Approaching Mount Teide (Tenerife), the highest point in Spain. Photo by Ariana Rolich.

Beautiful Wines from Tenerife (Canary Islands): Viñátigo, Ignios, Monje, and Tajinaste.

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The Canary Islands started their ascent from the eastern Atlantic more than 20 million years ago, just 100 kilometers off the western coast of Africa near the southern border of Morocco. The gradual emergence of the volcanic island chain began with Fuerteventura and Lanzarote in the east and continued with Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and La Gomera 11 to 15 million years ago. The youngest, westernmost islands of La Palma and El Hierro are geological babies, where subaerial (above sea level) activity dates back less than 2 million years. The entire archipelago is still developing, with volcanic activity documented on all of the islands in the last million years and eruptions on four of them in the last 500 years, contributing to the development of some of the most extreme and interesting vineyards in the world.

 

Each island exhibits its own geological character, breathtaking beauty, and viticultural challenges. Vines of Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian origin were transported to the Canary Islands by colonial settlers beginning in the late 1400s. Determination to succeed at cultivating vines over the centuries has solidified an unlikely and impressive rapport between winegrowers and potentially hostile forces. Violent eruptions, rugged terrains, precipitous altitudes, and relentless winds are all countered (if not embraced) in unwavering pursuit of local winemaking. The devastating phylloxera louse never reached the Canary Islands, allowing vines to grow on their original rootstocks to this day. Some winemakers attribute their wines' profound minerality to this unfettered flow between plant and soil.

On a recent trip to the Canaries, we had the opportunity to learn from Juan Jesús Méndez of Bodegas Viñátigo on Tenerife, who is a foundational figure in the region. Proud descendent of Tenerife winemakers, leader in the Las Islas Canarias DOP (Denominación de Origen Protegida), and a professor of chemistry and oenology, Méndez has worked tirelessly to rejuvenate the region's focus on traditional grape varieties and to recover old vines.

Most importantly, it was Méndez who conducted the pioneering research into the identity, origins, and behavior of more than 80 local Canary grape varieties: Listán Blanco is Palomino, Gual is Madeira's Bual, Listán Negro is the Mission grape, Baboso is Alfrocheiro, the list goes on... Nobody knows what Tintilla and Marmajuelo are. Méndez taught us that both grapes, like the varieties listed above, undoubtedly hail from the Iberian mainland. Yet unlike the others, the mainland equivalents of Tintilla and Marmajuelo were wiped out by phylloxera. The Canary Islands are therefore the only known source for both.

Juan Jesús Méndez talks Tintilla in the Valle el Palmar, Tenerife.

Méndez and his wife, oenologist Elena Batista, maintain a library of the traditional Canary grapes outside of Viñátigo's lovingly designed winery in La Guancha, and vinify and study them all. Their varietal wines are lush, textured, and thoroughly delicious expressions of Tenerife terroir, grown anywhere from 100 meters above sea level (Gual) to 600 meters and higher (Tintilla). 

We have many wines to recommend from our other friends on Tenerife, as well. Viñátigo's neighbor, Borja Pérez González, makes varietal wines of exceptional purity and nuance for his daring Ignios Orígenes project. González grew up making wine with his father and diligently carries out the work of his family's winery, while conducting meticulous and often experimental vinifications of traditional varieties at the same time for Ignios. When we visited Borja last year, he led us through a wild and beautiful tangle of Vijariego Negro vines at 780 meters in the foothills of Mount Teide, which he had been painstakingly recuperating for several years. The first vintage of wine from these vines is here! New vintages of Ignios' popular Listán Negro and Baboso have also arrived, as well as a white wine made from Marmajuelo, which is as bold, complicated, and exotic a wine as Tenerife has to offer.

Borja Pérez González with his vines at 780 meters (left); extremely old vines at Monje (right).

