New Canary Island Wines!

5/6/19 -

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!

-Ben Fletcher

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