The Canary Islands, a Spanish territory, is an off-the-beaten path wine region today, but it has a rich history of viticulture, even meriting a mention in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"...
When I first started writing for The Taos News, I made a list of about 10 years worth of articles I wanted to write. (I was really excited to be writing this column.)
One of the first on that list was an article about the wines of the Canary Islands. This Spanish territory, lying off the coast of Morocco, is an off-the-beaten path wine region today, but it has a rich history of viticulture, even meriting a mention in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," when Sir Toby Belch taunts his companion, Sir Andrew Aguecheek: "O knight thou lackest a cup of canary."
But while Sir Toby may have had ample access to the wines of the Canary Islands in the early 1600s, in 2014 we in Taos did not. Historically, there may not have been much reason for us to seek these wines out. Though the landscape in which they are grown is undoubtedly unusual, many vines grow on pockmarked fields of volcanic ash, and the wines weren't much to shout about.
But in recent years, attention (and money) has been increasingly dedicated to producing world-class wines in the Canary Islands. And more and more of them are becoming available in the United States.
So imagine my delight when I discovered that, all of a sudden, a veritable bevy of Canary Island wines had become available here in Taos. At long last, I can write my article!
Vines were introduced to the Canaries during the Spanish conquest of the islands in the early 15th century; thus, many of the grapes grown there today are Spanish grapes, although often under the guise of different names.
For example, a common white grape, called listan blanco on the islands, is known as palomino on mainland Spain, where it is an important component of sherry. And listan negro is genetically identical to the mission grape brought to the new world, including to New Mexico, by 17th century Spanish missionaries.
Grapes are grown on six of the seven main islands in the archipelago, the majority of those exported coming from the tourist destination (and, less fortuitously, the location of the deadliest aviation accident in history), Tenerife. All three wines I tasted for this article came from the vineyards of Tenerife.
The name of the first Canary wine I tasted, Envínate, translates literally to "wine yourself." As in "administer wine to yourself," an order most of us would be happy to follow. 2016 Envínate Ycoden-Daute-Isora Benje Blanco ($28/750ml bottle), is made from listan blanco and hails from the region of Ycoden-Daute-Isora, where vineyards climb the fertile slopes of Mount Teide, the tallest mountain in Spain and the third tallest volcano in the world.
The bottle feels rustic, sealed with white wax, rather than a foil cap. The wine is a buoyant yellow in the glass, with aromas of honeyed apple and--this is going to sound dumb, but bear with me--green grapes. Obviously, white wine is often made from green grapes, but it's actually quite rare that I stick my nose in a glass of white wine and smell the aroma of fresh green grapes.
Please stop rolling your eyes now. The palate is light and fresh, with lemon and orange pith giving a pleasant bitterness and notes of white pepper, a bump of spice.
2017 Dolores Cabrera Fernández Valle de la Orotava La Araucaria Rosado ($24) is a rosé of listan negro, also grown on the slopes of Mount Teide, east of Ycoden-Daute-Isora. The region of Valle de la Orotava was one of the first planted to vines by the Spanish.
In the glass, the wine is one of the deepest-colored rosés I've seen--it could almost pass for a very light red, or the juice of a maraschino cherry. I have to say, I was a little nervous about tasting this wine, because the aromas wafting from the glass were…challenging.
I live in fear of hate mail, so I won't tell you what I wrote in my tasting notes, but I'm happy to report that the wine tasted far better than it smelled, with notes of fall hay, black pepper and pomegranate. It would be a delicious companion to some of the Canary Islands' prized goat cheese.
Also from Valle de la Orotava comes 2014 Suertes del Marques Valle de la Orotrava Medianías ($34). It comprises grapes listan negro, vijariego negro, and tintilla from vines up to 100 years old. Also sealed with a wax cap, this imposing bottle contains a ruby red wine, lightening with age to orange at the edges of the glass.
The nose is peppery and pungent with cedar, spicy red flowers, and cured meat, with some fresh strawberry notes to round out the edges. In the mouth, the strawberries deepen to red cherries, and the spicy notes take on a church incense tone. It's mouthwateringly wonderful and utterly unique.
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