A Tenerife Wine Flight (5/5)

The sweet fortified Canary Malmsey was already known and loved by Shakespeare. Then, somehow (several are the historical and economical explanations), Canary wine went out of the radar of European consumers. Anyway, I'm not publishing this post to deal with the history of Canary wine. What I would like to point out to the readers is just the (surprisingly amazing) present of the Canary wine. In particular, I was impressed by the increasing quality and multitude of wines offered by the island of Tenerife. Thanks to government and private investments and to the international critics attention, Tenerife wine scene has acquired a totally new light. Vibrant, food-friendly, fruity reds featuring low alcohol and good acidity together with a mineral character are perfectly suited for the new wine trends. The same can be said about the crisp and mineral whites and, why not, about the refreshing sweet ones that are indeed perfectly suited as aperitif drink rather than dessert. Combine this with unheard and nearly extinct local grape varieties and with really interesting terroirs, and you will figure out that Tenerife has all cards in place to be a winning player on the international vinous landscape.  

Very old bottles of Malmsey at the museum Casa del Vino in El Sauzal

You may ask, how on Earth they can produce quality whites and, especially reds, at such low latitudes? Tenerife is indeed located at 28.2686° N. Well, similar to what happens in other warm regions (e.g. Sicily) what is missing in latitude can be compensated with altitude, especially if you are lucky enough to have a volcano (Mt Teide here, Mt Etna in Sicily) offering you not only the required altitude but also soils rich in mineral elements that are like gold for grapes (potassium in primis) and that have been, since ever, inhospitable to phylloxera therefore allowing a pie franco viticulture. 

Unfortunately, Tenerife wine is pretty much unknown to the average European consumer. Production is very limited and just a handful of wineries are able to export their production. Somehow, USA seem to be a more receptive market then Europe for Tenerife wines. 

So, for the moment, if you really wish to fully explore Tenerife wine's reality, then you need to go on the ground. However, where to start your exploration once you land on the island? 
Without any doubt your starting point should be la Casa del Vino in El Sauzal, in the north part of the island. The town is not far from Santa Cruz if your are flying to the north airport. If you are, instead, flying to the south airport then things are even more exciting: you can drive up north following the west coast, enjoying the vertical cliff of Playa de los Gigantes, passing through the breathtaking landscape around the town of Masca, and admiring how the soil and plant-life changes from south to north. Keep going further and you will end up in the wonderful Garachico where you can stop for a dive in the natural swimming pools offered by El Caleton. There you will find also a nice little shop (El Trueque Gourmet) selling local wine and cheese where you can also purchase a delicious homemade liqueur produced with local passion-fruit (maracuya). 

At Casa del Vino you will find a Restaurant, a Museum (with all the info you need to know about history, soils, viticulture techniques, grape varieties, styles, etc....see few pictures below) and Tasting Room where you can sample a large variety of local wines. After visiting the museum and tasting few samples, you will gather enough knowledge to start exploring the region on your own or by means of one of the several guided tours that are proliferating in island. 

Few pictures from the museum at Casa del Vino showing the temperature and rain profile in the island (left), the several trellising techniques (center) and the several local grape varieties (right). 

The island is divided in 5 Denominations of Origen. Generally speaking, the northern (cooler) part is where red wines have more chance to excel, although there are exceptions. The southern (warmer) part is better suited for whites and afrutado/sweet wines, again with exceptions as fresher climate can found up on the slopes of the Mt. Teide (actually Abona has one of the highest vineyards in the "old" World peaking at 1600mt ASL). 


Valle de la Orotava: North part of Tenerife. Terraced northern slopes of Mt Teide. Whites vines thrive in the west slopes, while reds are best from east. Volcanic sand and clay soil over volcanic bedrock. Principal white varieties are: Gual, Malvasía, Verdello, Vijariego. Principal reds: Listán Negro, Malvasía Rosada, Negramoll. More details at this link.

Tacoronte-Acentejo: North-eastern part of Tenerife (Anaga peninsula). Viticulture on terraced slopes and deep, narrow valleys. It's consider the benchmark for high-quality wine production. Soils with volcanic origin, very permeable and rich in minerals (low lime, high nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus) Principal white varieties are: Gual, Malvasía, Listán blanco and Marmajuelo. Principal reds: Listán Negro, Negramoll, although international varieties such as Syrah, Cab. Sauvignon and Merlot are allowed. More details at this link.

