José Miguel Márquez, a real artisan in the big players’ land

I drive from Córdoba to Montilla listening to the second half of the European Championship football match between Spain and Italy, where Spain loses just before I reach the narrow path to the bodega. -Oh, there is a match today, asks José Miguel Márquez, as if he couldn’t care less.

After a quick look at the very simple facilities, and a glimpse of the vineyards at the very southern end of town, we soon end in the discussion about natural wines, as opposed to “so-called natural wines”.

He is the actual leader of the organization Productores de Vinos Naturales (PVN), with prominent members like Barranco Oscuro, Samuel Cano (Vinos Patio), Viña Enebro and Bodegas Cauzón among their ranks. And José Miguel takes pride in the fact that this Spanish organization does not allow addition of sulphur whatsoever, while the sister organizations in the other southern European countries do.

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He admits that there is some amount of indignation among the producers. -It’s the task of the importers and the journalists, he says, to communicate what he and his peers are convinced is the right path to follow.

-It’s very difficult to make wines without corrections, says José Miguel. But that is what we must strive to do. We investigate, we are running a great risk, but we are convinced that we have to.

For him it’s about showing the dedication, to have naturalness in your mind or not. -Some has a non-added-SO2-line in their portfolio, but they don’t show the real enthusiasm about it. You cannot be a vegetarian, except for Sundays…

Obviously Montilla is one of the big fortified wines of Spain, with huge bodegas and well-trimmed organizations, public relations departments and so on. On the question if Bodega Marenas get something out of this nearness to the big players in the area and their “industry”:

-Well, first: I do not belong to the D.O. Monilla-Moriles. Of course I am here, and I know many of the bodegueros, but there is not very much contact, really. On the other hand, noone bothers me. They do their thing, I do what I am convinced needs to be done, and I have my network, which is another. This said, Marenas is also paying its tribute to some of the old traditions of the area, such as a PX Bajo Velo, a wine aged under flor (a layer of naturally grown yeast), and Asoleo, a moscatel made from grapes dried in the sun before pressing.

The pago Cerro Encinas comprises 6 hectars of predominantly sandy and clayey soils with a high content of carbonates and limestone predominantly, but some albariza too (the same as the famous chalky soil of Sherry country). We are 350 meters above sea level, and though nearby Córdoba has Europe’s highest maximum temperatures there is a gentle breeze blowing through the vineyards, so the climate can be characterized as a blend of continental and mediterranean. The bodega opened in 1999, and as bodeguero José Miguel is first generation. The previous one I met when I entered the place, that is José Miguel’s father on a tractor. There is no “bodega” in the sense of an organization, it’s only me.

This is the “bottling line”:

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José Miguel places another bottle on the europallet. When it’s full he must take the bottles down again, I suppose, because they obviously need to have a label attached to them. And who is going to do that…

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While we talk he opens some bottles. One is a fresh 2015 from the white montepilas grape, that is a very rare variety, but older in the region than the famous pedro ximénez. Then there is a monastrell, also from the recent vintage: dark, spicy, fruity and luscious in the mouth.

Then there is a wine called Casilla las Flores 2015, from pinot noir. This one is light, like a rosé. It’s just lightly pressed, and not macerated. It’s flowery in the aroma, and the fruit is fresh and close to nature.

-I look for simplicity, says José Miguel. I ask if he sometimes changes the way he makes the wines. -Some times I change a little. It could be of obvious reasons, because of the climate, you have to respond to the vintage, f.ex. when it’s time to harvest. Looking back, I used to macerate more, I thought more on complexity. But nobody understand this anymore. Now I search for simplicity, but without losing the quality.

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Back to Córdoba. Restaurant Amaltea is a cozy restaurant near the Roman bridge, where they serve small dishes, eco-friendly and with vegetarian/vegan options, in a tapas-, sharing style if you want. I was alone, so I ordered a couple of small plates of excellent vegetables and seafood. They have two of José Miguel’s wines by the glass, and I had both:

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Montepilas 2015

Light brown-orange in colour, slightly cloudy. Good freshness in aroma, mature apple. Grapey and luscious in the mouth.

Cerro Encinas 2015

This is the monastrell (with a new label). Dark with violet rim. The aroma shows both a controlled oxidized style (in a good manner), but immediate fruit as well, with wild berries and spices. On the palate it has just enough tannin, and it’s very much alive with just enough acidity too.

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