Erik Neilson on February 2, 2017 2 Comments There are certain regions of the world that are well known for their wine production. Spain is one of the best examples, as many people are extremely familiar with Spanish wines and actively seek them out. Oddly enough, however, most people aren’t familiar with the wines made in one of Spain’s furthest-flung territories, the Canary Islands. These wines may be overlooked, but they’re also some of the best you’ll find from this part of the world and deserve to be talked about. Located off of the north coast of Africa near Morocco, the Canary Islands are known for their diverse microclimates and unique soils. The volcanic soil characteristic of the Canaries has a strong influence on the resulting wines, many of which serve as better examples of terroir than most people can ever expect to find. The History of Wine in the Canary Islands While the majority of the world associates the Canary Islands with vacationing, it’s important to note that the region actually has a rich winemaking history. For centuries, Canary Island winemakers produced sweet, heavy wines from a grape known as Malmsey, a varietal that is also found in Madeira. During the 17th century, this high-alcohol dessert wine was exported to the rich aristocracies of Europe, which changed dramatically when French and Portuguese wines dominated in terms of popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries. While pockets of production did survive throughout the islands, many vineyards ceased production and were pulled as demand fell. The fall of sweet Malmsey wine in the Canary Islands may have been enough to seemingly put an end to the industry, but thankfully, this isn’t exactly how things ended up going. Rather, small wineries began to produce more restrained, dryer styles of wine that could be quaffed in quantity instead of having to be sipped slowly at the end of a meal. This new focus all but completely changed the landscape of wine in the Canaries, setting the foundation for winemaking occurring on the islands today. Primary Grapes As wine production in the Canary Islands is more diverse today than perhaps ever in the past, the list of grapes being cultivated in the area is growing. Still, there are a handful of grapes that have long served as the most common and popular, and you’ll be more likely to stumble upon these varietals than Cabernet or Chardonnay grapes. The main vine grown on the islands is Malvasia, which is capable of producing a wide variety of different styles. Malvasia wine can be sweet and cloying with a syrupy consistency, or it can be made off-dry to accentuate its marmalade-like flavors. Because Malvasia is so heavily influenced by the soil it’s grown in, it can vary dramatically depending upon its place of origin. Two other grapes that are found primarily on the Canary Islands are Listán Blanco and Listán Negro; white and red respectively. Both are enjoyed for their abilities to pick up numerous elements from the soil they’re grown in, including the flinty, smoky flavors of the volcanic soil the Canaries are so well known for. Listán Negro in particular is as peppery and fruity a red one could ever ask for, making it an ideal pairing for the spice-rich food found on the Islands. For relaxing on a warm summer evening, Listán Blanco fits the bill perfectly and is dry enough for session drinking, as it’s quite easy to have more than one glass of this refreshing libation. While new grapes are continuously being planted, none have found quite the popularity of those listed above. As a result, they often end up in blends rather than varietal-based bottles, which is not to say that Canary Island blends aren’t of the utmost quality — some truly are. As the landscape of wine production continues to change in the Canaries, it’s more than possible that some of these grapes will become popular in their own right. Bottles to Try Years ago, it would’ve been quite difficult to drink wine produced in the Canary Islands without actually booking a flight and visiting the area itself. Today, however, acquiring wines from the Canaries isn’t nearly as challenging. Here are just a few bottles to try, each of which serves as an excellent example of how the volcanic soil of the islands influences the grapes grown there. Tajinaste Tinto Tradicional (2010) Made from 100% Listán Negro, this classic tasting wine from the island of Tenerife is an excellent option for those looking for a dry table wine to be served alongside practically any meal. Juicy and invigorating to the palate, the wine ends with a peppery, almost spicy finish that closes off the palate quite nicely. Bodegas los Bermejo Malvasia Seco (2013) From Lanzarote, this exquisite representation of Malvasia wine is about as rich in minerals and floral notes as one can ever expect to find. Not unlike licking the walls of a volcano, the wine’s refreshing qualities make it ideal for pairing with fresh seafood or simply drinking on its own on a hot summer night. Los Bermejos also produces a rosado made from 100% Listán Negro that is of note, also bursting with minerality and driven by an herbaceous center. Suertes del Marques Fuentes Listán Negro (2012) The Orotaro Valley of Tenerife is one of the more prolific areas of wine production in the Canaries, and the Suertes del Marques Fuentes Listán Negro 2012 vintage shows just how far the region has come over the years. The old vines result in a wine that is both peppery and fragrant, with earthy tannins and a mineral presence that can’t be ignored. Island wine has character, and the Canaries are no exception to the rule. If you’ve never tried a wine from the Canary Islands, start with one of the bottles above and don’t hesitate to branch out. There are countless producers located in the Canaries, many of which are so small that they don’t distribute outside of the islands. For the ultimate experience, consider a trip to the islands — you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better vacation spot!