Monday, October 29, 2012

MALLORCA: Seperate & Increasingly Sunny

Binissalem vineyards
 When looking at the view count from the over 50 installments of this post, those that seem to draw the most interest focus on a geographical region.  But now, as I've passed the theoretical portion in my pursuit of the Wine Educators certification, the details of worldly viticulture and oenology have given way to the practical: dissecting wine in a glass. It has been five(5) weeks since the last Wine Faults & Imbalances exam, and as yet the Society has not released my scores.  So I keep drinking the wines of the world, I try to keep up on wine news and find new opportunities to teach about the wonder of wine.  But within myself  I continue to find a steady undercurrent of streaming interest in wine places, most recently sunny Mallorca of Spain's Baleric Islands.

Although there is evidence of Stone Age fermentation vessels here on these isolated islands,  it is generally observed that the Romans brought wine to Mallorca prior to 100BC. Centuries later the Moors were here, then the Catalans, and then for almost five hunded years following, the wines of this island were celebrated with some of the best in Europe. Near the end of the 19th centuiry, this island barely 40 miles wide, had more grape vine acerage.than larger Sonoma County has today.  Mallorca was not immune when phylloxera raged across its agricultural and rugged landscape.  Even as the vineyard blight was not enough to bury the islands wine industry,  almost a century of political unrest, World and Civil Wars followed. With the expanse of middle class consumerism in post-WWII, eventually the sunny islands economies began a progressive move from agriculture to tourism. Today tens of millions of international visitors each year drink most of Mallorca's wine production on holiday and have seen a contemporary push towards new investments, technological improvements and increased quality in the islands long established wine industry.

Wines of the sun drenched Balearics have come a long way.  In the late 60's, the esteemed Andre Simon in Wines of the World said, (their wines) "never go higher than the simple vinos corrientes that are usually good...", and found the region so unworthy as to  not include the islands on his wine map of Spain. But, along the way, 1970's national legislation to align with its ECC trading partners upgraded the industry standards, regulating quality, production and varietal selections. Reflecting Spanish quality controls, its mufti-tiered system was topped by DO or Designation of Origin wines of superior quality and became law in 1990. But in Mallorca, like the majority of Spain, most of the production was in regional wines, generously grown in higher volumes across calcareous to fertile terrains.
Mallorca, largest of the Balerics

South of the impressive Serra Tramuntana, lies Binissalem DO, an expanse in the high central plain of about 1000 limestone and sedimentary soiled acres that parallels the cross island Ma-13a motorway. It is the first of the Baleric Islands DO's, and was established in 1991. Here quality wine lovers can now find growing a selection of Catalan whites, like Macabeo(Viura) and Parellada, international varieties of Chardonnay and Moscatelle.  The majority of the plantings, however, are the indigenous high-acid Moll(Prensal Blanc), its citrus/ floral, high acid a base for still and popular sparkling whites. Noting its expressive nose with ripe fruit, the respected English Decanter(906/09) recommended: Jaume de Puntiró, Daurat, Binissalem 2006 (Prensal Blanc) in its review of surprising Spanish white wines.

Across about 600 hectares, this largest of the DO's today supports more than a dozen prominent wineries, some with viticultural histories going back hundreds of years. Red varieties dominate grape plantings in Binissalem with the usual suspects of Tempranillo and Granache, plus Cabernet Sauvignon and Monastrell. As with white varieties, indigenous reds are more numerous with the full-bodied blackberry & fig notes of  Mantro Negro, dominating(about 40%) plantings in the DO, and the red fruit Callet, base for many of the region's rose's.

In the islands oldest wine growing region sits a collection of eighteen(18) villages that make up one of Spain's youngest Designation of Origins. With some of the current estates having a history going back to the end of the 19th century, it was this region that gave birth to Mallorcan wine more than two millennium ago. On the northeast side of the island eleven wineries and 64 growers on more than 200 hectares make up the region of  Pla i Llevant DO.  Here too grow international whites Chardonnay, Moscatelle and even some Riesling with the well-adapted native Prensal Blanc. Low alcohol Mediterranean reds of Pinot Noir, Monastrell, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are here too, often to blend with native Montro Negro and Callet varieties.

Today, this isolated islands deeply rooted ancestral peasant culture is serving well the passion of the dedicated families of the regions small producers as they dedicated themselves to making better wines with each harvest. Increasing international awards and glowing reviews from global wine writers are beginning to put tiny Mallorca on the wine map.  Combined with excellent, critically acclaimed 2009 and 2010 vintages, Mallorca's centuries of isolation may soon be something of the storied, but sunny past. Yet, I remain anxious to prepare for the next phase of the Wine Educator's exam, so today I called the Society today to speak with the Director of Education. He advised that I missed passing by correctly identifying two(2) faults. As disappointed as I am, this chronicle will then continue and I'll try getting over this difficult(for me) section of the exam on the next scheduled date.

Until then, Salud!