Discovering New Frontiers24th October, 2013 by Alex Down
If you are looking for something off the beaten track, perhaps a juicy, full-bodied red to get you through the winter months, is it time to give Mallorca a try?
I must admit that before I boarded the plane to Mallorca, I knew nothing about its wine scene. This was unusual for me. I do not profess to have encyclopaedic knowledge about every world wine region, but I’d certainly fancy my chances of knowing at least a bit about most of them.
But, on this occasion, there was actually something quite refreshing about travelling to this Balearic Island as a blank canvas. It was a great opportunity to get an understanding about Mallorca’s wines with an open mind and without any prior preconceptions. Not so easy to do if visiting the likes of Rioja or Ribera del Duero!
So, I set out on my travels across Mallorca to visit producers, try the wines, march through the vineyards. Business as usual. My bread and butter.
My first stop was the Macià Batle winery in Santa Maria del Cami, 20km north-east of Mallorca’s capital city, Palma. Producing a quarter of the island’s wine (with an output of one million bottles a year), Macià Batle was the ideal place to get understanding about Mallorca’s wine industry.
The good folks at Macià Batle explained that Mallorca’s winemaking history can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century. At that time, Mallorca relied heavily on France for its supply of wine. However, during the 1860’s, France’s wine industry was brought to its knees when the devastating phylloxera epidemic struck. In response to this, Mallorca started to plant its own vines in an attempt to meet its own growing domestic demand. But, it was not long before phylloxera had also destroyed Mallorca’s grape vines.
Rather than replanting vines with phylloxera resistant rootstocks (as was done in much of the rest of Europe), the Mallorcans decided to focus on planting other agricultural crops such as almonds, olives and citrus fruits.
This was a decision that would ultimately leave the Mallorcan wine industry in the wildness for nearly a century.
However, in the late 1980’s things began to change. In a similar way to the Mount Etna region of Sicily, a number of youthful, energetic individuals saw the potential for producing high quality wine and set out to do exactly that.
Thanks to the efforts of these forerunners, the country is now home to a number of wineries focusing on quality winemaking. The majority of these wineries are located in and around the two D.O.s, Binissalem and Pla i Llevant, and have come to promince in the last 20 years. A quick drumroll would have to include Bodegas Ribas, José Luis Ferrer, Bodegas Miquel Oliver, Àn Negra, Macià Batle, among others.
The Mallorcan wine industry has also worked hard in the area of wine tourism. The country has a thriving tourist industry and many of its wineries are now very well equipped to deal with the arrival of these thirsty holidaymakers. In turn, this has played an important role in increasing awareness about Mallorca’s wines abroad. A large percentage of Mallorca’s wine production is now being exported to major wine markets, such as Germany and the UK.
It is also very encouraging to see a number of indigenous grape varieties taking centre stage. International varieties may appeal to a broader audience in the export market, but it is often the native varieties that are best suited to growing in their local climate.
For the red wines, which tend to be ripe and full-bodied, the Mantonegro grape plays a predominant role. The vintners I spoke to compared it to Garnacha, as it ripens well, is prone to producing high alcohol wines and relies on other varieties for tannins and colour. In Mallorca’s case, this tends to be Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as other indigenous varieties such as Callet.
As for the white wines, the local grape, Prensal Blanc, is widely used. You often see it making up the majority of the blend and it has a herbaceous, stone fruit character to it.
The rosés were also somewhat of a revelation for me. I drink very little rosés usually but the deeper coloured, riper rosés which I tried were delicious and are perfect as aperitifs or for summer BBQs.
All in all, this trip was a revelation for me. I got my sun and surf but also discovered wines that had character and charm. Mallorca may sit in the shadow of the more prestigious wine regions on mainland Spain but they are taking their winemaking seriously and it is showing in the quality of their wines.
So, if you are looking for something off the beaten track, perhaps a juicy, full-bodied red to get you through the winter months, give Mallorca a try!