I recently attended a tasting of Canary Islands wines imported by José Pastor which seem appropriate to include in this month's focus on unusual grapes. A whole slew of grapes here. Sure Malvasia is familiar, and Listán Blanco and Listán Negro may have familiar alternative names (Palomino and Mission, respectively). But Viajiego was completely new to me, as was Marmajuelo, and, honestly, how many Negramoll and Tintilla do I run into regularly? What is particularly fascinating, but unfortunately I can't speak specifically to, is the degree of variation among the islands themselves. The island of Lanzarote, furtherest east and subject to hot winds coming off the African plains while high altitude vineyards (sometimes 1000m or more) on Gran Canaria combats the heat. Prephylloxera vines that survived due to the louse not doing well on the sandy soils. The geographic isolation seems ideal for making wines that are distinct, the fact that I also found them delicious is a beautiful coincidence.
Starting off things right with a sparkling Malvasia (and this may have been my first such), the NV Los Bermejos Espumoso Brut Nature from the island of Lanzarote has a pure green nose. And tastes likewise, fantastic definition, green, crunchy, delicious. The definition here is notable, this is a stunning sparkling wine. The 2010 Los Bermejos Diego has a bright medicinal nose, tasting layered with good grip while still retaining some softness to the fruit. Bright pastry on the finish, a very complete package. Excellent. The 2010 Los Bermejos Malvasía Seco has a much flatter nose in comparison to the Diego, but tastes juicy, with a tang of acidity that reminded me (in a good way) the Juicy Fruit gum my mother would chew back in the day. While this one is pleasant, and seems to have more of a center than the Diego, I found less of interest that the incredible definition that the Diego had. Moving westward and away from Africa to arrive at the island of Tenerife for the 2009 Viña Zanata Listán Blanco which had a rather crazy gluelike nose, and tasted a little bizarre, like acorns. It actually felt a little anonymous on the palate until I encountered the light delicate but persistent finish. Still didn't wow me, more likable than loveable, but interesting nonetheless. But one of my favorites of the tasting (and winning many fans around the table) was the 2009 Viña Zanata Marmajuelo Blanco which had a slightly awkward nose but had a fantastic plushness combined with well-defined dryness. Crunchy, spicy, tons of content, yet I can see this wine having a broad appeal. Superb and interesting. Staying on the island of Tenerife, the 2010 Tajinaste Blanco Seco was another Listán Blanco, which hardly had any nose at all and tasted dominantly of playful summer melon, basic and pleasant. Again on Tenerife, the 2002 Monje Evento, also Listán Blanco, was much, much crazier, on the nose. Reminded me of a Vin Jaune or extended skin-contact oxidative white. Tastes pure at first, but that seems to be taken over by a more syrupy component. This one seemed to have everyone around the table puzzled. Obviously some age on there as well, but this was pretty unusual stuff. Almost felt like there were some carmelized or maderized elements.
And onto the reds, back to Lanzarote for a Listán Negro, the 2009 Los Bermejos Tinto Barrica had a really fantastic, vibrant nose, tasting juicy, and very, very, tangy. The tang on this one was certainly extreme. Another Listán Negro, the 2010 Tajinaste Tinto Tradicional had a killer nose: dark, awesome, layered, a nose that makes you stop and listen. The taste was much drier than the previous Listán Negro, but it still screamed juicy dark berry with lots of definition and very dry execution. Fantastic stuff. The next Listán Negro had 4 months in barrel, the 2009 Tajinaste Tinto 4 Meses en Barrica was much more reserved aromatically but still pleasant, and tasted more integrated, very interesting with superb focus. I think I probably preferred the 2010, but the 2009 Barrica might have an integration that has broader appeal. Incredible comparison, in any case. Onto Gran Canaria and La Palma for the 2009 Tendal Tinto Ecológico, a blend of Prieto and Castellana, where half undergoes carbonic maceration and the other half is rasied in tank. The nose is stinky and filthy and the wine itself is amazingly delicious--reserved flinty dark minerality, great presences, cab franc meets nebbiolo in a uranium mine. Incredible awesome stuff with flinty depth. The 2006 Tendal Barrica Tinto is a blend of Prieto and Negramoll and has a more peppery nose, soft and creamy, a bit odd, lots of debate going around the room regarding this wine as those with previous experience felt it was not showing what it typically does. Hard one for me to read. Staying on the main island, the 2009 Frontón de Oro Tinto Tradicional, a blend of Tintilla and Listán Negro, had a rubber-meets-the-road nose and seemed dark, very very roasted, almost burnt, and slightly reduced. More roasted flavor than any sort of fruit. The 2009 Frontón de Oro Malpais (a blend of Prieto, Tintilla, and Listán Negro) was stunning. Very floral nose, very reminiscent at the same time of a Twizzler. And that very-berry element came through in a very strong way throughout. Raspberry licorice delciousness. The 2009 Frontón de Oro Tintilla was a much more intellectual-oriented wine and I'd need more time and a bottle to evaluate it properly. But my brief foray with it suggested a dual mineral-herbal focus with dark savory fruit and a really nice integrated feel with lots of structure to appreciate. Interesting.
Back to the eastern side of the islands and higher altitude vineyards (1300m) on Tenerife for the 2010 Tierras de Aponte Tinto Joven, a blend of Vijariego Tinto and Ruby Cabernet, which had a pleasant wispy nose that reminded me of an herbal fruit roll-up, but seem much more basic in the mouth, just a basic there there. The 2010 Tierras de Aponte Tinto Vendemia Seleccionada (Vijariego Tinto), however, had a stink and a funk on the nose and screamed good structure, tannic obviousness, juicy plushness, quite a food wine here and a bit more challenging. Staying on Tenerife, the 2010 Monje Tinto Hollera Maceración Carbónica (Listán Negro) had an aggressive carbonicesque nose (perhaps, I'm not expert on identifying it, but it seemed similar to other carbonic maceration wines I've had in the past) and tasted light, juicy, and bubblegummy in a way that didn't particularly grab me. The 2008 Monje Tinto Tradicional (Listán Negro, Negramoll, Listán Blanco) had a nice nose of soil, but more meh berry-gum flavors. Palate fatigue might be setting in, but I'm kinda bored here. The 2000 Monje Autor (Listán Negro, Negramoll, Listán Blanco), however, woke me up a bit with wild smells that reminded me of traveling (now, isn't that useful), more purity in the juiciness element here, crunchy raspberries, very pleasing. Still on Tenerife, the 2006 Buten Crater (blend of Negramoll and Listán Negro) is dark, leathery, and intense. A bit too intense for my preferences and it kind of reminded me of a higher acid new world syrah, though there were some diverging opinions on this wine around the table. Still on Tenerife, the 2006 Tacande Tinto (a blend of Baboso, Tintilla, Vijariego, and Negramoll) which seemed much more barrel-oriented than the previous, though I'm not entirely certain about that. Dark, luscious candied cherries, too rich and thick for my preferences. Finally, something sweet to finish, the NV Los Bermejos Malvasía Dulce was really divine: rich and superb, yet easy driking, fantastic lightness, amazing. I want to evaluate a whole bottle, please!