In the Clouds: Carmelo Santana's high altitude vineyards in Gran Canaria (photo: Jose Pastor Selections).

New and Returning Canary Islands Wines: A Taste of Warmer Climes

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Exploring the wines of the Canary Islands has been a real passsion of mine for a few years now, and it's a pleasure to taste and offer new wines from these special islands. We are lucky that there are more and more exciting producers from the region being imported all of the time. The special viticultural heritage of the region, with unique indigenous grape varieties, farming techniques, and winemaking traditions is more accessible for American wine afficionados than ever before. I've tried to supply some background on those traditions, as best as I understand them, in past articles (particularly here), but it really seems like there's always more to say and more wines to taste and discover.

The Canary Islands. In terms of wine, the islands of Tenerife, Lanzarote, La Palma, and Gran Canaria are most important. A small amount of wine is also made on La Gomera. I've never encountered wine from El Hierro or Fuerteventura - maybe some day!

 

 

 

I'm excited to highlight a few favorites that are available right now: some have been at the shop before, some have not; some are names you may know, while others are from new producers. These wines come from across three of the islands (Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, and Tenerife) and many more distinct locales. Thus, despite a common geographical location, the wines are honestly very different from each other. There's an incredible variety of altitudes, climates, and soil types throughout the Canary Islands, and a great wealth of different grape varieties that are adapted to them. 

The Valle de Güímar, Tenerife (photo: Jose Pastor Selections).

Despite these differences, the winemakers highlighted today are all united by an organic and manual approach in the vineyard, and restraint in the cellar. The wines are, if I may say so, an honest representation of the place where the grapes were grown. With spring around the corner, I think they offer a way to anticipate and to celebrate sunnier days, warmer weather, and maybe some responsible outdoor conviviality with friends.

 

 

Ben Fletcher

Carmelo Santana / Bien de Altura 2019 Gran Canarias Ikewen Tinto

Carmelo Santana's project, Bien de Altura, is one of the most exciting of the new arrivals on the Canary Island wine scene. 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. The focus here is on preserving local grapes and reviving abandoned, difficult-to-work, high-altitude vineyards. 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 - these are some of the highest vineyards in Europe, near the Pico de las Nieves, Gran Canaria's highest point. The grapes (mainly Listan Negro, with a smattering of other indigenous varieties, including some white 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. The nose is bright and refreshing, showing macerated cranberries, pomegranate, and cherries joined to a persistently savory earthy note. The palate echoes, with bright red fruits, delicate tannins, and abundant, spicy, volcanic minerality. Great fun to drink, this improves with a bit of air, showing more complexity and exuberance over and hour or two.  E. Lillie & B. Fletcher

  • red
  • 3 in stock
  • $37.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Borja Perez Viticultores 2018 Tenerife Artifice Blanco

100% Listán Blanco from multiple parcels in Ycoden Daute Isora (northern Tenerife). Fermented separately, the wine is then aged for 8 months - a portion of the wine in concrete tanks on the lees and the other in 500 liter barrels - before being blended and bottled with minimal addition of sulfur. This iteration of the Artifice Blanco sees some skin contact, which adds subtle structure. Tropical aromatics blend with golden fruit and a touch of nuttiness. These wines just get better and better every year: Borja Perez is definitely one of the most skilled winemakers in the Canary Islands! Eben Lillie and Ben Fletcher

  • white
  • 8 in stock
  • $29.99

Envinate 2019 Tenerife Palo Blanco

100% Listán Blanco from centenarian vines in the black volcanic soil of the Palo Blanco vineyard, in the Valle de la Orotava of northern Tenerife. This area is humid despite the substantial elevation (600m above sea level), and the vines are trained in the braided Cordon Trenzado method to promote airflow. All grapes are hand harvested and fermented with indigenous yeasts in concrete before aging in a mix of foudre and used barrels for 10 months. Bottled without fining or filtering, and with only a touch of sulfur. This year's expression of Palo Blanco is concentrated and extremely savory, with notes of sea salt, stone, and volcanic spice. Ben Fletcher

  • white
  • 16 in stock
  • $59.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Envinate 2019 Tenerife Migan Tinto

100% Listán Negro, from two vineyards near La Perdoma in the Valle de la Orotava: San Antonio and La Habanera. Both are composed of old vines (80-100 years) and planted on volcanic soils with substantial amounts of clay, sand and basalt. Climactically, the Valle de la Orotava is wet and very windy, despite the altitude (350-650m above sea level). The grapes for Migan are harvested by hand and fermented with indigenous yeasts in concrete with some whole cluster inclusion before aging for about a year in neutral French oak barrels. Bottling is without fining or filtering, and with just a touch of sulfur. This shows the classic, spicy volcanic character of Orotava, with plenty of savory, earthy substance on the palate. Ben Fletcher

