Mountain wine

On Thursday of last week, in Seaton, USA, a local musical group performed ‘traditional Spanish and Portuguese numbers’. The music was interspersed with readings of notes by one of the first recorded English travellers in Spain, the Reverend Joseph Townsend.
Why should readers of this column need telling about a small concert on another continent? Because the Rev Townsend referred to was a vicar from Pewsey, in England’s Wiltshire, who visited Malaga in 1787 and is credited with the first ever recorded mention of Mountain Wine. Unfortunately he didn’t think much of it but didn’t like Spain anyway. Nevertheless his book is worth a read, and any student of 18th century English travellers in Spain, such as George Borrow and Richard Ford, will find the unimaginative Wiltshire clergyman’s writings an interesting match. Around the same period the famous French traveller, Teofilo Gautier, hated Malaga’s gazpacho (’only fit for dogs’) but enjoyed the local white wine.
Townsend found himself in a province that was hugely productive. Back then it was Spain’s second-largest wine region, and the product, known as Mountain, was very popular in England and North America. Nothing lasts for ever though, and eventually successive infestations of mildew, and finally the deadly phylloxera, ruined the once-profitable business. Vineyards were abandoned and thousands of agricultural workers became unemployed.
To bring the wheel full circle and back to the present, it is appropriate that Mountain wines have been reborn, thanks to a few nostalgic and competent winemakers in the region. Leading among them is Victoria Ordoñez, whose family is steeped in the business, and who has dedicated nearly a decade to getting these unusual and outstanding wines to the market. The two she has just launched are made from the classic Muscat of Alexandria grape, pleasantly dry considering the sweeter lineage.