greenery, terraced vegetable gardens fed by a natural spring that never runs dry, resident cats and a very friendly and utterly useless guard dog all add to the magic of this bodega.

Miguel was very clear to set out that his family do not have a winemaking background. He explained that the 'quality belongs to the field' and that the wines are honest, letting the vines speak for themselves. He talked about an approach that reflects the wider interests of his family, art, music, literature and it is easy to see how the arts have influenced every aspect of DV, from the beautifully restored architecture to the labels on the bottles and the posters Miguel designed for the summer concerts held in the grounds - everything is beautifully designed, refined and somewhat profound. It is, perhaps, the art of winemaking that led Flavio and Paco to this brilliant endeavor, who, on completing the restoration, wondered "what shall we do next?"

Verdant and fecund - DV is a true gem

Talking politics, art and wine in the shade of an ancient avocado

Tastings take place under an ancient, towering avocado that sprawls its shade over the terrace. We shared our table with three unnamed cats that our seven year old set about naming. The first to be tasted was the DV Chardonnay. Half the wine is aged for six months in oak barrels, the other half is left in the vats to avoid over oaking. The result is light, fresh, a little green with a touch of stone fruit without heading towards tropical fruits and as you might expect, lightly oaked. In the heat this was just about perfect and in the company of those who gravitate towards reds it proved surprisingly popular. 

Since all six hectares of vineyards face south and the sun is incredibly reliable in Andalucia, the biggest problem the vintners face is keeping the alcohol content within the permissible 15%. All fermentation must focus on balancing the wine and keeping the alcohol levels to below the strictly imposed Spanish15%, something that their Australian counterparts would equally struggle to maintain if the alcohol content were set so low.

The cooling influences of the Atlantic air and relatively high altitude add a freshness to the wines

Next up was the DV +, a Graciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blend with notes of dried fruits, especially prune, perhaps best with game, a black cherry, Christmas spice, full-bodied red. This was followed by my favourite - the DV Aires - Garnacha and Petit Verdot creating delicious, juicy, blackberry fruits, slightly jammy, a wonderful, mid priced red with a very distinctive label designed by Ronda born, contemporary artist Carlos Aires. The label pays homage to the ordinary people of the Serranía and particularly to the proud cultural heritage of the Rondeños.

Descalzos Viejos is a treat for any wine lover, historian or romantic

Finally, we tried the DV Rufina, a more complex Syrah with hints of tobacco and leather, a little cedar wood with dark, berry fruits. This wine is a whole cluster fermentation which adds a slightly green note, peppery, a little fresh earthiness. Whilst we sat, compared opinions, chose favourites and talked politics, art, wine and Ronda the cats and dog were all (rather unimaginatively) named.

We did not try the DV Minima - a rare, sweet wine produced in 2007 from Garnacha affected by the Botrytis fungus or 'noble rot'. Maybe next time we shall pick up a bottle - and there will be a next time, the magic is drawing me back.

'Midnight' guarding the treasure

Put a spell on you...