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The Atlantic and volcanic wines of Borja Pérez

Updated: May 19

The Canary Islands are an archipelago made up of eight islands in the Atlantic Ocean, just 100km off the western coast of Morocco. At a latitude of 27-29°, it is the most southern territory of Spain and therefore of Europe. Dominated by Mount Teide, Tenerife is divided into 5 specific DOs. The one we are interested in today is located in the North West of the island: DO Ycoden-Daute-Isora, a complicated name inspired in two ancient kingdoms of the Guanche era and also in the domains of the princess Isora.

Here at the Northern face of Tenerife, the climate is a bit cooler, receiving much more rainfall than those vineyards in the south (still being quite low compared to Green Spain for example), making its sub-tropical climate a bit more suitable for high-end viticulture. However, these are not the only key factors in Tenerife, highlighting also the influence of the Atlantic Ocean, bringing moisture and cooler temperatures to exposed vineyards. Altitude is yet another key factor that provides for cooler days and a wider diurnal temperature range, thus helping the grapes to preserve acidity and develop complex aromatics. The third influence is the predominant north-east winds called the Alisios, which bring cooling mist and help to temper the easterly hot dry winds from the Sahara.

Another interesting and vital element that we need to pay attention to is the soil, a mixture of volcanic rocks at different stages of degradation, along with volcanic ash as well as sand and clay. While volcanic soils drain easily, it is their capacity to retain a certain amount of water that makes them valuable in a climate with such low levels of rainfall. Given their porous nature, they also facilitate the deep rooting of the vine to access that water and minerals.

In this complex terroir, we encounter Borja Pérez, one of the youngest talents in the Spanish winemaking scene. Representing the 4th generation of a winemaking family, despite his studies as Agricultural Technical Engineer, he was working until then as a rally mechanic as well as a firefighter fighting against summer fires. It wouldn't be until 2007 when he decided to took over the reins of the winery after they lost their main buyer due to the economical crisis suffered in Spain at that time.

In the beginning, he maintained a fairly continuous line of work, respecting the work of previous generations when making their wines in a conventional way. It wouldn't be until well into 2010 that this changed when he met some old good customer of his who also happened to be drinkers of fine wine, who advised him that in order to produce wines of the level they drank, he had to adopt a new work philosophy. Convinced of this, Borja fired his winemaker and began to practice sustainable viticulture in the 1.5 ha family vineyard: La Vizcondesa, where varieties as Baboso Negro and Marmajuelo were already planted. Thus, with this vineyard, he inaugurated his first viticultural project, the flagship of that new philosophy: Ignios.

Under this label, Borja produces wines from single vineyards devoted to local varieties. In 2012 he incorporated a Listán Negro vineyard with more than 40 years located in Buenavista Norte and, in 2013, he acquired Casa Canales, a Vijariego Negro vineyard located at 750m altitude, thus completing the 5.5ha it owns nowadays.

In any case, Ignios is not the only personal project he has. With the intention of helping to preserve parcels of old vineyards, Borja started to buy grapes from local winegrowers to make what would become the equivalent of "Village Wines", thus the Artífice range was born.

The wines from both labels share the same ethos in common: The idea is to make clean wines without complications yet displaying a great deal of ageing potential and filled with their own character that speaks about terroir and varietal identity. How does he achieve it? Trying to respect as much as he can the principles of low-interventionism (although he is consequent with where his winery is and if a year is badly given and treating becomes necessary, he would try to do it in the most respectful possible way):

- He doesn't use systemic products: herbicides, pesticides...

- He grows vegetable covers in order to generate natural competition for nutrients as well as attracting fauna that feeds in those parasites that damage the vines.

- Green harvest to limit overproductions.

- Double selection of the grape bunches when harvesting, being the first one done in the vineyard (only picking what it's properly ripe) and the second when entering the grapes in the winery. This way he makes sure that he only vinifies healthy grapes, not having to use any SO2.

