Wine in La Palma

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Just the start of my wine odyssey in this most dazzling of a dazzling group of islands... two entry-level Negramolls from the west of the island.

The Tendal is a good deal more interesting, though I know Vega Norte make some very good wines higher up their range (these wines cost less than five euros).

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More to come (a whole lot more ;)) Wait till I get onto the Listán Prieto, Albillo Criollo and Malvasía...
 
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This one, on the other hand, is unquestionably the most delicious wine I have drunk this year (OK, I know it hasn't been long). 3000 bottles, 15% but balance like a tropical dancer. More of it? You bet. Listán Prieto is a top grape.
 
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I visited a couple of the best producers on the island, both amid the volcanoes at Fuencaliente in the south. Carlos Lozano is the winemaker at Bodegas Teneguía, a very forward-looking coop that is well known for its sweet Malvasía (yes, this is the famed malmsey of Shakespeare). While the bread and butter of the winery is the red (mostly Negramoll) and especially the crisp and tasty white (Listán Blanco, aka Palomino) that is to be found in every restaurant, Carlos also makes a range of very special single-vineyard wines from the lava fields of the Llanos Negros, which he was kind enough to take me out to see in his jeep.

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Like most of the vines on the island, the vines here, at around 200 metres above sea level, are on their own root stock (no phylloxera) and sometimes well over 100 years old. Because the "soil" is pure lava from relatively recent eruptions, and rainfall is effectively zero (often no rain for a few years at a time), to plant new vines they have to dig a hole at least a metre deep and often much more - try digging lava... as soon as you make a hole it fills up again :D - and so they normally propagate by allowing the vine shoots to root themselves. Most of the best vineyards are not irrigated and survive on what humidity they can pluck from the ocean breezes.

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Back at the winery, I was treated to an almost interminable string of tank and barrel samples... Listán Blanco, Gual/Sabro (the Bual of Madeira, here always mixed with the indigenous Sabro), Diego/Vijariego Blanco, the red Negramoll, and of course the prized Malvasía. The 2016 vintage was very difficult here as in the other islands, with very high winter temperatures leading to the vines remaining active and growing all winter, partially fruiting when they should have been flowering, and more. The barrel samples (mostly Malvasía and Gual/Sabro) seemed very able to dominate the oak. Carlos also makes wine from grapes grown at well over 1000 metres on the much higher slopes of the moister north-west of the island, where the key grapes are Albillo Criollo (no relation to any of the various Spanish albillos!), Listán Prieto (not the same as the Listán Negro of Tenerife, but apparently the Mission of California, though seemingly a whole lot more interesting!), and Vijariego Negro (yep, this is Catalonia's Sumoll). It was fascinating to compare vintages, and the negramoll from the south and north of the island. Will try and post some pics of the northern vineyards later.

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After literally hours (this took most of the day!), we ended up with the single-plot wines from the Llanos Negros. Of course I did not take notes, but these were very impressive wines reeking of terroir. I particularly loved the complex and weighty Tabaqueras 2006, a blend of Gual, Sabro, Malvasía and Listán Blanco (may have forgotten something there), and above all the majestic 100% Listán Blanco El Time, from the 2000 vintage no less. World class, by any standards. The Negramoll 2014 was a fascinating wine too, one which I wasn't 100% sure I liked, but was intriguing enough to bring a bottle back for re-tasting ;) As can be seen, the whites on the island can age extremely well, far more so than the reds.

I cannot thank Carlos enough for taking so much time to show me his wines. A fascinating day.
 
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This is great Mark, and sorry I had not seen it before. I’m quite envious as I only know the Suertes and Envinate wines from the Canaries, but did you know that Red Squirrel bring in some wines from The Azores?
 
They do afaik two Arintos (one sur lie), Verdelho and Terrantez. Very expensive but then production on Pico is tiny and transport problematic.

There are two wines called Vulcanico, which I’ve not tried yet and know nothing about, they may be blends (a red and a rosé).

All these vines are UNESCO WHS and a true history lesson. For me, trying them is exciting and far more satisfying than tasting yet another...but I can see that many lovers of classic wines would find me just as odd as they’d find an arctic or jungle explorer who needs to keep discovering something new.
 
Yes, I wasn't that convinced by VFM in the Açores wines, unfortunately. La Palma has many of the same issues of transport - the wines are rarely available even in the other islands of the archipelago, let alone the peninsula - and tiny production, and yet the prices are extremely reasonable (pretty much everything bar the famed sweet malmseys under 20 euros). I guess at least the sun shines a bit more ;). La Palma also UNESCO, btw.
 
Yes, I wasn't that convinced by VFM in the Açores wines, unfortunately. La Palma has many of the same issues of transport - the wines are rarely available even in the other islands of the archipelago, let alone the peninsula - and tiny production, and yet the prices are extremely reasonable (pretty much everything bar the famed sweet malmseys under 20 euros). I guess at least the sun shines a bit more ;). La Palma also UNESCO, btw.
Indeed. I’d not buy it just for the bit on Canaries, but Volcanic Wines by John Szabo has a Chapter on Macronesia. La Palma is hardly covered, one tiny paragraph, and not one listing in the recommended Wines, I think. That said, a fascinating book.
 
