The island of Mallorca, located just off the eastern coast of mainland Spain, is known for its beautiful white sand beaches, but as I stood in front of the 17th-century dairy that houses the winery Bodegas Anima Negra, it was hard to imagine there was a beach within a thousand miles. The ground under my feet was dry and hard, the building itself—an old stone monstrosity surrounded by bored dogs—was as far from a beach cabana as it was possible to envision. "You know, when we started here, this place was still full of cows," said Pere Obrador, one of Anima Negra's three young partners. He sighed. "It took a long time to have a winery that didn't smell like cow."
He shouldn't worry. When I was there, not long after harvest, the winery smelled of just one thing: wine. Specifically, it smelled of fermenting Callet, a quirky varietal native to Mallorca. Its flavor is a cross between the spicy, herbal qualities of Cabernet Franc and a powerful Syrah. Anima Negra's top wine, AN, is made almost entirely from Callet. It was not only one of the best Spanish wines I'd had at a recent tasting in New York, but it was also the inspiration for my trip to Mallorca.
Anima Negra, it turns out, is part of a small but growing number of Mallorcan wineries that are producing impressive wines from varieties largely indigenous to this Mediterranean island. The most widely planted is Manto Negro; others include Fogoneu, Prensal Blanc (or Moll) and Girò Blanc. Sometimes they're blended with more familiar varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah and sometimes not. At their best, these unusual varieties make distinctive, emphatic wines, some of which are now turning up in the United States.