The Wines of The Canary Islands

Mount-Teide.jpg

The Wines of The Canary Islands

A journey to an almost forgotten world

Image Credit to Pawel Lappo

This week, we're having a sale on some fantastic wines from the Canary Islands. Want to learn more? Read on

Just a little ways off the coastline of Morocco lies an archipelago called The Canary Islands--territory that Spain called their own, Portugal influenced, and maritime trade coursed through in the height of the age of exploration in the 1400s.  It's home to lands of stunning beauty and stark contrast--with the highest elevation of any mountain in the Atlantic thanks to Mount Teide on Tenerife, an active volcano.  

The earliest mention of the Canary Islands-and also where it gets its name, is from Roman times. The chain of islands gets a mention in Pliny the Elder's Natural History, in Book 6, paragraph 37.  It was the island of Gran Canaria (then called Canaria) that gave the islands its name due to the overwhelming presence of large dogs on the island, (canis being the Latin word for dog), and canaries, the little birds that flocked the islands, got their name from that, not the other way around.  

However, with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, The Canary Islands largely fell into cultural isolation, and were not visited by European exploration until the early 1300s, when a Genoese explorer by the name of Lanceloto Manocello, who made landfall on the island of Lanzarote and stayed for 20 years.  Upon his return to Europe, his knowledge fueled Portuguese and Castillan exploration of the island, and the eventual  Castilian conquest by 1496.

As with almost every colonization done by the Spanish, the native population was enslaved and almost entirely wiped out, but Spanish missionaries brought viticulture to the island, including Malvasia.

Malvasia has the longest connection to the island when it comes to wine-making, often presented in the sweet fortified style that grew out of necessity with travel by sea. But The Canary Islands feature a variety of indigenous grapes that are finding a larger audience now. Listan Blanco and Listan Negro are the most prominent, but you can also find grapes like Negramoll, and Listan Prieto (also known as the Mission grape).  

Most of the wine we find here in the United States is from Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands,  and most of its vineyards are on the north coast--for good reason. Tenerife finds most of it's vegetation on the northern part of the island due to the volcanic soil and ash that dominates the southern side.  Still, wine cultivation in the north is no small feat, with craggy, dramatic and windswept slopes that make Tenerife feel like an island lost to time more than a tourist destination.  Two of our wines are from Santiago del Teide which is part of the Ycoden-Daute-Isora DO (one of the 5 DOs that make up the wines of Tenerife) 

 Santiago del Teide on  Tenerife 

Santiago del Teide on  Tenerife 

Benje Blanco, and Benje Tinto are grown by Emilio Ramirez and Envinate, a collective of wine-makers who have holdings in Ribera Sacra, The Canary Islands, and other Atlantic-inflected regions of Spain.  

 Benje Blanco

Benje Blanco

Benje Blanco is harvested from ungrafted (pie franco) parcels of Listan Blanco.  All of the individual parcels are hand-harvested and vinified separately in a mix of concrete and open tubs, with 75% of the fruit pressed directly off the skins and the remainder is skin-macerated between 14-40 days. This high-toned white is fully organic and bottled without fining or filtration after being aged for 8 months in 60% concrete and 40% old French barrique. 

 Benje Tinto

Benje Tinto

Benje Tinto is also made up of ungrafted (pie franco) parcels of Listan Prieto, with a little bit of Tintilla. Again, each parcel is hand-harvested and vinified separately before being macerated for 10-30 days, given malolactic fermentation in neutral French barriques, then aged for 8 months in the same barrels and bottled without fining or filtration. 

 Lanzarote

Lanzarote

Before we get to our third and final wine, we'd like to show you where it comes from.  While the first two are from the largest island of Tenerife, the third comes from Lanzarote, a volcanic island that looks more similar to the Moon than a place you'd find on Earth.  

 The vineyards at Los Bermejos in Lanzarote

The vineyards at Los Bermejos in Lanzarote

Lanzarote is the eastern most Canary Island, and due to the bracing, desert winds that come off the coast of Morocco, the vines can't be grown safely without being grown low, and there are too few nutrients in the soil to promote sprawling greenery.  This was, in no small part, due to a volcanic explosion on the island that lasted from 1730-1736, leaving the island covered in lava and ash 3-5 meters deep. The vines are only found in tiny, man-made craters that dot the landscape.   Los Bermejos is one of the older producers on the Canary Islands, and they specialize in Malvasia, the grape that achieved status as the base for fortified wine, but presents well in a dry (seco) format as well.

 Los Bermejos Malvasia Seco

Los Bermejos Malvasia Seco

This is the Malvasia Seco, a 100% tank-aged Malvasia Volcanica, a grape that is truly indigenous to the Canary Islands--a crossing of Marmajuelo and Malvasia Aromatica, and it explodes on the palate with crisp citrus and mineral flavors. 

For more information about the wines, visit

Los Bermejos (from the importer website)

Envinate

Further Reading:

Wine Folly Article about Tenerife

New York Times Article about Canary Island Wines (Featuring Los Bermejos)

Vine Pair Article on Wine in the Canary Islands