How do wine grapes grow in the Canary Islands you may wonder? Good question. As the entire globe has become obsessed with wine culture, so has this historic group of islands. The island of Gran Canaria is like a continent all its’ own as the terrain and climates vary so drastically throughout the fairly small island. Near Sahara Africa, the island sometimes confuses those who can’t imagine quality wines could be produced in this region, yet they actually host the most southern vineyards in the Northern hemisphere.
The Canary Islands boast a wine culture that has been around for many centuries yet is still in its infancy in terms of actually producing connoisseur quality wines. They have wines that range from an inexpensive Tinto and lightly mineral white, to wines of better quality and deeper complexity. They are discovering more varietals capable of growing and thriving in the volcanic soils and warmer, dry climates. Wineries are growing Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, as well as the typically Canario varieties such as Tintilla, Castellana, Listan, and Malvasia. Many wineries have begun to improve their wine making facilities and capacity by utilizing stainless steel tanks, French and American oak barrels. They are even beginning to age their wines in barrels more than the typical “Robles” or three months in barrel. Some wines are barreled 8 months to 1 year, especially when combined with the Bordeaux varietals. I will outline a few wineries pursuing the new school approach to wine making in my next blog series.
I joke that Christopher Columbus, who’s first stop was in the Canary Islands after leaving Spain sailing towards the Americas, picked up his first wine club shipment here. He did indeed load up on wine for the long journey West. While I didn’t travel as long of a journey as Christopher, I still picked up some old world wine to enjoy in the “new world.” Day one I tasted wines in the Agaete Valley in the Finca La Laja. I will profile the wines of another region, Santa Brigada, in a later post.
My first visit was to the historic Las Bodegas de Berrazales (http://bodegalosberrazales.com/portada_ingles.htm) in the Agaete Valley. As you drive through the picturesque village near the coast, the architecture and old world Spanish charm is visually apparent and as you travel up the windy road towards the winery, majestic mountains rise up in all directions. It is absolutely gorgeous, fruit tress and canopy style vines draping overhead. While it is unusual to see wine grapes grown this way, it is quite beautiful. In the summer months, temperatures rise up to nearly 40 degrees Celsius and having grapes grown ten feet overhead allows the sea breeze to cool and protect them. The vines are mixed with beautiful flowers, mango, guava, coffee, avocado, and orange trees. One of the proprietors, Victor Lugo Jorge greets us with an overview of the land (La Finca), the history of the grapes, and education in coffee and other produce grown on the property. Victor is the third generation tenant of this land, college educated, and articulates a deep passion for his family and the lands they grow their agricultural bounty on. We try red coffee beans directly off the plants before Victor shows us their roasting process. We walk around the charming main building and are welcomed with a warm smile, a plate of super sweet oranges, and some fresh water from the mountain springs above our heads. Victor begins by showing off some of their oldest 80 year old vines, as well as some as the newer 20 year old vines.
We then view the winemaking process from crush pads, stainless steel tanks, French and American oak barrels, and the bottling machine. The winery is relatively small scale but carries some of the longest tradition of wine growing on the island. Everything is done by hand in this family winery, or as a winery is called here, “Bodega”. The land or “la finca” as the Spanish call it is absolutely stunning and a treat in its’ own.
Victor Lugo Jorge treats us like family and does a fantastic presentation and tour of his “bodega”. His love for the family land and their wines is present in the wide eyed and passionate descriptions he provides us. We sit down for a tasting with Victor on the terrace and we have an array of foods to pair with our tasting. There are local breads, cheeses, Iberian style ham, and sweet breads to indulge in. I am fully impressed as we all know, food and wine is the simplest way to my heart.
First we try a dry white Semi Seco wine. It is a lighter white wine with great mineral flavors from the volcanic soils. We then move on to the Rose which is a dry wine as well. Next, to my surprise and delight, I am treated to a barrel sample of a new, very special white wine they are producing, La Nina de la Laja. It is a wine dedicated to Victor’s grandmother, the matriarch of the property. It has medicinal characteristics with tropical fruit flavors. Following this, we try the red Tinto Roble (2013). This wine is more age worthy (3-5 years) and made up of 90% Tintilla and 10% Listan Negra. I enjoyed this red tremendously although it is a lighter body red, it is truly a food wine. We finish with the 2014 Blanco Dulce or sweet wine which is comprised of 90% Muscat and 10% Malvasia. My favorites are the Tinto Roble and the Blanco Dulce.
The word “Roble” on the bottles stylistically refers to the fact the wine only stays in the barrel for up to three months. The local wine fruit flavors disappear if they are left in oak too long. The local red varietals are Tinto, Listan Negra, and Tintilla. The local varieties avoided phylloxera and are some of the only on the planet. The white variety of Malvasia is rooted in DNA directly from the Canary Islands and is virtually unknown elsewhere.
My #SipSavorServe recommendations:
- Sip on the Blanco Dulce on the patio during a warm evening. Although this is a sweet wine, it is not syrup like and has a good balance of sweetness and structure. It is made up of 90% Muscat and 10% Malvasia, the later only found in the Canary Islands.
- Savor the first and coming release of the La Nina de La Laja. This medicinal, tropical white has quite a lot going on yet it has near perfect harmony of flavors. It will pair well with full body cheese like a Manchego. Stay tuned for the inaugural release of this wine.
- Serve the 2013 Tinto Roble with a BBQ pork tenderloin or a lamb roast. It is well balanced, delicate, and has red berry fruit flavors.
Cameron Marc Kossen