Islands of Spain
Spain owns two great groups of islands: the Balearics east of Valencia in the midst of the wide Mediterranean and the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa in the vast Atlantic. The Balearics were a crucial port of call for sailors traveling east or west between Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean. The Canaries were an even more crucial outpost during the long voyages from the Old World to the New. The Atlantic slave trade relied upon the ports on the Canary Islands; Christopher Columbus' father–in–law toiled there as a tobacco grower and trader. Neither group of islands is critical to anyone today, but the Balearic wines and the Canary Islands wines are more than curiosities and well worth seeking out.
The islands may not be critical to anyone today, but the rich players of the world might feel cheated without a sodden, disco–throbbing weekend on Ibiza. Mallorca, the largest of the Balearics, had nearly 100,000 acres of vines in the nineteenth century. Today there are about 1,400 acres. Few Mallorca wines are seen outside Spain or even off of the islands; the tourists and residents are responsible for consuming most of them. But those wines that are exported justify the taster's attention. Autochtone grapes include Manto Negro, Callet, Gargallosa and Fogoneu.
The Canary Islands
Though far away and off the coast of Africa, the Canaries are part of Spain and part of Spanish (and American) history. There are seven main islands and six much smaller ones. Lanzarote is the most easterly island, just 60 miles from the west coast of southern Morocco, while the most distant of the Canaries from the continent, El Hierro, is 300 miles to the west.
The Canaries were an important port on the long voyage to America, and it was from here that Columbus took sugarcane to transplant into the Americas. Spain focused upon sweet wine production for exportation from 1492 onward; sweet wines travel better. But Columbus arrived far too late to honor the islands with his name. Dogs (in Latin, Canis, hence the islands’ name) inhabited the islands at the time of Roman occupation in 50BC. The bird by that name is indigenous to the islands.
The islands remain phylloxera–free, and so grapes that may exist nowhere else still survive here. You will see new and strange white grapes such as Baboso Blanco, Bastardo Blanco, Bremajuela, Breval, Bujariego, Burra Blanca, Diego, Forastera, Gual, Listán Blanco (Palomino), Malvasía, Marmajuelo, Sabro, and Vijariego Blanco. Reds include Almuñeco or Listán Negro, Baboso Negro, Bastardo Negro, Castellana, Listán Negro, Listán Prieto, Malvasía Rosada, Malvasía Negra, Negramoll, Tintilla, Verijadiego Negro, and Vijariego, among others.
Volcanoes created these islands and their topography. Spain’s highest mountain, Mount Teide, is on Tenerife, the largest Canary Island, and most of the island’s vineyards are grown on fertile, volcanic soils. There are a number of DOs on these islands, and most are very interesting, but few wines are available in the US market.