Clara Verheij and André Both are a foodie and wine-loving Dutch couple who moved to Malaga’s Axarquía in 1995. In the mid-2000s they started one of the most singular wine projects in this steep and rugged wine region in Andalusia famous for its sweet wines.
After releasing a naturally sweet white wine from the 2004 vintage, they started building their slate-coated cellar which pays homage to the area’s typical soils. The winery stands next to their home, so it can be said that they have made a way of life out of the surrounding landscape. They painstakingly recovered abandoned vines in their property and bought some adjacent plots totaling one and a half hectares. Other grapes are sourced from local wine growers who are proud to see them turned into the acclaimed Bentomiz portfolio. This lovely reward to the extreme, hard work in dizzying slopes hardly compensates for the dramatic fact that the next generations show no interest in working the region’s vineyards.
Bentomiz uses technology to work with traditional grapes in its small, stainless steel deposits. Self-taught winemaker Clara Verheij stresses the importance of the cooling equipment when it comes to making naturally sweet wines. Total production stands at around 50,000 bottles but the aim is to gradually reach 100,000 bottles. Around 65% of their wine is exported.
Ariyanas is the name of the brand, an Arabic word which appropriately means “aromatic”. The range includes an exotic rosé made with the indigenous red grape Romé (about €12) whose colour can notably vary from one vintage to another; it displays the variety’s distinctive high acidity and the salty mineralty found in the area.
Muscat of Alexandria is the undisputed star in Axarquía. Bentomiz’s Muscats usually mix lovely floral and citrus fruit aromas with a slightly bitter, mineral finish. They are made in dry (€14) and sweet versions. The sweet style includes two naturally sweet wines made with sun-dried grapes. One of them is fermented in stainless steel tanks (€17 for a 37.5 cl. bottle; prod. 14,000 bottles) and displays a lovely concentration with herbs and lush fruits. Ariyanas Terreno Pizarroso (€28 for a 37.5 cl. bottle; prod. 2,000-3,000 bottles) comes from older vines and is aged in oak barrels. This is a rich and complex wine —5kg of grapes are needed to produce a single litre of wine. The exposure of bunches to the sun is not done on traditional “paseras” spread on the ground but on floating grids for good ventilation.
Bentomiz also makes a couple of reds. In Ariyanas dry (€14.5 at the winery), Tempranillo is blended with Romé, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Except Romé, the rest of the grapes are sourced from the village of Mollina in the so called North area; only Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are aged in barrels. Ariyanas David (€15 for a 37.5 cl. bottle) is a sweet red made with briefly sun-dried Merlot displaying good acidity and moderate sweetness.
All of the wines are sealed with glass stoppers as a result of Clara and André’s own experience with their private wine collection resulting in up to 10% tainted bottles.
Wine tourism plays an important role at Bentomiz. Wine lovers can enjoy the standard tour of the vineyards and wine facilities or book a complete experience including a tasting and a wine-paired meal. In April 2015 Bentomiz opened its own restaurant with André cooking on a daily basis and Juan Quintanilla, chef from Nerja’s Sollun restaurant acting as consultant, so it is also possible to pop by for lunch with prior reservation. Their friends’ wines are also part of the wine list with sherry brands such as Inocente Fino, unfiltered Goya Manzanilla, Amontillado Toro Albalá (Montilla-Moriles) or Colet Navazos sparkling with Sherry dosage.