Bodegas Bentomiz and a Private Tasting of Ariyanas Wines at El Carligto

What better way to welcome someone to Cortijo El Carligto than with a sophisticated wine tasting and lengthy gourmet meal? To make a good first impression for our visiting Sunday Times journalist and her partner last month that’s exactly how we welcomed them. And not with just any wine that we threw at them ourselves but with the exquisite Ariyanas wines from Bodegas Bentomiz presented by the owners and winemakers, Clara and Andre, themselves. Paired perfectly with delicious tapas from our friend and private Carligto chef David Palacios, it was definitely a savory event.

Bodegas Bentomiz started as a pet project for Clara and Andre, who only began commercial output less than ten years ago after eight years of living in the Axarquian wine region developing their knowledge and love of wine making through personal production. Today their wines are sold in many of Europe’s top restaurants, including El Celler de Can Roca, recently voted world’s best restaurant. In Spain, the UK, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands, the Ariyanas wines feature in no less than 15 restaurants awarded two or three Michelin stars. For such a small, independent and relatively new winery, Bentomiz has truly made a serious splash on the international scene, having bagged numerous awards annually and a consensus of praise from the top critics.

We’ve been to the bodega for tastings a couple of times already, they’re practically neighbors after all, and such fine local wine could never escape our radar. But we were quite honored to have them visit us to personally present their wines at El Carligto. They now produce six quality wines, having just added a rosé to their output. In an established region famed for its sweet wine production for millennia, it is refreshing to find new and innovative wines, though their two sweet wines are still amongst the finest to be found. Even these buck tradition however, being unfortified (no added alcohol). One oaked, one unoaked, they both bring a crispness to the sweet Moscatel that is often difficult to find in the region.

Breaking further from tradition, they offer a dry Moscatel and a sweet red. The sweet red is so unique that it isn’t even recognized with a Denominacion de Origen certification simply because its rarity defies categorization. The new rosé is also distinctive, with such a soft subtlety that if you were to taste it with your eyes closed you’d think it an unusual white.

Yet for me the best of their collection is their sole dry red wine, also a rarity in this region of sweet white Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez varieties. A blend of Tempranillo, Petit Verdot and Romé grapes aged in French and American oak barrels, the “Tinto de Ensamblaje” achieves the well-roundedness of a Bordeaux blend. But don’t take it from my unsophisticated lips. If you’re curious, do see their website with full descriptions, tasting notes and all of the various awards and accolades they’ve collected.

Full credit to chef David Palacios as well for pairing some delicious and beautiful tapas to go with each wine. Along with the staple cured ham and manchego cheese, David brought us such treats as morcilla (black pudding) with caramalized pear, quince paste with queso fresco, and sweets such as mango parfait and a red berry milkshake with meringue, all perfectly matched to each individual wine.

After all of this we needed a bit of time to digest and relax - we had to pace ourselves for the massive gourmet meal ahead. We’re always looking for any excuse to have David cook for us and it’s always a surprise. This time he delighted us with an orange and fennel salad with goat’s cheese, walnuts and edible flowers; plus, pan fried quail with asparagus, braised cabbage and cauliflower puree. By dessert I could barely get through the rice pudding made with sweetened goat’s milk, but I gave it my best effort.

It was already nearly sunset by the time we finished “lunch” and we still had a full day ahead of us in the morning: a cultural tour of Velez-Malaga and another enormous lunch, this time a full pork tasting menu from Carligto collaborating chef Juan Quintanilla at his Michelin rated restaurant Sollun in Nerja. I had certainly had enough myself, and I suspect that our guests were more than ready to relax after having left home at about 4 a.m. that morning. Besides, they’d need their strength for the coming day’s tour... More on that to follow...

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