The gastronomy supplement Cocinillas of the digital newspaper El Español publishes a wide and interesting report on Canarian wines that explains why they have become one of the most unique and demanded wines in the world.
Its author, Laura S. Lara, attended last December the presentation of our director Juan Jesús Méndez framed in the course "Experts in Canary Wines", organized in Madrid by the Spanish Union of Tasters in collaboration with the PDO Canary Islands - Canary Wine. As a result of that presentation and the subsequent talk between Juan Jesús and Laura, this article emerges that collects many of the keys to the history, present and future of Canarian viticulture explained that day.
*We reproduce in full the article by its author, Laura S. Lara.
The wines made in volcanic lands are in fashion. We travel to the Canary Islands to discover the characteristics of some of the most unique wines in the world.
The British poet John Keats already mentioned in 1818 the benefits of Canarian wines in his famous Lines On the Mermaid Tavern. Also, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott and even Shakespeare praised in one way or another the quality of the Canary or the Sack, as the wine from the Canary Islands on that side of the pond was known then.
They were good times. Between 1400 and 1800, wine was the main economic engine of the Canary Islands. Several centuries of growth and splendour, of reputation within and outside of Spain, only comparable to those experienced by Jerez with its generosity, which sadly began to lose strength after 1703.
The cause of the decline was the Treaty of Methuen, which opened a commercial alliance so that the English would stop buying Canarian wines and start buying those from Madeira. This agreement, added to the eruption of the Garachico volcano in Tenerife three years later, which left the port from which the exports left completely inoperative, ended up reducing the role of Canary in the world. Without a doubt, one of those great injustices in our history.
From that moment on, they tried to redirect exports to Spanish America, but it was not enough. The grape crisis drew attention to the potato and the millet, which little by little were replacing the old vines. And so the years continued to pass in the Canary Islands, until they reached the 20th century.
The 1980s saw what could be seen as a powerful revolution in the Canarian wine industry. The Regional Wineries, the PDOs and their Regulatory Councils emerged, promoting from then until today the production of excellent quality wines in the Islands, also appreciated internationally, as evidenced by the awards obtained in competitions around the world and the export to more than 35 countries.
In this new stage, that of the 21st century, Canarian wines are beginning to rise in level and achieve better scores in the main specialized publications, and that is for one reason: their uniqueness. Strongly marked by a volcanic character, canaries are especially mineral wines. Peculiarly, that is due to the fact that the Islands are between 1.5 and 20 million years old, which, geologically speaking, is actually very little time. They are 'young' soils that manifest their character in the form of an attractive minerality in the wines. We enter it.
Not afraid of phylloxera
The Canary Islands have one of the most important wine-growing heritages in Spain, the result of the efforts of several generations of winegrowers and winemakers, excellent weather conditions, a very particular orography, with volcanic soils, and the trade winds, which are very important. , as they give the wines a very personal Atlantic character.
With more than 300 years of history in the wine trade, the Canary archipelago is one of the only four regions in the world free of phylloxera, the horrible plague that devastated much of the planet at the end of the 19th century. As a consequence, the entire vineyard of the Islands is planted on the bare foot (directly on the ground, without American rootstock), which allows a total interaction of the plant with the soil and explains, in turn, the typical minerality of these wines.
A terroir, in short, very out of the ordinary, capable of preserving more than 80 varieties of different vines, many of them endemic. Such as the black bastard (also known as slug), the popular listán blanco and listán negro, the delicious aromatic malvasía, the forastera, a badge on the island of La Gomera, the bujariego or vijariego, the negramoll, the verijadiego negro or the marmajuelo, these last two recently rediscovered, since they were scattered in different places.
Work of heroes
"The Canary Islands are the botanical garden of world viticulture", assures Juan Jesús Méndez , chemist and manager of Bodegas Viñátigo (Tenerife).
He is not without reason. Another of the rarities that attract the most attention when we enter the Canaries to discover the richness of its wines are the traditional cultivation systems. The ways of growing the vine vary depending on the island, the area and the type of grape. This abundance of agrosystems viticulture is the result of the work of adaptation of the growers to a difficult environment. Effort and ingenuity have resulted in valuable natural landscapes.
Among them, the originality of the holes and ditches of La Geria (Lanzarote), dug in the volcanic soil to plant the vines, or the braided cord system of the La Orotava Valley (Tenerife), in which the vine shoots form authentic dreadlocks, stand out. that are interwoven over several meters.
This volcanic orography, sometimes abrupt and hostile, and the impossibility of using any type of machinery for the harvest, forces the Canarian winegrower to carry out a heroic viticulture, so-called because the vineyards are located above 300 meters of altitude, in Land with slopes greater than 30% and cultivated on terraces or in difficult harvest conditions.
It is precisely these different cultivation practices that, together with the changing climatic, natural and even cultural conditions that are appreciated from one island to another (and, sometimes, within the same island), which give rise to the 11 denominations of different origin that the Canary Islands have. Denominations that grant legal recognition and protection to quality wines made in specific contexts and through specific modes of production and varieties.
Sometimes a complication for the consumer when it comes to cataloguing what they are drinking, but also a way of recognizing the uniqueness of each terroir, the different climates that alternate on the islands and the personality that the varietals acquire in each one of them.
A volcano at home
The small productions that most of the Canarian wineries have, many of them family-owned that vinify for their own consumption, the costs of exporting and, sometimes, also the lack of resources, make it difficult to try some of the great Canarian wines. An increasingly easy challenge to achieve, thanks to the commitment of wineries such as Suertes del Marqués or El Sitio, both from Tenerife or from El Grifo from Lanzarote.
If we have managed to awaken your interest in the volcanic heritage of the Islands, the following references will end up making you a new lover of Canarian wines. This is our Top 10:
– Landscape of the Islas Forastera Blanca, by Bodegas Tajinaste in La Gomera (DO Islas Canarias). 100% white outsider.
– Tintomonje, from Bodegas Monje in Tenerife (DO Islas Canarias). Listán negro (90%), listán blanco and negramoll.
– Landscape of the Naturally Sweet Islands, from Bodegas Tajinaste in La Gomera (DO Islas Canarias). 100% aromatic malvasia, in the style of the old sweet Canary.
– Elaboraciones Ancestrales Blanco, from Bodegas Viñátigo in Tenerife (DO Islas Canarias). 100% equal.
– Bastardo Negro, from Bodegas Monje in Tenerife (DO Islas Canarias). 100% black bastard.
– Dry Volcanic Malvasia, from Bodegas Los Bermejos in Lanzarote (DO Lanzarote). 100% volcanic malvasia.
– El Sitio Vijariego Negro, from Bodegas El Sitio in Tenerife (DO Islas Canarias). 100% black vijariego.
– Laderas de Teno, from Bodegas Viñátigo in Tenerife (DO Islas Canarias). Black slimy, tintilla, black vijariego and bastard.
– Rosado de Lágrima, from Bodegas El Grifo in Lanzarote (DO Lanzarote). 100% black ribbon.
– Vidonia dry white barrel, from Bodegas Suertes del Marqués in Tenerife (DO Valle de la Orotava (Canary Islands). Listán blanco (mostly), gual, marmajuelo and vijariego blanco.
* You can read the article in the following link.