I had a very different idea of Malvasia before I visited Lanzarote. My first impressions were of a variety that was round, fat and simple – a little oily perhaps with low aromatics. Several examples that I tasted from warm areas in the South of France seemed to confirm that description and it wasn’t a grape variety I sought out much.
Then when I found myself regularly visiting the Canary Islands for some winter sun and outdoor exercise I naturally wanted to drink the local wines and discovered a completely different style of Malvasia. This is Malvasia Volcánica!
This is a either a different clone or a clone that had adapted to its severe volcanic surroundings and taken on an amazingly vibrant, taut and mineral quality. It may be because the vines have been grown in a harsh landscape on uncompromising, black, volcanic soils, or it may be because yields are low and the vines are old or simply clonal differences but whatever the reason these wines are brimming with character, personality and vivacity.
Lanzarote is such an austere and imposing landscape: against a backdrop of flat, black and russet coloured soils, conical volcanoes rise out of nowhere and dominate the low-rise whitewashed towns and villages. Set against this stark backdrop of black soils, vines, vegetables and plants burst forth in bright shades of green punctuated by occasional dashes of crimson geraniums which erupt from the landscape, the intense bright light making them stand out like a pop-up card.
You can see how the landscape produced and encouraged Lanzarote’s home-grown artist, the talented and visionary architect, Cesar Manriqué, whose presence is still felt all over the island. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the ban on any high-rise buildings on the island and the insistence that any paintwork on houses be in the traditional colours of green or blue. This allows the landscape, its shapes and colours to dominate.
Some of the local wines seem to have taken on an extra intensity and adopted the flavours of the place as well, as tasting some of the very best Malvasia Volcánica reveals.
Francisco has 10 ha of vines from which he produces 20,000 bottles of Malvasia and 10,000 bottles of Moscatel d’ Alexandra. He has some 20 year old vines of the black variety Listán Negro. This is the black-skinned version of the Palomino grape and a genetic match to the Mission grape, though distance and time have made them evolve quite differently.
He also has 3,000 vines of a very rare white variety known as Diego, of which only 20 ha is planted on the island. It’s a variety with low aromatics but a rounded, full bodied mouth-feel. Francisco likes it for the textural complexity it gives to the wines.
His first vintage was in 1995 but just to confuse things some of the wines are bottled under the Bodegas Reymar label and some under the Los Perdomos name. I tasted his whole range of wines and below are the ones that really stood out for me.
Malvasia 2013, 90% Malvasia Volcanica, 10% Diego.
Pale gold-toned lemon. Light honey and floral aromas, a really lively, zippy wine with multi-layered flavours of orange peel, Orange Muscat, floral and savoury, mineral notes, balanced by juicy acidity. 90/100.
This wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and spends 9 months on the lees. Francisco believes the clone of Malvasia Volcanica they have in Lanzarote may be an old Diego/Malvasia crossing.
Los Perdomos Moscatel, 50% Diego, 50% Blanco Seco 2013, 12.5% Very pale lemon, lightly fragrant nose of orange zest and neroli. A lovely, rich mouth-filling texture with savoury, salty notes and a lip-smacking acidity. Deliciously enjoyable wine with lots of vitality. 90/100
Malvasia Moscatel semi-seco 2013. Mid-lemon colour. Honeyed, grapey Muscat aromas with again an orange blossom note. Soft, fruity, medium-dry with pink grapefruit and orange zest flavours and a savoury, volcanic minerality and a nice zingy freshness on the finish. A very easy-to-enjoy wine but with some personality. 89/100
Los Perdomos Rosé 2013, Listán Negro,13.5%. Beautifully deep pink colour, slight irony, tarry aromas with a green pepper note (apparently green pepper is very typical for Listán Negro). Crunchy green and red fruit flavours, raspberries and leaves, with an unusual irony finish – a bit like an iron tonic. 89/100
Malvasia Volcánica and Diego 2012 Dulce. Mid-gold with a honeyed, floral nose. Sweet ripe raisins and sultanas, dried fruits and apricots, contrasting with a swish of refreshing acidity. Lively, brimming with volcanic minerality. This wine is full of energy and vitality with layers of marmalade, orange, sultanas and honey. Lovely balance of contrasting flavours. Delicious! 92/100
I also tasted a delicious sweet Moscatel 2010 which had smooth, honeyed apricot flavours. It was fatter and less well balanced than the previous wine but so enjoyable.
I was not so excited by the reds, but it was interesting to taste a sweet Listán Negro called Tinto Vino Dulce de Licor 2013, 17.5%. It was almost black and had a contrasting sweetness but the same crunchy green leaf flavours I found in some of the other Listán Negro wines.
In Lanzarote there are 18 commercial vineyards, predominantly in the centre of the island, with 2000 ha that together produce approximately 2 million litres of wine. There are three main vineyard areas in Lanzarote: La Geria, located between Tías and Yaiza; Masdache, the largest area around Tinajo and Masdache; Ye-Lajares, located between Haría and Teguise. The oldest wine producer on Lanzarote is El Grifo, among the 10 oldest in Spain.
Apart from Los Perdomos, my favourite wineries producing exciting wines are:
Vulcano – a relatively new winery, only set up in 2009 and the only urban winery, situated in the centre of Tías village. It produces vivid and vibrant style of wines with a characteristic volcanic minerality.
La Florida Bodegas, Malvasia Volcanica 2013. They have only just started bottling their own wines. They have an almost orange wine style.
Martinón – modern fresh lively wines but brimming with volcanic minerality and personality.
© 2014 – 2016, Susan Hulme MW. All rights reserved.