My second visit (not on the same day, of course!) was to a very different winery, the small family winery Matías i Torres. There I met the engaging and delightful Vicky Torres, who has run this family winery pretty much single-handed since the death of her father in 2015 (such work includes a hell of a lot of pruning, as she likes to work withe all the vines she makes wine from, which was why we met in the early evening). Matías i Torres wines are made in tiny quantities and are quite sought after (to the extent that most of the wines I wanted to buy were no longer available!) and available in the US and now in the UK via an interesting new importer called Modal Wines. Vicky is entirely self-taught, and the wines she makes vary significantly from year to year, depending on the grapes available. This was particularly the case with the very difficult 2016 vintage, when the winter temperatures were too warm for the vines to shut down, which later caused issues with ripening. Like a number of La Palma wineries, she sources grapes from other areas of the island, but her "core" vineyards are in the southern tip of the island around Fuencaliente, in the SW facing Llanos Negros area mentioned before, and the very different SE facing vineyards of Las Machuqueras, which, despite being only about a kilometre away, has a markedly different climate (notice the walls that are needed here, because of the persistent east winds):

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The tiny winery (not much larger than a garage) holds tanks and an assortment of barrels old and new (including chestnut barrels, which she is increasingly interested in). There are also a couple of very old teas, a traditional open fermentation vessel used on La Palma, though Vicky often just doesn't have enough grapes to be able to use these. Some wine ferment in tank and others in barrel. Winemaking is fairly natural in many ways (though she doesn't like the term), and those growers she does buy from are encouraged not to use chemicals. She is quite at ease with a degree of oxidation, and one barrel of Listán Blanco had spontaneously grown a cap of flor. The wines certainly do not taste "made" in any way, and her main concern is that they should express the unique terroir they come from and the specific conditions of the vintage.

We tasted a couple of tanks of Listán Blanco 2017, from different vineyards including Las Machuqueras (see pic above), as well as a few 2016s, mostly from barrel, and finally some from bottle, all of which had been open for some weeks (and in most cases were none the worse for it!). Because of the huge range of climates (and altitudes) on the island, she is harvesting Listán from the end of July through to at least the end of September, and the "house" Listán includes all of these, added to the tank as they finish fermentation. Among the wines we tasted were the indigenous Diego (aka Vijariego Blanco), a fuller-bodied and quite aromatic wine, and a red Negramoll and a very complex dry Malvasía from the Llanos Negros (each fermented in barrel, but strangely not tasting in the least of oak), as well as Albillo Criollo and Listán Prieto from vineyards at well over 1000 metres in the north of the island. Her Listán Prieto was notably lighter and less extracted than those of other producers. The wines were complex and very distinctive and I have no doubt they will age well. No one on the island really doubts that the Malvasía grape is the pinnacle of wine on La Palma, and we finished by tasting the incredibly deep 2012 sweet Malvasía, a true vino di meditazione by any reckoning. Many thanks to Vicky for another fascinating visit, and her refreshing honesty and natural simpatía (oh yeah, and for helping to improvise some - successful! - packing of my bottles despite having no real materials available for the task!)

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(apologies - mostly to Vicky! - for the blurry photo)
 
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Mark, I met Modal Wines last year, very nice folks. It was at a Tasting of small importers in Clerkenwell called “Out of the Box”. I must check out what they have. I don’t recall anything from LP.

By coincidence, tonight I’m going to a Tasting of Wines from another tiny importer I met that day, Basketpress Wines, who specialise in the wines of Moravia. So many cool tiny importers now.
 
I did also visit Vega Norte, the coop in the (much greener!) north-west of the island responsible for the utterly moreish Listán Prieto mentioned above. This was a more tourist-oriented set-up and the wines more conventional in style, but the basic red and white were well made and good value (around 5 euros), and the "X" range (about 14 euros) a big step above. In this range they normally just make the Listán Prieto and an Albillo Criollo, but in the dreadful 2016 vintage they made a blend of Vijariego Negro with a little Listán Prieto, as there wasn't enough LP).

Albillo Criollo is a high-quality grape which appears (as far as my research has taken me, anyway!) to be unique to the north-west of La Palma, where it grows best at above 1000 metres.I had the Vega Norte Albillo Criollo 2015 in a restaurant the previous day, and it was clearly more concentrated than the 2016 I tried at the winery. This sees plenty of new oak, but the grape is good enough to take it, and I thoroughly enjoyed the 2015 despite my aversion to oak.

Will try to find some pics of the high-altitude vineyards of the north-west - they are quite something...

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Vicky said to me she's coming to Britain for something in April (?), so I imagine with your extensive contacts you'll be lucky ;)
Mark, I talked to Nic at Modal. He says the wines (which he is mightily enthusiastic about, “something special”) should be in the UK late March all being well, and they are hoping “to get Vicky over for some Tastings in April tbc”.

If he keeps me in the loop I will let you know.

Cheers
Dave
 
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