- Not using any SO2 when grapes enter the winery is important because we will keep all the yeast families that are in the skins of the grapes, necessary to carry out the fermentation spontaneously, preserving the essence of a given vintage.

- In the winery, he likes using French oak barriques and foudres.

All this is what we wanted to showcase last August 8 in the tasting that we organized at radiCibus, presenting to all the attendees the wines of the 2017 vintage. A vintage that was expected to be promising since the vines sprouted early, however, the excessive summer heat forced the harvest of many varieties to be brought forward several weeks in advance to avoid over-ripening.

Our impression of the wines:

Artífice, Listán Blanco, 2017: 100% Listán Blanco (aka Palomino). 4 parcels vinified separately. 20% of the wine was fermented and aged in concrete. A 5% fermented and aged on the skins for 25 days approx. Total ageing of 11 months in 500L barrels before being assembled.

Very delicate fruits on the nose (lemon balm, stone fruits, fresh quince), pine, and a briny salinity. It is fresh in the mouth, very linear yet weighty. Brine, almond skin, and smoke finish.

Artífice, Vidueños, 2017: Grapes coming from vineyards located in 3 different towns including Gual, Marmajuelo, Albillo Criollo, Forastera Gomera & Listán Blanco. The wine spent 11 months in 25hl foudres.

Butter nuances, toasted corn, match smoke, pencil shavings, white peaches, mirabelle plums. In the mouth, it is textural yet gracile and agile. Woody and unctuous mouthfeel which doesn't feel heavy due to refreshing finish given by sensations calling to wet stones and sea waves. Interesting coal-like retronasal.

Ignios, Marmajuelo, 2017: 100% Marmajuelo from La Vizcondesa vineyard, located at 450m asl. Fermented in 500L barriques where it aged for a year in contact with its fine lees. Only 1.500 bottles were produced.

Very subtle and elegant. Puff pastry, gorse flower, buckthorn, fennel tops, apricot & peaches, plums, tonka beans, orange flowers, and a bright salinity on the nose. Super saline and mineral mouthfeel which refreshes its creamy and chewy mouth. Very well balanced, there are not noticeable edges.

Artífice, Tinto, 2017: 100% Listán Negro sourced from 9 different parcels vinified separately. 20% of the wine was aged in concrete meanwhile, the rest did it in 2nd and 3rd use foudres.

A red wine filled with very fresh and crunchy red fruits, coated with aromas of earth and roasted herbs. Very easy in the mouth, medium-bodied but very well balanced. Brine, dry meat, and smoke. Pleasant bitter & herbaceous finish.

Ignios, Listán Negro, 2017: Listán Negro sourced from a 40 years old vineyard in Buenavista Norte. Fermented in stainless steel with 30% of whole cluster. Aged in 600L barriques during 13 months. Only 2.850 bottles were produced.

Herbal, brought remembrances to a Cab. Franc. Coated with matured red fruits (cranberries, raspberries). In the mouth, it is brutally good with saline and ferrous attack. Very velvety tannin. Tense, linear, long. Atlantic wine with a very warm finish.

Ignios, Vijariego, 2017: 100% Vijariego from Casa Canals vineyard, located at 770m asl. Fermented in stainless steel and aged in barrel for 11 months. 3000 bottles (approx.) were produced.

Is the most subtle displaying aromas of leather, forest fruits, blackberry leaf, fur, moss, and fern. It's quite early to be drunk, it still needs at least 3 years in the bottle before opening it. The mouthfeel is taut, with a marked herbaceous character leaving also nuances of earth, beetroot, and dust.

Ignios, Baboso Negro, 2017: 100% Baboso from La Vizcondesa vineyard. 30% whole bunch fermentation in concrete. 12 months in foudres.

This wine at this stage is the definition of harmony. It is the finer and polisher of all of them. Is a wine full of life (present and future), very mineral. Exuberant bouquet of roasted coffee, blackberries & strawberries, pork skin, oak coals, brine (not predominant, enough to talk about the Atlantic). A serious contender to have in every cellar.

Miguel Crunia

Director at Fìon

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