This Spanish archipelago symbolized by the little bird consists of seven islands located in the Atlantic, east of the African coast near Morocco, about 1,100 km south of the mainland. The islands are of volcanic origin, young ones at that, so steep that the landscape has been described as a natural roller coaster. These are the Canary Islands.
But the landscape isn’t the only roller coaster. The climate to the north is often shaded by a “sea of clouds,” which results in humid oceanic air blown by strong winds butting against the mountainside and cooling as it rises. That means a good deal of rain — about the same as in eastern Canada. The south face is under a different influence. Here there is dry air coming from the nearby African coast, a lot of sunshine and the occasional sandstorm. In all cases, the Atlantic waters keep the temperature to a stable 17 to 25˚C all year long, going down to 13˚C on the mountaintops.
There were no grapes on the islands prior to the arrival of Spanish and other European immigrants in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The wines were prized in England until the end of the 17th century, when abusive price practices and an oidium epidemic killed the industry. Reduced to local consumption, the wines were long forgotten, but the 1980s saw a revival, fuelled by the arrival of a new generation of winemakers. They realized the potential: for 500 years, the vines had evolved in isolation from the rest of the world. Phylloxera did not make it to those shores, so no grafting was used and vines more than 100 years old could be found. Today, most varieties have lost their original names, but many have actually evolved and taste different than their parent. The strong influence of the volcanic soil also contributes to their uniqueness. If some reds still have an air of “work-in-progress,” many of the whites seem quite achieved and are drinking beautifully.
Canary Islands Whites
Bodegas Los Bermejos Diego Seco Ecologico 2013, DO Lanzarote ($26.50)
100% Diego, a local name for Vijariego originating from Andalucía in Spain, where it has almost disappeared. Lanzarote is the DO of the island of the same name. Of pale colour, the nose is minerally with discreet fruit. Sharp and delicately flavoured, its texture is fatty. The finish is long and slightly oily.
Bodega Frontos Blanco Seco Ecologico 2013, DO Abona ($24.50)
100% Listan Blanco, which is Palomino fino (as in sherry). Abona is one of the 5 appellations located on the main island of Tenerife. Powerful nose of cat’s pee, floral and mineral. Light bodied thanks in part to residual carbonic gas; it tastes almost salty and very fresh.
Bodegas Fronton de Oro Albillo Seco 2013, DO Gran Canaria ($21.50)
The DO Gran Canaria covers about 75% of that island. Golden colour. Intriguing nose of exotic fruits, very soft spicy and fresh menthol-like notes, reminiscent of a sweet Muscat but it is dry with a clean taste, well balanced. Very good. 100% Albillo Criollo appears to exist only in the Canaries.
Bodegas Vinatigo Marmajuelo 2013, DO Ycoden Daute Isora ($28)
From the island of Tenerife, it shows a very pale yellow colour. Fine nose, perfumed with a light touch of wet wool. Light on the palate, it drinks well on its own with its intense finish lifted by acidity. 100% Marmajuelo, indigenous to the islands.
Bodegas Vinatigo Vijariego Blanco 2013, DO Ycoden Daute Isora ($25)
Pale golden colour. Intense and ripe nose, slightly oaky, with tobacco and a hint of white flowers. Very dry, flavours are chiselled by acidity, its fatty texture fills the mouth. Good length, too.
Bodegas Vinatigo Gual 2012, DO Ycoden Daute Isora ($25)
100% Gual, the local name of Portuguese Malvasia Fina. Very pale. Delicate, pleasant fruity nose. Light and clean with precise flavours, perfectly balanced, it drinks beautifully.
Bodegas El Penitente Arautava Finca La Habanera, DO Valle de la Orotava ($28.50)
Orotava occupies the central portion of Tenerife. Very pale colour. Intense nose of mineral and floral notes with a touch of lemon. Medium body with a racy acidity, slightly tartaric. Long finish.
Bodegas Monje Drago Blanco 2013, DO Islas Canarias ($24)
Inviting, candied fruit nose, perfumed and nicely fresh. Round on the palate with only moderate acidity, semi-dry texture. Very pleasant.
Bodegas Tajinaste Afrutado 2013, DO Islas Canarias ($21.50)
Listan Blanco and 5% Moscatel (Muscat d’Alexandrie). Very pale. Perfumed, floral and citrusy, it seduces the nose. Lively acidity accompanied by a fatty roundness in the mid-palate and a semi-dry medium body.
Canary Islands Reds
Bodegas Los Bermejos Listan Negro M.C. 2013, DO Lanzarote ($24.50)
100% Listan Negro, an indigenous variety according to DNA analysis, but long believed to be a colour mutation of Listan Blanco. Very young (purplish) colour and nose of red fruits (raspberry, cherry). Without oak, its drinkability and generous fresh fruit taste is reminiscent of vin nouveau (M.C. stands for macération carbonique), but in a more concentrated interpretation.
Bodega Frontos Tinto Classico 2013, DO Abona ($39)
Dark ruby. Intriguing nose of strawberry shortcake, sweet apples and sugar candy. Light to medium body with chewy tannins turning a bit rough in the finish. 100% Baboso Negro, the local name of Alfrocheiro, a Portuguese variety.
Bodegas Monje Tinto Monje 2013, DO Islas Canarias ($24.50)
Listan Negro with 5% Listan Blanco and 2% Negramoll. Negramoll is the local name for Spanish Mollar. Ruby purple. Soft spices and red fruits, candied but not jammy. Medium body, supple tannins, well balanced but it lacks in finesse. Nice tight finish.
Bodega Tajinaste Tinto Roble 2012, DO Islas Canarias ($27.50)
Dark ruby. Black fruits, eucalyptus, charred oak. The firm acidity accentuates the feeling of the tannins which seem a bit dry in a medium bodied mid-palate. Dry finish.
Bodegas Vinatigo Vijariego Negro 2012, DO Islas Canarias ($32.50)
100% Vijariego Negro (local name for Spanish Sumoll). Medium ruby. Light fruity nose with notes of fruit pits. Simple but pleasant fruity taste, medium body and acidity, well balanced.
Bodegas Candido Hernandez Pio Balcon Canario Tradicional 2013, DO Tacoronte de Acentejo ($23.50)
70% Listan Negro, 30% Negramoll, 10% Tintilla. Tintilla is the grape known as Bastardo in Spain, but it really is French Trousseau. Tacoronte-Acentejo is one of the 5 appellations of Tenerife Island. Purplish. Delicate notes of blackberries, spices and oak. Medium bodied, supple, it tastes mostly of fruit and is easy to drink.
Bodegas El Penitente Fermentado en Barrica 2012, DO Valle de la Orotava ($29.50)
Dark ruby. Blackberries, tar-like notes and a good deal of oak. Thick texture, lots of dry extract and fruity, clearly perceptible acidity adds a little bite.
Bodega Tajinaste CAN 2012, DO Valle de la Orotava ($49.50)
Listan Negro and Vijariego Negro in 50/50 mix. Dark colour. Notes of black fruits, balsamic, strong oak content with obvious coconut announcing a powerful palate but it is surprisingly only medium-bodied with supple tannins. Good balance in the compact, short finish.