The Canary Islands have a great tradition of making sweet wines of many shades. Felipe Monje, heir to the historic Monje winery and some of the island's oldest vines, and the energetic Agustín García Farráis of Bodegas Tajinaste offer some of the best! Please see the notes below for more details on grape varieties, terroir, and winemaking. Cheers! Ariana Rolich

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Ignios Orígenes 2012 Ycoden Daute Isora Baboso Negro

Baboso is the most bodacious of the Canary red varieties. Fruit-forward by nature, it takes a special winemaker to temper Baboso's tendancy toward boozy exuberance and sappy berry excess. Borja Perez Gonzales stays true to the grape's voluptuous core while maintaining balance and achieving intense mineral expression. Heady, floral aromas and a gushing, fruit-forward palate of crushed purple berries take the lead, with fresh plums, spicy cloves, pepper, wild flowers, kirsch, and smoky, volcanic earth. An effortlessly full and clear expression of this fabulous and eye-opening grape! Ariana Rolich

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $39.99

Ignios Orígenes 2013 Tenerife Ycoden Daute Isora Isora Vijariego Negro

Borja Perez Gonzales of Ignios Origines has been painstakingly resuscitating a wildly beautiful abandoned vineyard at 780m altitude on Tenerife, planted to the distinctive local Canary Island varieties Vijariego Negro (aka Sumoll) and Tintilla. We are excited to have received this wine, which is the first fruit of the winemaker's laborious resurrection of these challenging vines! Assertive aromas of brambly blackberry, tea leaf, choke cherry, raspberry leaves, violet flowers, and ashy earth, with taut tannins and boisterous acidity supporting the palate of spicy red and black berries, tart purple plums, savory green herbs like marjoram and oregano, and a dense underpinning of mineral-infused volcanic earth. This is a bold and luscious wine that evolves with some air. Ariana Rolich

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $34.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Ignios Orígenes 2013 Tenerife Ycoden Daute Isora Listán Negro

Ignios’ 100% Listan Negro, from 15-40 year old vines in Northwest Tenerife, is a poised and pretty expression of this workhorse variety. Fermented in stainless steel and raised in a mix of 228L and 600L French oak barrels, with damp, cool aromas of rain water, rhubarb, rose petals, blueberry stems, and dried herbs, with a tangle of subtle but distinctive flavors. Mulberries, green peppercorns, sea salt, lavender, and tea leaves, combine with elegant tannins and mild acidity for tons of potential on the dinner table. Ariana Rolich

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $19.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Ignios Orígenes 2013 Tenerife Ycoden Daute Isora Marmajuelo

Tenerife native Borja Pérez González comes from a long line of winemakers. Under his new label, Ignios Origenes, he is leading the young generation of Canary Island winemakers with some of the freshest, most nuanced and surprising wines in the region. His reds have developed a great fan base here at Chambers Street, so we are quite pleased to welcome his white wine to the shelf! Made from 100% Marmajuelo (one of only two grapes that cannot be traced to any varieties outside of the Canaries), this exotic white offers tropical aromas of guava, aloe and banana leaf; there is lively acidity (no malo) on the palate of crisp stone fruit, with rich minerality, almond notes, a shake of white pepper, and a touch of new oak from the mix of Burgundy and Bordeaux barrels that Borja is breaking in. Sipping this wine ocean-side with fresh crustaceans, whole grilled fish, and salty boiled potatoes made for an unforgettable lunch. Ariana Rolich

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $23.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Monje 2004 Tenerife Tacoronte Acentejo Padre Dulce 375 ml

The Monje family has been making wine on Tenerife since 1750. Fifth generation winemaker Felipe Monje honors his father, Miguel, and the great tradition of making sweet wines in the Canaries with this velvety, softly sweet wine of Listan Negro with over ten years of age. Aromas of sweet, chewy prunes, chocolate chips, yeasty dough, and cinnamon spice meet delicate flavors of fig, blueberry, cedar, and spice. Do yourself a favor and drink this wine with chocolatey things! Ariana Rolich

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $22.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Monje 2013 Tacoronte Acentejo Hollera Maceracion Carbonica

