How the barrels travelled across the Atlantic. / SUR

A trip back in time for Malaga wines

A Detroit businessman has ordered several barrels of vermouth and other wines to be shipped to the US after a visit to a Malaga bar

IGNACIO LILLO

Malaga wine travelling to the United States is nothing new - it has been imported for many years; but the fact that it is being shipped in the way it was in the nineteenth century, in barrels, is another story.

During a visit to the city, American businessman and chef Brendan McCall visited the iconic Antigua Casa de Guardia wine bodega on the Alameda Principal, where he tasted the sweet wines and was captivated. A few days later, he contacted the group’s winery in Olías, where these wines are made using traditional methods, to put in a special order: he not only wanted to import some of the local wines, but to do so in their own barrels. This was risky operation; it was not known how they would behave with the changes in temperature and humidity during the long Atlantic crossing.

For Cayetano Garijo, director of the winery, it was the first large-scale export operation to the US he had dealt with. And he faced the added complication that the vermouth and ‘pajarete’ wine would travel in their own barrels, as was done centuries ago.

The delivery went ahead: five American oak casks of 508 litres travelled from the port of Algeciras inside a container with special insulation.

“It took three and a half weeks, and during all that time I was afraid that it would not arrive safely, because I had no control over the temperature and I didn’t know how it would fare at sea, but in the end it arrived in perfect condition,” said the Malaga winemaker, who is very proud of the achievement.

The wine was not affected by the sea breezes, as it would have been centuries ago, because it was in a closed container lined with insulating material. “On the next trip it would be nice to take it on a sailboat to see how it goes, but it’s very difficult because of customs."

A piece of Malaga across the pond

Currently, the Vermut de Malaga appears on the menu (at a price of five dollars a glass if it is neat, and ten as a cocktail) at Supergeil, a trendy fusion restaurant in the city of Detroit. The menu is inspired by European drinks, especially German and Turkish, and with Mediterranean touches. The bar also displays the barrels, arranged just as the entrepreneur saw them in the Casa de Guardia in Malaga. The idea behind shipping it in barrels is that they carry the wine in bulk and it can age in there, Garijo explained.

The operation was done through the specialised importer Eagle Eye Imports, which bought a total of 3,000 litres of the vermouth, as well as ‘pajarete’ and ‘seco trasañejo’. The latter two varieties have been distributed to various stores in the state of Michigan.

Now, they are waiting for the next order, and explained that this type of operation must be done by specialised importers in the United States to avoid problems with documentation.

Garijo saw how the tourists loved the vermouth and thinks the key is that no sugar or alcohol is added: “It’s as if you were drinking a piece of Malaga. It sells better than traditional wines”.

The director said that Casa de Guardia has been serving this drink in the tavern for more than 100 years and they were the first to bottle it in Malaga. “Today it sells as much, or even more, than pajarete, it is a star product because it is a wine that is acceptable to any palate, it is very easy to drink”.