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Whet your appetite for the Balearics

I SPENTa few days eating and hiking around the fair isle of Mallorca last week and sampled a fair few of the island's wines, which made a nice change from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat, etc.

Wine has been made in Mallorca for centuries, the vines being brought to the island by (you might guess) the Romans. The industry prospered from the 14th century right up until the end of the 19th when it was wiped out by the phylloxera plague that infested most of Europe. Much of the land used for wine growing was replaced by almond trees.

A small number of vines were reintroduced and wine was made chiefly for local consumption. Even on the island, Mallorcan wine was held in low esteem and those who could afford it drank wine imported from mainland Spain.

Things started to improve in the late 1980s when a company called Jose Ferrer based in Binissalem, on the inland road from Palma to Inca, established a good reputation for the quality of their wines, particularly reds made from the local manta negre grapes and also a decent sparkler.

Their efforts led to the creation of the Binissalem DO, Mallorca's first 'Denominacio d'Origen'. Others followed, starting with Pla i Llevant in eastern Mallorca and Son Bordills, founded in 1998. Local investment during the 1990s provided capital for irrigation systems, new stainless steel tanks and oak casks as well as an interest in the 'international' grape varieties, particularly merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, chardonnay and, latterly, sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio, to meet the demands of fashion.


Most of the reds I tasted had a slightly earthy quality though they didn't stint on the fruit. Oaking, in the modern idiom, was fairly restrained, usually a mix of French and American barrels. I'd say they were wines of character rather than wines of breeding but nothing wrong with that, particularly when teamed with the lavish food flavours of the region.

If you would like to get acquainted with Mallorcan wines in Dublin, your best bet would be Wines on the Green, the vinous arm of the Celtic Whisky Shop in Dawson Street, something of a Spanish specialist.

Among their six or seven examples of wines from Mallorca I particularly like AN/2 (€18.99) from the class-act company Anima Negre, a blend of the traditional Mallorcan varieties callet, manto negre and fogoneu, which make up 80pc of the wine's composition. The rest is syrah, which gives the nose a lift, contributing spice and eucalyptus aromas and helping to lengthen the finish. Aged in French and American oak barrels over a period of 13 months, it's balanced, elegant, altogether classy kit that will make a pleasant change from imbibing 'the usual suspects' and whet your appetite for your next holiday in the Balearics.

Finally, Superquinn have a French wine sale from October 5 to November 1.