Over the last few decades, the Malaga wine scene has changed beyond recognition. From a handful of producers making mostly sweet wine in the 1950s, there are now dozens of vineyards whose wines cover the entire spectrum including sparkling. As a result, the Costa del Sol is fast becoming a vino destination in its own right as this Malaga wine guide shows.
A potted history of Malaga wine
First a bit of backstory. Local wine dates back centuries, when it arrived on the Costa del Sol with the Phoenicians in around 2,000BC. They brought the first vines and introduced grapes for fruit and wine in the area.
The Romans consolidated the tradition and Malaga wine production grew from strength to strength. In the early 19th century, Malaga became a global centre for wine, exporting tens of thousands of bottles to Europe and North America.
But in 1874, tragedy struck wine production on the Costa del Sol in the form of the devasting phylloxera, which killed off over 200,000 vines in just two years. As a result, wine production all but disappeared until 1932.
Denomination of Origin
In 1932, Malaga wine received its first Denomination of Origin (DO) label, known as Denominación de Origen Málaga and a year later, the first regulatory council was formed. The second DO, Sierra de Málaga, would have to wait until 2001 for recognition.
Nowadays, there are five sub-areas within the DO Málaga and DO Sierras de Málaga, as described in our Malaga wine guide to regions below:
This mountainous area lies in the eastern part of the Costa del Sol around Vélez-Málaga and Torrox. Most vineyards sit on steep slopes, making the harvest a challenge. You can still see donkeys and mules carrying the grapes down to the wineries.
The Alexandria Muscat (white) and the Romé (white and red) grapes are the most common types. Both have adapted well to the subtropical climate in the area and lack of rainfall.
This area is also famous for its raisins (pasas), usually from the Muscat grape and sun-dried in late August. Villages like Cómpeta are surrounded by paseros, wooden structures strung with fine mesh where the grapes lie as they dry in the sun.
Montes de Málaga
The mountains to the east of Malaga city offer surprisingly good conditions for grape growing and as a result, the Montes de Málaga produce a wide range of wines, including red, white and rosé and sparkling. The most common grapes here are the Muscat and Pedro Ximénez (both white).
The area to the west of Marbella, centered around the village of Manilva, used to be a focal point of grape growing on the Costa del Sol. However, the arrival of tourism and with it, the construction of holiday homes, has drastically reduced the number of vineyards. However, some wineries still exist, particularly to the north of Manilva village.
Their main grapes include Muscat and several red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo. The Mediterranean and nearby Atlantic influence the taste of wines from Manilva. Dessert grapes from the area are the first to arrive in markets on the Costa del Sol, usually from the first week in August, and are famed for their fresh sweetness.
This flat plain area slightly north of Antequera has some of the easiest terrain for vineyards on the Costa del Sol. Most grapes are white and the Pedro Ximénex is particularly common.
Serranía de Ronda
The mountains around Ronda are home to an ever-growing number of wineries and it’s here that Malaga wine is at its most experimental. The area’s high attitude (at least 700m above sea level) makes for unique growing conditions and a wide variety of grapes. The most common are Chardonnay (white) and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Tempranillo (all red).
Between them, the five sub-areas are home to 67 municipalities.
Types of Malaga wine
As well as the famous sweet wine (vino dulce, often referred to as simply vino de Málaga), local vines also produce the following types:
Wine produced in this DO comes in four classifications:
- Pálido – this type must spend at least six months in the barrel before it’s bottled.
- Noble – this wine has spent two to three years in the barrel and bottle.
- Añejo – bottles of this Malaga wine has been in the barrel for three to five years.
- Trasañejo – this wine is the oldest in the DO and can only be bottled after at least five years in the barrel.
D.O. Sierras de Málaga
Wine from this DO comes as white, red, rosé and sparkling. Most has a high alcohol content (15.5 degrees) and is classed as:
- Crianza – this wine must spend at least two years in the barrel and bottle.
- Reserva – in this case, the minimum time in the barrel and bottle is three years.
- Gran Reserva – wine with this label has spent at least five years in the barrel and bottle.
Your guide to Malaga wine tours
One of the best ways to experience Malaga wine is on a tour of a winery. Most offer guided tours of their vineyards and bodegas, often followed by a tasting. A few have in-house restaurants and some (such as Bodegas Bentomiz near the village of Sayalonga) even provide a paired lunch menu.
There are also local companies, particularly around Ronda, who offer tours of local bodegas. Milamores is one of them.
Top tips for Malaga wine tours
- Make sure you know exactly what’s involved (not all include a visit to vineyards, for example).
- Double-check a tour is available in your language (most wineries offer English-speaking tours).
- Pace yourself – in our experience, tastings are often generous and you can end up enjoying five or six half glasses of wine in one session.
- Get a taxi back to your hotel to avoid drink-driving issues and to enjoy the experience to the full.