Monday, November 18, 2019

Spanish wines on the cutting edge: Tenerife's Tajinaste Blanco

For the last two decades of the prior century, European winemaking was consumed with the  traditionalist versus modernist battles, a pre-occupation which did not avoid the Spanish industry. The modernist movement in Spain is encapsulated in Sarah Jane Evans MW description of new-wave Riojas:
What set the new-wave Riojas apart was their densely colored, super-concentrated character, which won new fans who liked bold, fruity reds. These wines were the result of a new focus on the vineyard, including specific clonal studies ..., reduced yields, fermentation in small, separate lots and aging in French oak. ... They were released after a shorter time in barrel and bottle.
Writing in The World of Fine Wines, Mike Steinberger, sees the modernist movement in retreat as a result of: changing sensibilities; global economic crisis; a renewed passion for the authentic, the local, the natural; and the waning influence of previously influential wine critics.

What is the new face of Spanish wines as the modernist movement retreats? According to panelists in a seminar titled Wines on the Cutting Edge, a part of Wines from Spain's Great Match Miami (November 5, 2019), it is a movement to different and unusual wines and areas.

The Wines on the Cutting Edge masterclass was helmed by Michael Schacter, Wine Enthusiast's Editor of Spanish and South American Wines. Other panelists were: Allegra Angela, Sommelier and Beverage Director, Mandarin Oriental; Daniel Toral, Sommelier, Florida Wine Company; and Mia Van de Water MS, Eleven Madison Park. The group tasted and discussed four whites and four reds that they considered as being on the cutting edge of Spanish wine. I will cover these wines individually beginning herein with the Tajinaste Blanco.

First, some background.

Tenerife is the largest island in the Canary Island archipelago, seven Atlantic-Ocean islands held under the Spanish flag. These islands were formed as a result of a mantle plume hotspot acting on the African plate as it wends its way to Morocco. The easternmost island -- Lanzarote -- emerged from the sea 20 million years ago while Hierro, the westernmost, was formed only 1 million years ago. Tenerife is dominated by El Teide, at 3,718 m (12,200 feet), the tallest mountain in Spain.

Tenerife's climate is tropical but is moderated by the mountain and the moisture-laden clouds brought to the area by the trade winds. These clouds are blocked by the mountain, depositing the moisture on its northern face and foothills.

Tajinaste Winery -- named after a flower that grows on the island -- is located in the valley at the foot of the mountain. The winery falls within the boundary of the DO Valle de la Orotava, a 400-ha appellation that spans the villages of La Orotava, Los Realjos, and Puerta de La Cruz. The winery is managed by Augustin Garcia Farrás, a Bordeaux-trained winemaker and scion of a family that has been making wines on Tenerife since the second decade of the 20th century. The winery owns 3 ha in the DO -- with the oldest vines planted since 1914 -- but, in addition, rents 9 ha under 25-year contracts and buys grapes from an additional 16 ha.

Vines on the estate are trained in the traditional braided-strand method (see pic below) wherein vine branches are braided together in large bunches of multiple strands:
  • Vine lengths range between 3 and 15 m
  • Allowed branches to be moved easily leaving the earth below free for the planting of other food crops
  • Evolved due to space constraints on the island.

The wine under consideration -- Tajinaste Blanco -- is a blend of 90% Listan Blanco an 10% Albilo Criollo, the latter adding acidity to the wine. Listan Blanco is a white cultivar with "modest aromatic intensity" and is "crisp and  lively with lemon-lime and green apple flavors." One half of the fruit for this wine is grown at 500 m with the remainder grown at 250 m.

Listan Blanco (Palomino) cultivar

The grapes are harvested manually and placed into 15 kg boxes for transport to the winery. In the winery they are subjected to a 12-hour cold soak prior to a 8-day fermentation in stainless steel tanks and new French and American oak barrels (15%). The wines are aged in their fermentation vessels for 2 months before blending and bottling.

The 2018 Tajinaste Listan Blanco showed lime peel, lemon peel, turpentine, and guava on the nose. Brisk, clean, and zesty on the palate with tamarind flavors and minerality. A herb-laden aftertaste. Not an overly complicated wine. Can be drunk on its own but will pair well with seafood and white meats. This wine ranges between $20 and $22 at retail.

This wine is on the cutting edge because of one of the qualities identified by Mike Steinberger: a renewed passion for the authentic, the local, the natural.

  • This wine is made from a grape that is best known for its role in Sherry but it handles its leading role in this environment with flair
  • The vines used to grow these grapes have been around since 1914
  • The vine training system is just as old and it is sexy as hell
  • A current love for volcanic wines (see, for example, Zoltan Szabo's Volcanic Wines wherein, by the way, this winery is profiled)
  • Due to the volcanic soils, this area is Phylloxera-free and the vines own-rooted.

Yeah, I would say a cutting-edge wine. And a value-based one at that.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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