There's wine in them there hills

When the production of red wine in western Malaga province started during the latter half of the last century, a different classification had to be established. These 'new' Ronda wineries are officially known as DO Sierras de Malaga, not be confused with the DO Malaga, which mainly covers wines made from the Moscatel or Pedro Ximénez grape.

While wine has been made in the Ronda Sierras since Roman times or before, everything came to a sudden halt in the 1870s when the phylloxera bug spread its tentacles throughout the zone. Thousands of families found themselves not only without food, but also without wine.

It sounds shocking to say it, but even though the original sweet wine production restarted almost routinely, it needed foreign investors to see the potential of making dry red wine in a region where it had never been made previously.

Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe, founder of the Marbella Club, is usually nominated as the pioneer bodeguero, but although his wine got to the market first, the actual proprietor of the first vineyard was Federico Schatz, of German winemaking origin. Success was slow to arrive, and not until the second generation of Spanish investors set up shop did things start to get serious. One of the earliest was José Antonio Itarte, present owner of the Cortijo los Aguilares winery. Itarte is a retired Basque businessman who built his fortune making security locks, and when he sold up in Bilbao and moved to Malaga he chose a hobby investment, a finca of 800 hectares featuring a large oak plantation. Started in 1991, only 19 hectares are currently under vines. Thanks to a young lady winemaker, Bibi García, the resulting wines are very good indeed: Tadeo, Pinot Noir, Pago El Espino, Tinto, and Rosado. The Pinot Noir, a difficult grape to grow, has won top prizes on three separate occasions at the annual International Pinot Noir Competition in Switzerland, a blind tasting by 20 international judges. No herbicides or pesticides are used in the vineyard, and interestingly they have started experimenting with maturing wine in clay jars, something that has had great success in other regions.