Whilst continually searching for new wines, we have become increasingly fascinated by the smaller wine regions of Spain.
The international focus is now on the whole of Spain and this is very beneficial for small wine growers all over the country. From the old Garnacha plants in the mountains near Madrid to the Txakoli from the Basque Country (which was recently awarded best white wine in the world), the rich and diverse wine map of Spain is getting more and more attention.
When we consider the islands, we can already see that Mallorcan wines are taking the spotlight. However, there is a ‘new kid on the block’ that is starting to steal the limelight! Wine critics are currently drooling over the wines from the Canary Islands that are grown on lava soils.
There are various similarities between wines from the Balearics and wines from the Canary Islands. They both have very small productions, they both have unique grape varieties, they have a blend of different soils and microclimates to deal with and they are both a little isolated, which increases their cost price due to the higher shipping fees (for example).
The main characteristics of a wine grown in the Canary Islands are the soil types and the different types of grapes. In addition, not every island has the same soil or weather conditions.
For example, Lanzarote is very dry and windy and it is only about 100 km from the west coast of Africa and the Sahara desert, making any kind of agriculture there a very difficult task. Also, in the 18th Century a violent volcanic eruption lasting 6 years, covered a quarter of the island in volcanic ash. This made growing anything even harder, but not impossible. Partly due to necessity and thanks to a certain amount of inventiveness, the locals dug into the volcanic ash to try and reach the fertile soil underneath. They then created holes in the ground where they planted the vines. It was later noticed that the ash helped to retain moisture brought to the island by the northern winds and the hole also protected the plant from the wind itself. This has created one of the most amazing and mesmerizing wine landscapes in the world.
The Malvasia grape is pre-dominantly grown in Lanzarote, although other grape varieties can be found. The quality of the sweet wines from Lanzarote has been well received for centuries.
Tenerife is beginning to get much more attention too. The ever-changing landscape shifts from wet forests to sandy beaches to the moon-like, volcanic soils surrounding Teide. The rich combination of microclimates, altitudes and vine training systems (some of which are the most unique in the world) make Tenerife a new jewel for wine lovers.
The most popular grapes planted here are Listan Negro, Negramoll, Baboso and Tintilla for reds and Listan Blanco, Malvasia, Gual, Albillo Criollo for white (just to name a few).
Up to 5 D.O.s can be found on this relatively small island (of just over 2000 km2), making it a unique and rare treasure island for wines.
Another thing that makes Tenerife and the rest of the wines from the Canary Islands special is the fact that all vines are Phylloxera-free. As a result, some of them are the oldest that can be found in the whole of Spain (up to 200 years old), making them particularly attractive to wine makers and wine lovers alike. And of course, the training system that can be found in Valle de la Orotava is very unique. This system is called “cordon trenzado” and it consists of making a kind of braid with the vine, separating it 60cm to 80cm from the ground and then creating arms that can reach up to 15 metres, if there is enough space.
Small productions, peculiar planting methods, diverse grape names and new flavours make wines from the Canary Islands a fascinating exploration and a great topic to discuss around the dinner table with other wine enthusiasts.
After all, it is said that a wine from the Canary Islands (not Madeira), was used by Benjamin Franklin as a toast, after the signing of the declaration of independence.
And so the story continues. This year a prestigious wine publication rated 97 points (out of a possible 100) for a very special wine from Tenerife. This near perfection is normally reserved for the French wines that would cost 5 or 6 times more.
A synthesis of the traditional methods, the introduction of new wine techniques and the knowledge in winemaking acquired by the new generations, is creating a very bright future for the development of Canarian wines!