Wine with Food: Malaga| Pairing Tips

Wine with Food: Malaga
By Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. |


The name Malaga has always intrigued me. My thoughts visualized warm Mediter­ranean breezes and balmy summer after­noons with a chilled glass of wine on a veranda overlooking the blue waters off the southern coast of Spain. The vivid scene dictated a fresh, young, fruity, style of wine. I had to change my perceived image when I later discovered Malaga was a sweet wine. Nevertheless, I continued to be fascinated by the word.

By coincidence, I ended up owning a phar­macy in “Malaga Cove Plaza” (Palos Verdes, CA), and then a wine shop there too. I even developed a private label California cham­pagne named “Chateau Malaga”. It was quite good for the price. I think it is still sold at the shop. It was during the time that I operated the wine shop, that I ordered some genuine Malaga wine, from the same wine growing region in Spain, and tried it. That is when I was surprised and disappointed that it was a sweet wine. My image of having a glass of wine on a veranda on the south coast of Spain had to be modified. I had to come up with a cold glass of Valdapenas instead! (Which incidentally, is very good in Spain, especially when it is young and fresh.)

There was only one brand of Malaga wine available at the time, in the Los Angeles area. I was impressed with the reasonableness of price, and demonstration of quality and character of this wine. The wine fascinated me. I studied all I could find on the wine, and this year, in March, decided to visit the region where it is made.

The most striking thing, right off the bat, in Malaga, was that the food of the region was not accompanied with the wine. The southern coast of Spain is known for its seafood. But you do not have Malaga wine with it. It is too sweet as a meal wine. The seafood is absolutely great from the traditional fare to such things as salt water snails, marinated filets of anchovies, to deep fried squid. One must order a Catalonia, or Rueda, or maybe even a white Rioja to accompany these delectible fresh local catches.

In Malaga, and in other parts of Spain, as well as the world where you find Malaga wine, it is served as a sipping wine, during the day. Maybe sometimes it is served with or for dessert. It was most interesting to see a store in downtown Malaga that had a modest sign on the door indicating that it was founded in 1840, offering “wines of Malaga”. Inside were stacks of casks behind a counter, with three attendants serving portions of wine you selected from a list. Each serving was about 20 cents, and it came to you in a juice glass right from the cask People were just standing around sipping these sweet wines. There are some different levels of sweetness in the ones offered, and two varietals are also designated Pedro Ximenez grape and Moscatel, and blends of them. Trade names are used main­ly, so one must be familiar with the wine to know what to expect.

Basically, it is thick, and sweet, with about 18% alcohol. Fruity and caramelly, without much of the oxidation flavor that sherry has, it is very delicious, particularly in the ones that are not extremely sweet.

I visited one of the oldest bodegas, Barcelo S.A., Hijos de Antonio, established in 1876, whose wines are the ones most available in California. They are under the “Barcelo” trademark. I was impressed with their Gran Vino Sanson. Worth trying!

Now what to serve it with? First, let me say this: it was not served with anything in Spain. It was offered neat! Just for sipping.

I think we here in the United States will not really take to it as a straight served beverage. But I have a great invention. Don’t laugh… serve it over vanilla ice cream as a topping. In fact, I think that for those of you who are homemade ice cream devotees, try making a malaga-raisin version instead of rum-raisin. You will be rewarded. It is very compatible. Accompany a dish of it with molasses cookies, and you have a creation. Remember, you read it in the Review Food with Wine column!

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