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Today we are very excited to turn our attentions to nine very different wines from the Canary Islands: reds, whites, and one rosado from three geological and climactically distinct islands belonging to this southernmost outpost of Spanish viticulture. Winemaking here dates back to the late 1400s, when Spanish and other European colonists planted grapes on the weathered soils. Today, the wines of the Islas Canarias are unique. The grapes are grown on ungrafted rootstock (as phylloxera never reached the Canaries), there is almost no automation or mechanization employed in winegrowing or winemaking, most of the vines are at least 40-50 years old, and the more than 80 local grape varieties find different expressions in the many microclimates of the islands. These varieties have local names, but are genetically identical to grapes in mainland Spain and beyond: Listán Blanco is Palomino, Gual is Madeira's Bual, Listán Prieto is the Mission grape, Baboso is Alfrocheiro. Listán Negro is unique among the major grapes of the islands as a truly indigenous grape that is genetically distinct from any other variety - probably a cross of Listán Blanco and Negramoll.
Furthest west of the islands from which we are offering wine is Tenerife, the largest and most populated of the Canary Islands. Tenerife is dominated by Mount Teide, an active volcano and the largest Island volcano outside of Hawaii, but the relatively small island has jungles and deserts as well. Vineyards are located on the cooler, more humid, and verdant northern slopes (Valle de la Orotava) and the very dry and hot southern slopes (Valle de Guimar) of the great central mountain from 400 to 900 meters in elevation, and on the flatter coastal areas to the northeast and southwest. However, vines also extend upward as high as 1600m, making Tenerife the site of Europe's highest elevation vineyards.
Gran Canaria is similarly dominated by a central volcano sorrounded by folded fissure vents that form rows of long, narrow craters. The better wines come from the north of the island, where the volcanic soils are mixed with chalk. North of the tallest peak on the island, Carmelo Santana (pictured below) works old Listan Prieto vines at 1200m - 1460m of altitude.
Lanzarote, the easternmost island of the chain, is smaller and far less populated than Tenerife or Gran Canaria. Intensely dry and subject to the blisteringly hot Sirocco wind off the Sahara in the Summer, Lanzarote shows a different side of the Canaries. Here, much of the earth is covered with volcanic ash called "picon" dating back to an eruption in 1730. The ash carpeted the island, rendering it largely lifeless. In order to replant the vines in the aftermath, farmers were forced to dig down past the layer of picon to form troughs known as hoyos. These pits can be as much as five meters deep for a single vine. The layer of ash provides a service for the vines as well, insulating and further defending the vines, and helps the soil below to retain the meager moisture deposited by the rare winter rains. To protect from harsh summer winds, low permeable stone walls were constructed. This landscape is completely unique in the world of wine: a historic blend of human ingenuity and geological and climactic events.
There are many fantastic Canary Island estates not included in today's email, from Victoria Torres (Matias i Torres), Borja Perez (Ignios), and the sought-after Envinate wines, to the many expressions from our friends Juan Jesus (Vinatigo), and Agustín García Farrais at Tajinaste (to name a few!). We will of course continue to present these wines throughout the year. For now, we are very happy to say that Canary Island wines are finally on the map!