A perennial favorite from Tenerife's historic Monje winery, Hollera consists of carbonically macerated Listan Negro and from incredibly old (100-200 years old), own-rooted vines trained close to the stony yet fertile ground at 500 meter altitude, overlooking the sea. Heady florals, crushed berries, and licorice spice fill the nose, followed by a fresh, medium bodied palate of tart cranberry, creamy cherry, and cocoa nibs, with savory dried earth and herbs on the long finish. Hollera paired fabulously with a meal of roasted pork and colorful, tangy herbal pestos known as "mojos." Ariana Rolich

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $19.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Tajinaste 2011 Tenerife Valle de la Orotava Tinto Dulce 500 ml

Agustin Garcia Farrais and his family farm 6 hectares of vineyards organically in Tenerife's Valle de la Orotava, partway between Monje and Vinatigo. Tajinaste's white wines are fabulous and refreshing, while their reds are made to age. This naturally sweet wine of Listan Negro, made from grapes harvested in November with a small amount of botrytis, is markedly more vinous and balanced than the average dessert wine. A zealous, tingly acidity drives and balances the palate of tart plums, tannic grape skins, seeds, soil, and umami. Although the most obviously perfect pairing for this wine would be a cheese course, I'm dying to try it with barbecued brisket! Ariana Rolich

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $25.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Viñas de Tacande 2008 Tenerife Tacoronte Acentejo Viña Tinto

Juan Jesus Mendez specializes in exotic varietal wines from own-rooted local grapes for his Vinatigo label. Tacande Tinto is one of Mendez' several side projects, blending 60% Baboso plus roughly equal parts Tintilla, Vijariego Negro, and Negramoll from the Tacoronte-Acenteo in the north of Tenerife. Aromas of savory coffee beans, blackberry sap, wild nettles, sea salt, and bay leaf zap you from the glass; the palate is broad and electric, with gushing red and purple berry fruit, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, bitter berry stems and seeds, the umami of salty soy sauce, and generous acidity. Baboso wines cannot help but command attention, but this is one of the most novel and fabulous yet! Enjoy with barbeque, charcuterie, or a pot of spicy chili. Ariana Rolich

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $37.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Viñátigo 2012 Tenerife Ycode Daute Isora Tintilla

The trip through the clouds to Vinatigo's two hectares of organically farmed Tintilla at over 1000 meters of elevation is not easy to forget! Juan Jesus Mendez's vines grow in clay- and phosphorous-rich volcanic soils on the oldest part Tenerife in the northwestern Ycoden-Daute-Isora DO, which was named by Mendez himself in 1994, after the ancient indigenous people's titles for their kingdoms. Tintilla is unique to the Canaries and made in a variety of styles (including some delicious blends). Vinatigo's rendition is fragrant and pure, with aromas of cranberry, tart red raspberry, salty bouillon, and earth; the palate is dark, dry, and ferociously mineral and herbal, full of crushed, brambly black berry fruit and seeds, savory soil, sea salt, dark chocolate, and tangy green peppercorns. Young tannins and pert acidity frame this special and expressive wine, which spends 18 months in French barrels. Gorgeous with red meats and sausages, straight from the grill! Ariana Rolich

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $42.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Viñátigo 2012 Tenerife Ycoden Daute Isora Gual

On a recent trip to the Canary Islands, I dedicated myself to ordering wines from new grapes and producers when dining out at restaurants. Yet somehow, my companions and I kept ending up with a bottle (or two) of this delicious Gual from Vinatigo! Satisfying and very food-friendly, Gual (aka Bual in Madeira) grows at lower elevations and produces textured, easy-drinking, medium bodied whites. Vinatigo's version is exciting and herbal, with notes of spicy pear, jasmine tea, and a hint of funky soil. A true comfort wine! Ariana Rolich

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $22.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Viñátigo 2012 Tenerife Ycoden Daute Isora Listán Blanco

This is a fresh, versatile value made from 100% Listan Blanco (Palomino in Spain) raised in stainless steel with no malo. Bright and pretty, with salt, stone, wild fennel, green apple, apricots, and a good bit of the savory/smoky mineral tone that make wines from this region unique. Delicious as an aperitif or served with grilled fish; Listan Blanco's naturally low acidity makes it a pleasing pairing for dishes that include fruit, as well as sushi and salads. Ariana Rolich

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $14.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur