Not long ago, if you mentioned bottles from the Canary Islands to wine-loving friends, you might be met with blank stares. But today, it’s increasingly common to see a flicker of recognition — even ardent appreciation — for these distinctive pours, coaxed from the volcanic soils of a far-flung archipelago.
This chain of seven islands in the Atlantic, 60 miles from the Moroccan coast and under the Spanish flag, challenges notions about where grapes grow. While many vineyards are arranged in regimented rows, you will also find vines, on the easternmost island of Lanzarote, growing in the center of hoyos, man-made craters encircled by low stone walls that provide shelter from the wind. That landscape also includes fissures in the earth, the result of lava that flowed then cooled, exposing the bedrock below. Vines are tended in these crevices, too.
Wines here span the color spectrum, and range from dry to sweet. But flavors and aromas like salt, mineral, flint, and smoke — associated with volcanic soils — create an unmistakable through-line. Bottles from two winemaking families, both residing on Tenerife, the largest of the islands and home to volcano El Teide, have good availability in Boston-area shops, and are on offer for under $30.
With winemaking roots reaching back to the 18th century, Bodegas Monje is headed up by fifth-generation Felipe Monje. One bottle, called “La Hollera,” is crafted from listán negro, an indigenous, vigorous varietal that is the most widely planted red grape in the Canaries. This suave pour is crafted using semi-carbonic maceration, whereby whole grapes are tipped into a vessel that is then sealed. Fermentation begins inside those intact berries, resulting in buoyant fruitiness in the finished product. Compare it side-by-side with a classic red, called “Tradicional,” that spends brief time in oak.
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At Bodegas Viñátigo, fourth generation grower Juan Jesus, together with his wife Elena Batista, craft a lively pour from listán blanco. It’s the region’s principal white varietal, known as palomino fino in sherry-making Jerez. Both viticulturalists and enologists, the couple has made it their life’s work to preserve and promote the islands’ 80-plus indigenous varietals, propagating experimental plots of grapes like baboso negro and vijariego. Fingers crossed that we’ll get to taste them in the near future.
This trio provides just a glimpse at the wares of the Canary Islands, wines that reward an adventurous palate. Ask for these bottles to ensure that more come our way.
Bodegas Viñátigo Listán Blanco 2016 This appealing white offers crunchy peach as well as lemony pith and spritz, with delicious acidity and a note of salt from beginning to end. Around $20. At Blanchards Wines & Spirits, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-9300; Pairings Wine and Food, Winchester, 781-721-9463.
Bodegas Monje “La Hollera” Carbonica 2015 High-toned confectionary aromas convey cherry, floral, and red plum skin, followed by graphite-like minerality, a soft character, and velvety tannins in the mouth. Around $22. At Curtis Liquors, Weymouth, 781-331-2345; Medfield Wine Shoppe, Medfield, 508-359-4097.
Bodegas Monje “Tradicional” 2014 Mostly listán negro with negramoll and listán blanco. On the nose, cherries and berries with a whiff of smoke, leading to a food-friendly, medium-bodied palate that sees brief time in neutral American oak. Around $25. At Bacco’s Wine + Cheese, Boston, 617-574-1751; Grand Trunk Wine & Cheese, Newburyport, 978-499-4441.