WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine
Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

10 November 2015

Spain: Canary Islands

Weird Lanzarote vine-scape
A shorter version of this piece was written for wine business website Harpers.co.uk.
Not many wine nations or regions can claim to have “60% to 70% of vines aged 100 or more years old,” according to Jonatan García, owner of the Suertes del Marqués winery who tutored a special Canary Islands' master-class at the Wines from Spain trade fair in Dublin (on 21 Sept). This stems from the Canaries' vineyards remaining free from the phylloxera louse so old un-grafted vines have been kept, a “much longer history than you think,” i.e. references dating back to at least the 16th century, and winemakers choosing to focus on nurturing their traditional and indigenous varieties. There are “over fifty” of these, García explained, “but there's been confusion over lots of different names often being the same variety.” The main grapes planted are, for whites, 'aromatic' or 'volcanic' Malvasía (Malmsey), Gual, Listán Blanco (= Palomino Fino), Vijariego Blanco, Albillo Criollo and Marmajuelo. And for reds: Listán Negro, Baboso Negro (= or close to Bastardo in Portugal), Tintilla (might be same as Graciano...) and Negramoll (= Tinta Negra).
Not surprisingly, to anyone who's been to or seen photos of these mystic islands, striking volcanic soils dominate yet the terrain and micro-climate can be very different from one to another, with high-altitude vineyards – running up to 1700 metres in parts of party-island Tenerife for instance – a key feature for retaining freshness in white varieties in particular. There are about 8400 hectares of producing vineyards spread across ten D.O appellations: one per island – El Hierro, La Palma, La Gomera, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Tenerife - with five D.O zones on the latter. Most of these have rather obscure local names, although there's a recent trend to labelling wines as the new catch-all D.O Las Islas Canarias ('no. 11') to make their provenance clearer to understand, Jaime Ansorena told me who works for the wine producers' association.
I actually thought the white wines marginally had the edge on the reds of the wines I tasted, which were sometimes let down by winemaking or fruit condition perhaps, even though there was obvious concentration and depth of character generally speaking. These wines and wineries stood out for me: (white) Bermejo Malvasía seco, Viñátigo Gual, Teneguía Malvasía dulce reserva, Paisaje de la Islas Malvasía & Marmajuelo, Vega Norte Albillo Criollo, Tajinaste, Caldera, Frontón de Oro; (rosé) Vega Norte rosado; (red) Tierra de Frontos Baboso Negro, Frontón de Oro Tintilla, Tajinaste Tinto Roble, Suertes del Marqués La Solana (see full reviews below).
Some of these wineries are already imported into the UK, especially the export-geared Suertes del Marqués, by specialists such as Indigo Wine, Maar Wine and Wine Direct, and are available in a handful of independents in the £15 to £30 range. So, there is an initial price hurdle for retailers and consumers to overcome, to say the least, even though some of the wines are pretty good. Similarly, García's Dublin importer Vinostito suggests RRPs of €26 and €30 in the Republic for two of his top wines. Searching around the web, there doesn't appear to be a shortage of distributors in the US either: David Bowler Wine in NYC for example.
Richard Mark James
Other resources:
jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-canaries-where-vines-and-wines-creep-up-on-you

