Until a few years ago – maybe 15 at the most – few people holidaying on Mallorca would have considered seeking out local wines, far less visiting wineries to get to know the distinctive fruits of these particular vines and the people who work them. But now that’s all changing and the wines of Mallorca are in full ferment.
James Hiscock, owner of a pair of gorgeous rural retreats close to Inca, and long-time resident of Mallorca with close contacts in the wine world, attributes the changes to one important development: the growth of upmarket, inland tourism (as opposed to the Magaluf, packaged variety), which has brought with it increased demand for better quality wines made with the best possible technical expertise but still stamped with a recognisably local, Mediterranean character. He enthuses about “the significant evolution of producers, varietals and wines over the last ten years”, and delights in the fact that he can now offer delicious local wines to complement the overall guest experience at his two hotels.
One of the advantages of wine touring here is that distances are small and the bodegas all within spitting distance of one another. “It’s hard to imagine so much variety in such a tiny space,” marvels José Antonio de Haro, whose Cellers Artesans d' Europa supplies niche wines to many of the island’s top hostelries. He adds that now is the moment to visit, to catch some of the excitement of this new generation of wine growers, who are delighted to share their excitement with visitors, show their vineyards and their wines.
Here are a couple of suggested oeno-itineraries, which could be combined with a day or two in the capital.
Rather like the wines, Palma has enjoyed an impressive makeover in recent years and it’s worth giving the city a little of your time. Just behind the cathedral, a soaring, golden Gothic delight with its famous flying buttresses akimbo which stands guard facing the sea, is a rabbit warren of streets pullulating with quirky shops, hole-in-the-wall wine and tapas bars, restaurants and exquisite patrician palacios that have recently evolved from dilapidated family homes to chic town hotels. One such is Can Alomar, a 16-room boutique hotel in a superbly restored 19th-century palace overlooking the elegant Passeig del Born, with a Japanese-Peruvian fusion food in the terrace restaurant on the first floor.
After a wander around the old town to work up an appetite, visit the shoebox-sized wine and tapas bar 13% (Trece Por Ciento), which specialises in Mallorca’s top drops, many of them served by the glass, and catch a bite to eat, perched on a bar stool.
Hardly have you exited Palma onto the motorway heading northeast and you’re already in the vineyards. A good start would be Bodegues Ribas in Consell, in the heart of DO Binissalem, one of the island’s two DOs (the other is DO Pla y Llevant, further south). A grand old estate and the oldest on the island, it was established in 1711 and is still owned and run by the Ribas family. They have made a point of nurturing their indigenous vines, including 60 year-old Prensal and Manto Negro rootstocks, and have rescued the almost extinct (and near-unpronounceable) Gorgollasa. Try the fragrant house white based on Prensal and a little Viognier, or Ribas negre (red) where the lightly pigmented Manto Negro contributes its velvety, red fruit aromas to an elegant blend stiffened by Syrah and Merlot.
Close by is the village of Santa María del Camí. To the north, rearing up like jagged vertebrae from southwest to northeast are the mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. Here you can hop on the Wine Express Daily, the little red train which tours the vineyards. When not on its rounds, the train will be parked outside Macià Batle, a large bodega founded in 1856 with a new winery added on in 1996. There’s always a happy throng of fellow tasters in the shop and out in the courtyard quaffing the house blanc, a cheerful combination of local Prensal Blanc, Chardonnay and a little Moscatel, or one of the barrique-aged range of reds which blend the indigenous Manto Negro with Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot.
Also in Santa María is Bodega Ramanyà, a boutique winery about a tenth of Macià Batle’s size with just 10 hectares and established only in 2003. Here self-effacing, self-taught Toni Ramanyà makes four wines, including – unusually for Mallorca – two cavas, both based on Manto Negro, one pink and the other a blanc de noirs. A good place for lunch is Es Molí des Torrent, a delightfully restored windmill-turned-restaurant with a shaded interior patio and local food taken up a notch.
Continue through the vineyards of DO Binissalem in a northeasterly direction as far as the town of Inca (whose Thursday farmer’s market is a must), then north through the pretty, pinkish-golden stone village of Selva. Two great places to stay nearby include Finca Es Castell and Hotel Son Ametler, the two hotels deep in the Serra de Tramuntana that are owned and run by husband-and-wife team James and Paola Hiscock. The only noises off here are birdsong and the tinny tinkling of sheep bells grazing beneath olive trees.
The food at both hotels is delicious, locally sourced and imaginatively cooked by Paola, and the wine list full of interesting discoveries, so it will be hard to lure you away from dinner ‘at home’. If you’re looking for a change (or it’s the chef’s day off), try Miceli in Selva for fresh, seasonal, locally grounded food served in the dining room of chef Marga Coll’s family home. Or plan ahead (weekend tables are booked up months in advance) and visit chef Santi Taura’s diminutive restaurant in Lloseta and taste his startlingly original fixed-price menu (€37, wines excluded), culinary fireworks guaranteed.
From your base at Finca Es Castell or Son Ametler, a day’s outing via nineteen hairpin bends up into the dramatic Mortitx Valley is a must – only beware intrepid cyclists and keep your eyes on the road, not on the breathtaking scenery and the circling eagles and vultures. After a brief visit to the Lluc monastery, take a dip in the pool of restaurant Es Guix before feasting here on typical Mallorquin food (kid, lamb, rice dishes) in simple surroundings.
Up at the top in Escorca is Vinyes Mortitx, the highest vineyard on the island with 15 hectares of Malvasia, Riesling, Chardonnay and Moscatel, plus Monastrell, Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot. They make a pretty, blush-pink rosé from Monastrell, Merlot and Cabernet, fine for summer drinking. For the cooler months, their Rodal Pla, a robust but tactfully oaked Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot blend, is a standout.
For another day, take time to explore Mallorca’s other DO, Pla y Llevant in the flatlands south of the Palma-Algaida axis. The landscape changes from rugged mountains and gnarled olive trees to give way to wide, flat expanses of wheat interspersed with vines. Bodegas Son Prim in Sencelles is one of the best hereabouts. Typical of the new generation of highly motivated wine makers, they’re appreciated for their original, value-for-money, Mediterranean-inflected wines (varietal and blended Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah with a little Manto Negro).
At Bodegas Can Majoral in Algaida, brothers Biel and Andreu completed their conversion to organics in 2007. They are firm believers in the potential of age-old Mallorquin varieties to produce quality wines, either as single varietals (aromatic Giró Blanc, stylish Gorgollasa) or in blends (low-acid Prensal boosted by Chardonnay and Parellada or rustic Callet with Syrah and Cabernet).
For a parting shot, visit Bodegas Mesquida Mora in Porreres, for a taste of maverick Barbara Mesquida’s lively wines. One of a handful of women wine makers on the island, she recently struck out on her own with 20ha of vines, both local and international varieties. The biodynamic approach shines through, from descriptions of her vines and wine making through to the result in the bottle. Acrollam (Mallorca, spelt backwards), a Prensal-rich blend with Chardonnay, is a deep golden, mouthfilling white while Trispol, a dense ruby red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Callet with a label showing a mosaic of decorated floor tiles typical of Mallorca, is firmly grounded in the island.
If there’s time before returning to the airport, book lunch at Es 4 Vents in Algaida, for a taste of classic Mallorquin cooking (“food that reconnects you with your childhood”, say the locals) – sopes and frito, char-grilled or braised lamb, kid, fish and shellfish.