  • red
  • 14 in stock
  • $59.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur
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Pablo Matallana (Vinicola Taro) 2019 Lanzarote Pet Nat

Pablo Matallana is working with old, ungrafted vines on Lanzarote, where those vines are planted directly in black volcanic ash. The Pet Nat is made with Malvasia and Diego grapes from the La Florida vineyard. Made in the ancestral method, fermentation began in tanks with indigenous yeasts and the wine was bottle shortly before fermentation completed, causing the CO2 to integrate into the wine and form bubbles in the bottle. The wine rested in bottle for nine months before disgorgement. The result is apeach-flesh colored wine with soft, delicate bubbles. The nose shows classic Malvasia aromas of honey, pear and spices, which are echoed on the brightly refreshing palate with notes of lemon juice, salty stoniness, peach flesh, anise-spice and white tea. This is the sort of pet nat that offers something for everyone: yes, at 11.5% alcohol by volume, it is the sort of wine you can very happily open with a spring lunch, but there's real volcanic character and an interesting meeting of minerality and fruit here as well. Ben Fletcher

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • $44.99

  • Organic
  • No Sulfur

Juan Francisco Farina 2019 Tenerife Valle de Guimar Los Loros Siete Lomas Blanco

Juan Francisco Farina tends vineyards composed of indigenous Canarian grape varieties in the Valle do Guimar, on the east coast of Tenerife. The region is known primarily for white wines made from Listan Blanco, Albillo Griolla, Gual and Marmajuelo. The climate here is very warm, and there's less rain and humidity than in, for example, the Valle do Oratava, which is perhaps why the region has become known for conventionally farmed, uninteresting wines. Juan Francisco is a leader in promoting organic practices and more transparent winemaking in the appellation. This wine, Siete Lomas, is a great expression of two lesser-known grape varieties: it is made from 80% Marmajuelo and 20% Gual from higher sites in the Valle do Guimar. The grapes are harvested together, and cofermented with indigenous yeasts before resting in used French Oak barrels. There's some lees stirring, lending the wine a bolder texture. The nose is quite opulent, with notes of charred peach, yellow apple, and bay leaf. The palate is bold and rich as well, but balanced by abundant acid structure (a hallmark of Marmajuelo), and a persistent volcanic minerality. 

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $34.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Carmelo Santana / Bien de Altura 2019 Gran Canarias Tidao

Tidao is a new wine from Carmelo Santana of Bien de Altura, made from a plot of old vines planted at a high altitude in Gran Canaria. The site is special for its age and the degraded volcanic soils, with a mix of clay and sand.  The wine, a cofermented blend of Listan Negro, Listan Blanco, Vijariego Tinto, and Tintilla, was fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged for 8 months in neutral French oak barrels before bottling. Tidao shows a bit more ripeness and  intensity than Ikewen, with notes of smoke, herbs, black fruits and stone on the nose.  The palate is utterly unique and fascinatingly long, with notes of blackberry, blueberry, charred thyme and smoked meat around of a core of structuring acidity. 800 bottles made.

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $59.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Borja Perez Viticultores 2018 Tenerife Artifice Tinto

Artifice Tinto is all Listan Negro, from a variety of plots in the northern region of Tenerife. The 2018 is by far the best expression of this wine that I've tasted, all citrus rind, cranberry, strawberry, exotic spices and smokiness on the nose, with an admirably delicate light- to medium-bodied palate with gentle tannins. There's clearly some whole clusters used here, but the wine shows softer and more elegant than in previous vintages. Borja Perez's wines just keep getting better! Ben Fletcher

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $29.99

  • Low Sulfur

Inaki Garrido 2019 Tenerife Las Toscas Blanco

Iñaki Garrido (who hails from the Basque country) produced this wine Las Toscas Blanco, his first wine from the Canary Islands, from a small vineyard of 150-200 year old vines of Listan Blanco at 1400 meters above sea level on Tenerife. Planted in poor volcanic soils, the half hectare at the top of  parcel Valle de Güímar produces only enough to bottle 1200 bottles of wine. The elevation and the volcanic soils yield a wine of incredible balance: herbal, citrus, and stone nights define the nose, while the long, vibrant palate shows charred lemon, fennel, and stone. This is a really remarkable Canarian white wine that expresses the incredible potential of these ancient vines and volcanic soils. Ben Fletcher

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $54.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur