The Balearic Islands off the Mediterranean coast of Spain top the list of idyllic vacation destinations for Europeans seeking sun and sand. Since the first chartered flight carried tourists to a small airstrip in 1950, Mallorca and neighboring Ibiza see over ten million visitors each year on sandy shores and in resort complexes. Long before the tourists throng the beaches for the summer, the pro peloton makes its way to Mallorca in February to ring in the beginning of the Spanish cycling season.
Words: Clive Pursehouse
Images: Anima Negra
The Vuelta a Mallorca, formally known as the Mallorca Challenge, is a five-day series of races. Prior to 2009, the race included an “unofficial” GC winner. In keeping with Mallorca’s world-class reputation for leisure, race organizers allow riders to skip “stages” and teams can start different riders each day. (Thus the lack of UCI recognition for a true GC.) The race serves as a “leisurely” early season tune-up for some of the peloton’s biggest stars. Past winners have included Laurent Jalabert, Alex Zülle and Philippe Gilbert, with Alejandro Valverde winning a handful of overall titles. This year saw Wiggins, Froome, Greipel and Valverde, who took a stage, among a host of others taking to the parcours.
Despite its modern reputation for tourism and leisure, Mallorca’s history is a rich tapestry of geo-political importance, including Bronze Age ruins, Moorish occupation and influence on through Mediterranean Piracy and the Spanish Civil War. In terms of it’s wine production, in the 1850s when phylloxera came to Europe and devastated the vineyards of France, Germany, Portugal and continental Spain, the wines of Mallorca became some of the most popular in the world as the insect had not come to the island. That changed in 1891 when Mallorca’s vineyards were also devastated, and its wine industry fell into ruin.
The island’s viticulture and fine wine industry is experiencing a rebirth over 100 years later. The island boasts phenomenal climatic diversity, with the combination of the ideal conditions that makes the Mediterranean island a paradise for the people there: plenty of warm sunshine, cool oceanic air and a pair of mountain ranges (the Tramunata and the Alfabia). Two of Mallorca’s wine regions have been granted Denominación de Origen status, (similar to the French AOC designations) and much of the wine on the island is produced as Vino de la Tierra, a designation that comes with very little restriction.
Ànima Negra produces wines in southeastern Mallorca near the town of Felantix. Two friends and native Mallorcans Miguel and Pere are making wine in a converted family dairy farm with an emphasis on the indigenous varieties of Mallorca. Though their Vino de la Tierra designation gives them plenty of opportunity to blend or use more established or well-known varieties like cabernet sauvignon or merlot, they have decided to instead aim to raise the bar for wine made by native Mallorcan grapes with names like callet, mantonegre and fogoneu (grapes you may have never heard of) from some of the island’s oldest vineyards.
While the overall island effort to rebuild the fine wine industry is closely tied to riding the economic tide of Mallorca’s tourism boom, for ànima Negra it’s about carrying on a long and storied (if slightly forgotten) tradition of Mallorcan wine. One built upon those homegrown varieties. The callet grape is known to grow only on Balearic Islands and is often dismissed as one lacking the sufficient structure to create a fine wine suitable for serious wine drinkers. Pere and Miguel, however, have been steadfast in their belief of the grape’s potential; their focus has been on making wines that will demonstrate the full potential of this indigenous variety. They focus on finding old vines with the most suitable soils to emphasize the grape’s strengths and blending it with other native varieties to craft a wine that is honest and distinctively Mallorcan.
From old-vine callet (65%), as well as mantonegre and fogoneu, with a bit of syrah, ànima Negre bills this wine as an ideal introduction to the wines of Mallorca. ÀN/2 is an extremely well-balanced wine with a freshness that carries through the ripe fruit. Elegant aromas of dried fig, bright raspberry and violets lead into flavors of ripe raspberry, cedar and herbs. The wine is medium bodied with fantastic balance and finish. Drinks like a wine nearly twice its price. $24
A greater focus on callet, with only traces of mantonegre and fogoneu to make up the wineries flagship production. The callet for this wine is sourced from the oldest callet vines in Mallorca’s Son Negre region where intense sunlight nearly bakes the regions soils. Aromatics of clove, dark earth, smoke and black fruit announce a wine with concentration and intensity. The palate is textured but not dense. Medium bodied with balance and intense flavors of black plum, coffee bean and spice. $41
Winemaker Miguel spent 10 years sailing the Mediterranean before settling back home on Mallorca and taking up the efforts at ànima Negra. Quíbia Gran is a name he invented to refer to the Mediterranean and it represents a place without limits. So was named this white wine made in large part by red wine grapes, their beloved callet. Sixty percent of the wine is composed of premsal, another indigenous Mallorcan variety. The wine is wildly complex with aromas of toasted almond, honey and tropical fruit notes. The wine is textured and rounded but ends with a crisp finish. $15
From issue 23. Buy it here.