The wines of the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands are the protagonists of the latest report by the British wine journalist, David Williams, published in the digital edition of the prestigious magazine Decanter.
In addition to a regular Decanter contributor, David Williams is a wine correspondent for The Observer, deputy editor for The World of Fine Wine, columnist for The Wine Merchant, and a regular contributor to The Guardian and Restaurant Magazine. He is also the author of two books on the world of wine and a judge in international wine competitions.
In the report, David takes a tour of the wine-growing history of both archipelagos, leading to their unique terroir and its relationship with the most widely used varieties in the winemaking carried out on these islands.
At the end of the article, the author publishes a tasting panel with his selection of the best wines from insular Spain where our Viñatigo Vijariego Blanco 2017 gets the highest score among whites.
We reproduce part of the article and the author’s tasting notes on our Viñátigo Vijariego Blanco 2017.
Canary and Balearic Islands: The exciting island wines of Spain
David Williams May 31, 2020 (Decanter Premium)
Look past the Spanish mainland to the Canaries and Balearics to discover diverse wine styles and fascinating local grape varieties. David Williams introduces the names to know and recommends top bottles to try from Tenerife, Lanzarote, La Palma, Mallorca and more.
Canaries and Balearics Literary past
With the Spaniards and Portuguese (who gave up their claim on the Canaries in exchange for the Spanish leaving Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde to them) came the vine, and the islands’ ﬁrst brush with vinous fame. Canary Island wines, thanks in no small part to the islands’ ideal position on transatlantic trade routes, were much coveted in Elizabethan England. References to ‘canary sack’ abound in Shakespeare plays – from ‘a cup of canary’ in Twelfth Night to the ‘marvelous searching wine’ that ‘perfumes the blood’ in Henry IV Part II . Later, Thomas Jefferson is said to have asked for a Canary Island wine to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
By the 20th century, however, Canary Island wines had dwindled into a largely parochial concern. It’s striking that, in the most recent edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine , the brief entry on the Canary Islands (written by respected Spanish wine expert Victor de la Serna) describes how ‘mediocre wines for the tourist trade are being replaced by much more interesting products’.
Holidaymakers aside, for most wine drinkers outside the islands, even those ‘mediocre’ wines were a mystery. It’s really only in the past decade that the Canary Islands have begun to make any sort of mark on the modern international wine scene. But it’s the islands’ very isolation that has made that renaissance possible – and so exciting.
It was the archipelago’s remote geographical position, after all, that meant the Canaries avoided the phylloxera plague that swept through Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century. That in turn meant there was no need to apply the cure: rather than replacing vineyards ravaged by the louse with plants grafted on to American rootstocks, Canary Islanders have been able to keep vines on their own rootstocks (pie franco).
The absence of phylloxera also accounts for the remarkable age of many Canary Island vines, and for the islands’ deﬁantly eccentric portfolio of grape varieties.
On the white side, Malvasia was historically considered the most important, the ingredient of the sweet sack that made the archipelago’s name (although recent evidence suggests the wines may well have been blends). It is still widely planted, notably on both La Palma and Lanzarote, producing both dry wines in an array of styles and quality, and sweet wines that reference the old days (and occasionally hit a tangy-lusicious sweet spot). Malvasia is joined by Listán Blanco (the local name for sherry country’s Palomino Fino), and Vijariego Blanco (once common in Andalucia, now conﬁned to the Canaries, and to Tenerife and El Hierro in particular); as well as Marmajuelo and Gual (the local name for Madeira’s Bual) among others.
For reds, another Madeiran favourite, Tinta Negra Mole (known in the Canaries as Negramoll), the Portuguese variety Alfrocheiro and Jura’s Trousseau (going by the local synonyms Baboso Negro and Tintilla, respectively) are joined by Vijariego Negro (Catalonia’s Sumoll) and the solo star or main player in many of the Canaries’ most critically acclaimed reds: Listán Negro.
With Canary Island wines it’s not so much the grape varieties themselves as the way they interact with the archipelago’s unique conditions that, literally, gets the mouth watering. Broadly speaking, the climate is sub-tropical, with the ﬁerce heat of Saharan Africa moderated by the cooling e!ects of Atlantic trade winds, leading to warm summers and mild winters.
However, there are many di!erent microclimates on each island. On the largest island of Tenerife alone you can ﬁnd enormous variations deﬁned by the varying altitudes and expositions on the slopes of El Teide, an active volcano that, at 3,718m above sea level, is Spain’s highest peak. These di!erences are reﬂected in Tenerife’s ﬁve DOs (from the dry, southern Abona, with plantings touching 1,500m above sea level, the highest in Europe, to the more humid Ycoden-Daute-Isora, on the island’s northwest side).
There is corresponding variety in the wine style, too, although at this stage in the Canary Islands’ evolution it isn’t always easy to say how much is down to terroir and how much to individual winemaking philosophies. In general, however, Canary Island wines are categorised by a wildness of ﬂavour that shouldn’t be confused with rusticity: a mix of electric acidity and saltiness, and a lightness of alcohol that makes them very refreshing, and very of the moment.
While they’re entirely their own thing, as a frame of reference, the reds often have something of Etna’s Nerello Mascalese about them: a kind of Pinot Noir-like grace and red-fruited suppleness charged with peppery spice, earth and iron-like minerals. Meanwhile in their mix of intensity, tang and zip, the white wines are how I imagine unfortiﬁed Madeira would taste. Not everything – not nearly enough, in fact – reaches the UK. But these deliciously idiosyncratic wines are worth getting to know when you ﬁnd them.
Original article.- “The Canary and Balearic islands; Spain’s exciting island wines“