Recommended whites

Tierra de Frontos 2014 (Listán Blanco and others from the south side of Tenerife) - Very upfront 'Sauvignon blanc' style, crisp green fruit vs attractive oilier side, quite concentrated actually (very old vines) with crisp aromatic finish; very nice.
Tajinaste 2014 (Listán Blanco grown in northern Tenerife) - Nutty 'mineral' and dry style, concentrated and quite intense with long zesty crisp finish. Very good.
Hoyos de Bandama Caldera blanco seco 2014 (Gran Canaria) - aromatic green fruit with nutty edges, quite intense and crisp vs a richer oilier side. Good.
Bermejo Malvasía seco 2014 (Lanzarote; Malmsey, 13% abv) - Yeast-lees edges on the nose, richer and rounder palate with banana and white peach vs crisp and steely, a touch of weight vs very dry bite. Shows fair depth and class, that slightly 'awkward' lees note lifted off with some airing. Good stuff.
El Borujo Los Loros 2014 (Tenerife: 40% Gual, 30% Marmajuelo & 30% Moscatel barrel-fermented, 13% abv) - Pretty yeasty to start, rich colour; very aromatic and peachy though with spicy apricot as well, softer and less intense than some of the others but a nice rounder white though.
Viñátigo Gual 2014 (Tenerife, 13% abv) - Aromatic mix reminiscent of Torrontés and Gruner Veltliner, perfumed floral and spicy turning more exotic with pineapple, fresh and crisp though with a bitter twist. Different, quite attractive although probably a little perfumed for some people.
Viñátigo Vijariego Blanco 2013 (Tenerife, barrel-fermented and 6 months lees stirring) - Richer nuttier and rounder style with creamy hazelnut flavours, turning savoury yet still fairly fresh; good and not too oaky.
Vega Norte Albillo Criollo 2014 (1000-1500 metres altitude on La Palma, 13.5% abv) - Different again, more delicate with Riesling / Pinot Blanc resonances, refreshing and subtle; very nice.
Tajinaste Paisaje de la Islas Malvasía/Marmajuelo 2013 (Tenerife, part oak-aged) - Rich and concentrated vs subtle aromatic notes, nutty and crisp with tasty long finish; also very good.
Teneguía Malvasía dulce reserva 2006 (La Palma, 18 months in French oak, 14.5% abv) - Made from '90% botrytis affected grapes' which "isn't that common; there's more humidity on La Palma," Jonatan expanded. Rich raisin and honey with orange flower edges, treacle/molasses notes are lifted by a pleasant citrus twist and a hint of freshness, concentrated raisin flavours linger vs a nice bitter twist and aged toasted nut tones too. €37 cellar door.

Rosé

Vega Norte 2014 rosado (La Palma, 14.5% abv) - Deep rich colour, very fruity with creamy raspberry and strawberry flavours, rounded full-on and serious foodie rosé.
Frontón de Oro 2014 rosado (Gran Canaria; Listan Negro, Negro Legítima and Negramoll, 13% abv) - Fresh and fruity on the nose, gets creamier on the palate with red fruits, dry finish; nice style.

Reds

Tierra de Frontos Baboso Negro 2014 (Tenerife, 14.5% abv) - Lots of lively cassis and black cherry fruit, aromatic fruity and peppery with liquorice tones, a bit of punch and grip with nice tannins though.
Ignios Orígenes Baboso Negro 2013 (Tenerife; 11 months in French oak, unfiltered, 14.5% abv) - Smoky with perfumed cassis, punchy and grippy vs enticing ripe raisin and liquorice flavours with peppery edges, hints of dark bitter chocolate, pretty powerful but has plenty of lush dried fruit character and a touch of smoky oak, gets fruitier with airing; quite good actually. USA c. $40.
Frontón de Oro Tintilla 2013 (Gran Canaria; 4 months in oak, 14% abv) - Dark cherry liquorice and menthol too, peppery and earthy touches vs ripe dark and meaty fruit with a more perfumed finish and just a little grip. Different too.
Viñátigo Tintilla 2012 (Tenerife, 18 months in French oak) - Rich smoky nose with ripe resin and dark dried fruits, a tad 'funky'/rustic but it works with attractive sweet vs earthy vs meaty finish, soft tannins; drink now.
Tajinaste Tinto Roble 2013 (Tenerife; Listán Negro, 13.5% abv) - Ripe dark and smoky/'funky', more structured with supple 'chalky' tannins though vs lush dark and smoky 'tar' on the finish; nice sunny red.
Suertes del Marqués La Solana 2013 (100+ year-old Listán Negro from a 2.5 hectare northeast-facing vineyard on the Tenerife hills at 400-520 metres altitude; 12 months in French oak, unfiltered, 13.5% abv) - Dark and peppery with black cherry/berry fruit, spicy and vibrant mouthful with dry yet rounded tannins, nice weight with concentrated black fruit finish and peppery earthy rustic tones vs still firm and structured. Well-made, very attractive style.
Gutiérrez de Salamanca 2013 '1861' (Tenerife) - Touches of vanilla and coconut oak, nice texture though with grip vs sweet maturing fruit to finish.

No comments:

Post a Comment