Night of the living red: How Palomino Fino made a comeback

Darren Smith

Darren Smith

05 August 2019

Wine styles drift in and out of fashion, and some varieties that looked down and out 20 years ago are starting to come back to life. Darren Smith presents five grape varieties that came back from the dead


Listán Blanco/Palomino Fino

When it was famous

The history of Palomino Fino in Jerez is pretty well known. What’s less well known is the variety’s rich history in the Canary Islands, where it’s called Listán Blanco.

These vines made their way to Tenerife from Portugal and Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries on boats which passed the island on their way to the New World.

At the height of the Canaries’ fame as a wine region in the 17th and 18th centuries, Vidonia dry fortified wine would’ve been made from Listán Blanco and other white varieties as merchants looked for an alternative to Malmsey.

Suertes del Marqués in the Orotava Valley produces its flinty, saline 100% Listán Blanco Vidonia cuvée in homage to this.

Why it declined

Canarian fortified wines began to disappear in the 17th century. On mainland Spain, sherry continued its roaring trade until the second half of the 20th century, when it fell into decline.

In 2015, UK sherry sales fell to 10 million bottles, less than half the 22 million sold in 2005.

How it came back

Palomino Fino/Listán Blanco has benefited from the growing popularity of wines of volcanic origin and wines aged under flor.

Listán Blanco’s importance on Tenerife – on the west side of the island, nearer to Mount Teide, where the soil is more volcanic, and the grape makes up 95% of plantings – is evidenced not just by Suertes del Marqués’ Vidonia but also by Envinate’s Palo Blanco and Benje Blanco, an old-vine Listán Blanco made with partial skin contact.

Jonatan Garcia of Suertes del Marqués estimates that there are more than 10 different Listán Blanco mutations on the island. It’s also the most important variety by volume for Viki Torres on La Palma. She has parcels 300m to 1,500m above sea level and coaxes a wide variety of expressions from this supposedly anodyne grape.

It’s noteworthy that many of the great Jerez wines of two centuries ago were made from the best low-yielding vineyard sites without fortification. Willy Perez and Ramiro Ibáñez of Bodegas de la Riva are involved in many exciting terroir-focused projects using Palomino Fino around Jerez.

Why it’s good

There’s something about that salty, mineral character which delights the oenophile palate. The acidity, particularly in southern Spain, is low, but the sapidity is high. Listán Blanco is also intriguing for ageing because it doesn’t have a very terpenic character.

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