Today Canary Islands Malmsey is little known, even to the hordes of tourists who descend on the archipelago, largely due to the chequered history of relations
between Spain and Britain. But each island has its own clones of Malvasia (as well as other ancient varieties, thanks to Phylloxera never having reached
the islands) and its own distinctive terroirs.
The distinctive common factor is the volcanic soil. Some vines are trellis trained (an influence of Portuguese colonists in the 16th Century), but most are low bush
vines, planted ungrafted into the fertile, black volcanic soil, often within small enclosures bounded by dry stone walls to protect the vines from the wind.
Arca de Vitis is situated in the curiously named Güímar (a relic of the aboriginal language of the Canaries) on Tenerife. Unlike a number of other wineries,
they use only their own grapes from their 13 hectares of vineyards. They were showing three experimental, small production (800 50cl bottles of each) malvasias under the
Contiempo label. Each of these wines is from the DO Valle de Güímar.
Arca de Vitis Malvasía Seco Contiempo 2005
14.5%, 500ml. A brassy mid gold. Quite a powerful nose with butter, salted almonds and some oxidation. Very powerful flavour - quite intense and full on. This seems to me to have some overtones of Gravner's north Italian whites. A very interesting wine. Very Good Indeed.
Arca de Vitis Malvasía Seco Barrico Contiempo 2005
15%, 500ml. The nose is slighter, more minerally and more approachable than the first wine, with some hay and a hint of caramel. But the nose is deceptive: on the palate, this has the full, powerful, oxidative flavours of the first wine, but with a rounder, creamier edge. Quite deep and complex, with a sort of completely dry toffee flavour on the finish. Huge length, with that toffee hint lingering. Very interesting wine indeed. Very Good Indeed/Excellent.
Arca de Vitis Malvasía Naturalmente Dulce 2005
14%, 500ml. A nice delicate, fragrant nose - full, gently grapey with some fresh grassy hints in the background. Quite delicate on the palate and very elegant indeed. This carries its 80 g/l residual sugar very well and has a nice balancing acidity. This almost seems to be in a different, more fruit-driven style to the two secos. Really Very Good Indeed/Excellent.
Bodegas Los Bermejos, Lanzarote
There are fourteen producers on Lanzarote, mostly very small. Los Bermejos is located at the centre of the island on a plateau 300 metres above sea level. The malvasía grape grown here is specifically the Malvasía de Lanzarote. Their wines are bottled in very classy-looking, vaguely amphora-like bottles imported from Italy.
Bodegas Carballo Malvasía Dulce 2003
14.5%, 500ml. From the DO Palma, this is made from the malvasía blanca fina grape, which is harvested when very ripe. A deep orangey gold. The nose is unusual, even in the company of the other malvasias: it's salty and tarry with a very definite streak of kippers - a really tangy, ozoney, ocean fresh nose. Rather curious attack: very concentrated, with really quite sweet fruit, but also with a real savoury tang. Deep and concentrated with huge acidity adding to the salty tanginess. Fascinating stuff. Very Good Indeed.
El Grifo Malvasía Seco 2005
13%, all of these wines come from the DO Lanzarote. Pale straw. The nose is full and almost pungent: rubbery and buttery with some oxidation. On the palate, it's bone dry - suprisingly so - and has a notable acidity. It has a buttery depth and a sauvignon-like freshness. Great depth and some complexity. It's marked out by the perception of high acidity. Very interesting stuff. Very Good Indeed.
El Grifo Malvasía fermentado en barrico 2003
13.5%. This feels much more normal, more rounded and more international on the nose, with the feel of a Chardonnay-Semillon-Sauvignon blend. Creamy, full attack. This feels quite international initially, but the Malvasia character and acidity comes through towards the finish, when there's a salty, savoury note. Very Good.
El Grifo Malvasía Semidulce 2005
12.5%. A rather muted nose with fresh hay and butter. Very good palate: it is definitely semi-sweet, yet it also has a good acidity. Very even flavour. Possibly lacks a bit of character. This would make a good aperitif. Very Good.
El Grifo Malvasía Dulce 2005
11.5%. A slight, but gently fragrant nose with a buttery, floral grapiness. On the attack, some great acidity is immediately evident. This is very nice and very elegant. Very clean and fresh tasting. A very impressive wine. Excellent.
Bodegas Tamanca is a family-run winery in El Paso on the island of La Palma. The Malvasia grape grown here is the malvasía de La Palma.
Bodegas Tamanca Malvasía Dulce 2003
500ml, 15%. A sweetish rich nose, slightly honeyed. Sweet, fragrant attack, yet it has a lovely delicacy. Very full on the finish, and it feels a touch hot after. Decent stuff that doesn't really repay over-analysis. Good/Very Good.
The Llanovid Co-op, which has around 400 members, makes its DO La Palma wines under the Teneguía brand.
Teneguía Malvasía Dulce 2005
14.5%. This has a very rich, sweet nose with a salty hay note and a hint of oxidation. Rich, deep and sweet on the palate. Quite orangey-caramelly on the finish. This seems to be a simpler, less 'typical' version and is more like a sweet wine from somewhere - anywhere - else. Good/Very Good.
Teneguía Malvasía dulce Reserva 1997
14.5%. The most expensive wine on show (by some way) at €35 ex cellars, and with around only 3000 bottles produced. This was aged for three years in French oak barrels. It's a deep brassy colour. The nose is redolent of candied orange and grapefruit. Very, very smooth and delicate on the palate with a nice savoury edge. Lovely balance, with very evident acidity towards and on the finish. The overall impression is of silkiness. Superb stuff, and interesting to see how Canaries Malvasia takes a bit of age. But in comparison to the others here today, this seems a bit pricey. Excellent.
Teneguía Malvasía dulce NV
500ml, 14.5%. They call this their special sweet Malvasia, and this is the only wine here with any botrytis - 90% of the grapes are affected by botrytis. 1500 500 ml bottles were produced of this particular version, which is largely from the 2000 vintage. Ex-cellars, this would cost around €25. A deep brassy gold, almost looking like a golden armagnac. It has a deep apricot jam and orange nose with some slightly salty caramel. Apart from that hint of salty savouriness, it's quite Tokaji like. On the palate, it's sweet and direct with buttery orange flavours, yet it also has a very good acidity that just manages to stop it becoming sticky. The acidity is especially noticeable on the finish, when there's a distinct prickle on the tongue. Undoubtedly an interesting wine, but it shows to me that Malvasia is best when botrytis hasn't affected the grapes. Very Good/Very Good Indeed.
|A classicist and ancient historian by training, Andrew let's his favourite fridge-magnet sum up his vinous philosophy: "Life is too short to drink bad wine".
His other great passion is food and cooking. For this piece, Andrew reports on a very unusual tasting opportunity recently, when the wine producers of the Canary Islands
put their little-known wines on show. With so many wine-pages visitors no doubt heading for some winter sunshine in the Canary isles, here's Andrew's guide to some
of the top wines and producers.