Carmelo Santana is the new kid on the block for Canary Island wine. Hailing from Gran Canaria, the second most populous island in the Canaries, Carmelo studied winemaking in Chile, Bierzo (Spain), and the Douro (Portugal), before returning home to begin his winemaking project, Bien de Alutra ("good height"). The focus here is on preserving local grapes and reviving abandoned vineyard. All vineyard work is by hand, and farming is organic and biodynamic (though not certified). The grapes for the Ikewen tinto are sourced from old vines (on average 80 years old), growing between 1200-1460m (i.e. very high altitude). Grapes are macerated for a month, roughly half whole cluster and half destemmed, and aged both in 500L used French barrels and stainless steel, for 8 months. Bottled unfined, unfiltered with a small amount of SO2. Tasted recently and then consumed enthusiastically with friends, this is a bright and delicate red that makes us hope for more Gran Canaria wines in the future! E. Lillie
Pablo Matallana is a native of Tenerife, who studied winemaking with our dear friend Louis-Antoine Luyt before returning to the Canary Islands to make his own wines. La Bardona is a blend of Listán Negro and Negramoll, from mostly volcanic soils mixed with red clay. The nose is wild and peppery, reminiscent of the Ignios Listan Negro from Borja Perez. On the palate, smokiness and volcanic minerality outline dried fruit, hibiscus, and tart cherry. A fascinating and eyebrow raising red from a very promising young winemaker! Eben Lillie
Los Bermejos is a winery established on Lanzarote by Ignacio Valdera. Lanzarote is the easternmost island in the Canaries, and it completely covered by a layer of ash and lava. Here the vines grow struggling against the wind and the almost infertile soil, and are harvested at excruciatingly low yields. The 2017 Los Bermejos Rosado is 100% Listan Negro and shows notes of raspberries, strawberries and cream, guava, passionfruit, and pink grapefruit, all framed by a salty, volcanic minerality. Very complex on the palate, this rosado has great concentration and intensity, prominent acidity, electric grip, and a long, lingering mineral finish. Oskar Kostecki
Artifice Vidueño 2016 is a blend of local white grapes Marmajuelo, Listán Blanco, Albillo, Gual, and Foraster, from multiple parcels. Vinified in 500 liter French oak barrels and then racked in large foudre and is aged for about 11 months. On the palate, the wine displays a beautiful density and subtle creaminess, with ashy volcanic minerality and lively acidity. CSC
Borja Pérez, the winemaker behind the Ignios Origenes label from Tenerife, is a proponent of traditional winemaking with a strong focus on the superb volcanic terroir of his island. The Tinto, a beautiful vibrant wine from a 100% Listán Negro, is made from grapes from multiple parcels in Ycoden Daute Isora. Fermented separately in stainless steel, the wine is then aged together in old French oak barrels and large foudres, with minimal addition of sulfur at bottling. Full of energy, the wine displays earth, spice, white pepper, dark berries and purple floral notes. On the palate, the acidity and minerality are in full display showing off a structure that is so unique to Tenerife. A fantastic wine to pair with charcuterie, pork chops, roasted chicken, or grilled vegetables. CSC
100% Listan Blanco, from the arid vineyards of the Valle de Guimar in southern Tenerife. Hot, dry and sunny, the Valley is cooled by trade winds off the Atlantic. This wine comes from a tiny vineyard that is currently being converted to organics, perched high on Mount Teide at about 900 meters above sea level. Opulent notes of tropical flowers, pine resin, salt, and ashy volcanic character dominate the nose, while the palate exhibits a tension between ripe fruit, acidity, and intense volcanic minerality. Drink with richer fish dishes and shellfish. Ben Fletcher
All Listan Negro from Dolores Cabrera, a farmer/winemaker from Tenerife. Vines average around 100 years old, and unlike many of the Canary Island offerings, are from lower altitude sites, mostly on iron-rich red clay terroir. The new vintage from Dolores is a beautiful expression of Listán Negro, with less intense acidity or tartness than we typically find from high altitude vineyards. Light-to-medium bodied, with ripe red and purple fruit on the mid-palate and a elegant, finessed finish. An all-around delicious wine that should be explored by any Canary Island wine enthusiast. Eben Lillie
100% Listán Negro, carbonic maceration, from Bodegas Monje. This light bodied and vibrant red has a bouquet of dark and red fruit, ashy minerality, white pepper and earth. Drink it slightly chilled with light fare, such as roasted chicken, Peking duck, blackened salmon and earthy vegetarian dishes. CSC
Siete Fuentes is the village red wine of Suertés del Marques, coming from dozens of small parcels of various altitudes and terroirs in Valle de la Orotava. Mostly from Listàn Negro from vines ranging from 10- to 80-year of age, whole-cluster pressed, and fermented in concrete and stainless steel, the wine is then aged for about 10 months in concrete and neutral oak. This wine is fresh and vibrant, displaying bright savory aromas and complex bouquet of dark berry, herbal, olives, earth, smoke and ashy notes. Showing a bit of reduction on arrival to New York, the 2017 is really opening up now, and should be singing with another month or two in bottle.