Taste the volcanoes in Canary wines: undiscovered Spanish wines

by mary on September 13, 2013

Spanish wines: unique volcanic wines from the Canary Islands

Even in Spain, Canary Island wines are off the radar, except for a few Malvasía wines. Thanks to the marketing clout of Jose Pastor, who imports an impressive portfolio of Canary wines, I’ve seen more press here in the US than I’ve ever seen in Spain. Due to very limited quantities, finding these unique Spanish wines is challenging, but well worth the search. I recently went to a great tasting of the portfolio and I was surprised by the personality and character of the wines. They were also fresh and inviting to drink. It seems a bit cliché, but you really feel like you are tasting volcanic soils! I was very impressed and refreshed, and I’ll be seeking out more Canary wines on my next trip back to Spain.

In Spain, I tasted Canary Island wines mostly at professional wine shows, where the Islands always had a huge, impressive stand. It was always a bit exhausting, because you had to kiss a lot of frogs to get to the princes. I tasted a lot of insipid whites and rustic reds, but every now and then there was a lovely, mineral red or a super interesting dry Malvasia. I was sometimes impressed by top producers, but my overall view was of great inconsistency.

The Canary Islands suffers from the same problem as the Spanish Island of Mallorca, much of its wine production is inexpensive plonk made to satisfy a massive and indifferent tourist demand. Only a small number of producers strive to make something much, much better.

Spanish wines: unique volcanic wines from the Canary Islands

Amazing vineyard landscape in Lanzarote (Source: www.losbermejos.com)

Forward a few years, and in a sea of wine sameness, I am appreciating that slight rustic edge as personality and in this portfolio at least, seeing real consistency.

The place:

The Canary Islands has 10 wine appellations spread over its main islands, 5 of them alone are on the island of Tenerife. The humid sub-tropical climate is not ideal for vines, but the altitude of the vineyards and the unique soils make for special vine-friendly sub-climates. The grape varieties are largely indigenous and the most typical ones are: Listán Blanco (Palomino) and Malvasia for whites, and Listán Negro, Tintilla, Negramoll, and Baboso for reds. Because of the largely sandy soils, the phylloxera infestation that destroyed Europe’s vines was unable to take hold. That means that the vines here are planted on their original rootstock and not grafted onto Amrican rootstock like most European vineyards.

Tenerife, with its five appellations, has vineyards that are terraced into the hillsides up to 1000 meters and is most known for its mineral red wines from Listán Negro. Less common varieties such as Baboso, Tintilla and Negramoll add lots of character to blends.

Spanish wines: unique volcanic wines from the Canary Islands

Amazing vineyard landscape in Lanzarote (Source: www.losbermejos.com)

Lanzarote is perhaps most famous for pictures of its unique vineyards all scape with black soils and vines planted in small craters surnamed by low walls. It’s dramatic and the best wines from these vineyards are also dramatically mineral and saline. Lanzarote gained fame for it’s Malvasia wines but is now earning a reputation for reds and rosados.

Of the other islands, the most interesting so far are el Hierro for reds and La Palma for whites.

The wines:

Spanish wines: unique volcanic wines from the Canary Islands

1. Bermejo Malvasia Seco 2011: my favorite white of the tasting is a long time favorite by top producer Bodegas Bermejo. This Lanzarote producer is famous for its intensely mineral Malvasia wines. Despite the acidity and minerality there is a lovely full and long mouth. See the pictures of the wineries vineyards I’ve included from their website. $30

Spanish wines: unique volcanic wines from the Canary Islands

2. Monje Tinto Tradicional 2009: Listán Negro from Tacoronte-Acentejo in Tenerife. Very spicy and herbaceous nose of black pepper and tarragon. Leaner and lighter than expected in the mouth, fresh, mineral, perhaps a bit short. Lots of personality. $22

Spanish wines: unique volcanic wines from the Canary Islands

3. Tajinaste Tinto Tradicional 2011: 100% Listán Negro from Valle de la Orotava in Tenerife. Black pepper and dried herbs. Very savory in the much with red fruits and so fresh it makes mouth water profusely! Very long. Loved it! $26

Spanish wines: unique volcanic wines from the Canary Islands

4. Viñatigo Baboso Negro 2008: 100% Baboso from Ycoden-Daute-Isora in Tenerife. Intense nose of cassis, eucalyptus and a hint of bell pepper. In the mouth also very intense but with elements of funk, mineral and smoke. Also very acidic, it makes your mouth water! Very complex and unique…lovely! 45$

Also loved the rosado from Bodegas Viñatigo, which I included in my recent post on my favorite rosés.

The tasting took place at Mas Vino, a great local independent wine store here in Miami. They are the only one who carry these Canary Island wine in southern Florida.

These were my favorites but the wines were all very interesting and had that saline, mineral quality that really seems to reflect the terroir. They are not all inexpensive, ranging between 18-50$, but they are well worth it for an adventurous wine drinker looking for something really different.


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