Extreme Wines on Trend: Canary Islands

Over the last couple of years I have noticed more references to the wines of the Canary Islands, in wine publications and in wine lists. In fact, I had a good friend snap of pic of one recently and send it to me asking what I knew about these wines. I was able to learn a bit during SommCon DC from Master Sommelier Joseph Spellman. He included two Canary Island wines in a session that focused on the extreme wine growing areas of Spain. For anyone who knows me, you know my favorite wines of California come from the “Extreme Sonoma Coast” a place where the proximity to the Pacific coupled with steep hills, fast moving weather (fog in the morning, bright sunshine in the afternoon), wind, and remote access make it a difficult place to get to, let alone harvest grapes. The Canary Islands are a set of islands south of mainland Spain just north of Morocco. The wines of the Canary Islands are definitely extreme in their origin on islands of remote location with active volcanoes, resulting in a very small production. 

We tasted two wines – The first from Lanzarate, an island with a volcano still cooling (from an eruption in 1730). A rose of the native varietial Listan Negro, it was pale coral in color, with beautiful minerality, notes of slight watermelon and fresh salinity and acid. This wine is produced in the most extreme way – vines are dug in ash pits, and surrounded by lava rocks that are stacked loosely by the winemaker. These black pits protect the wine from the wind, and also catch early morning dew to provide water to these dry farmed vines. The producer, Bermejos, must rebuild the volcano walls every few days. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks to retain the freshness of the wine. 

The next wine was from the next island over, Tenerife, which has beautiful beaches and a volcano. According to Mr. Spellman, there is a variety of different wine styles and varieties on this island. A common theme is that they have a very floral aroma and are full bodied. We found the wine of Dolores Cabrera Fernandez “La Araucaria” 2017 to be no exception. Made from 100 year old vines at 480 meters of elevation, this wine was unique in flavor, especially compared to the typical wines offered to a U.S. consumer. The wine had tasting notes of black pepper, smoke, meatiness, and fresh red fruit. Tannins were medium plus with medium plus acidity as well. A very food friendly wine. 

The Canary Islands is definitely a favorite of sommeliers at the moment – and you will likely continue to see them on wine lists in hip restaurants. Their unique terroir contributes to a smell, taste and experience unlike most things in your glass – with present tannins, crisp acidity, salinity and umami flavors that pair well with many foods. I can’t wait to taste more! Cheers!

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