Ycoden-Daute-Isora: North-Western part of Tenerife. terraced slopes characterised by very small vineyards. Very old and traditional wine-making region. Soils feature volcanic material, sandy clay over volcanic bedrock. Principal white varieties are: Bermejuela, Gual, Malvasía, Moscatel, Pedro Ximénez, Verdello, Vijariego, Albillo, Sabro, Torrontés. Principal reds: Tintilla, Listán Negro, Malvasía Rosada, Negramoll, Castellana, Baboso Negro. More details at this link.

Valle de Guimar: South-eastern part of Tenerife. Vineyards are on the slopes of Mount Teide (some of the highest in all Europe). Best vineyards are located above 800 metres (altitude is a must to escape the heat of the south-facing slopes at such low latitudes) on volcanic soils featuring some clay presence. Principal white varieties are: Listán Blanco, Malvasía, Moscatel, Gual, Vijariego and Verdello. Principal reds: Listán Negro, Negramoll, Tintilla, Malvasía Tinta, Moscatel Negro, Vijariego Negro, Rubi Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir. More details at this link.

Abona: It's the newest of DOs in Tenerife. Growing in importance thanks to the high demand generated by year-round tourism. Soils feature chalky sands, with clay in high areas (up to 1600mt). Principal white varieties are: Bastardo, Forastera, Listán Blanco, Pedro Ximénez. Principal reds: Bastardo, Malvasía Rosada, Tintilla, Vijariego. More details at this link.

Below a bird's-eye view of few bottles (red and whites) coming from each D.O. as exposed at Casa del Vino museum.

 Flying Tasting notes from around the Island

 Bodegas Monje 100% Listán Blanco, Tacoronte-Acentejo. 80 years old pie-franco vines located in El Sauzal at 600-700m altitude . Dry and refreshing with lemony notes and some minerality. Perfect with seafood. 

Suertes del Marques (Valle de la Orotava) is one of the few producer that exports outside Tenerife. Candio is the name of the 'Barranco' passing through their vineyard. This is their top production  and the blend changes each year accordingly to which plot performs better (this vintage is composed by 80 year old Listán Negro planted with 'cordon trenzado' method). Plenty of character here, with red fruits, apples skins, complex herbal and peppery notes. Quite high in alcohol compared to its peers, yet balanced. 

Bodegas Marba, 85% Listan Blanco, 15% others, Tacoronte-Acentejo. Citrus and tropical fruits, some spices from wood, good sapidity. Again great with food. 

 Bodegas El Penitente, Listán Blanco, Valle de la Orotava, typical nice blue bottle. Semi-sweet (afrutado). Tropical fruits and peach flowers, delicious sweetness on the palate yet very fresh. 

 Bodegas Tajinaste, Listán Negro and Vijariego, Valle de la Orotava. Quite modern in style, but still with Canarian character. Ripe red fruits and violets, bell pepper, some spices and chocolate notes from barrique, smoky hints, good consistence on the palate... This is very good stuff :-)

Bodegas Hoya del Navio, Negramoll 50% y Listán Negro 50%, Tacoronte-Acentejo. Organic wine. A bit more rustic, but in a good sense. Notes of fruits and herbs are complexed by balsamic hints from wood. Pretty mineral and savoury on the palate.

Bodegas Vera de la Fuente (Rose', semiseco),  100% Listán Negro, D.O. Abona. This will knock out many white Zinfandels & Co. Deliciously fruity and semi-sweet, yet does not lack freshness. 

Bodegas Viñátigo, 100% Tintilla (nearly extinct grape variety), D.O. Ycoden-Daute-Isora. Red and Black fruits with some spices on a background of dark chocolate. Good tannic and acid backbone gives freshness and persistence.

Bodegas ViñátigoYcoden-Daute-Isora, 100% listán blanco, semi-dry (9g/l residual sugar). White fruits and flowers, with hints of fresh garden herbs. The residual sweetness makes the wine very inviting and it's perfectly balanced by the crisp acidity.

Bodegas Insulares Tenerife (Tacoronte-Acentejo). 5% Negramoll y 95% Listán Negro. Refreshing high-pitched tones of red fruits (typical of carbonic maceration). Still some peppery notes. In general I'm not a fan of carbonic maceraton, but this is has surprisingly good structure and balance and a savoury finish. Amazingly food friendly, to be matched even with local fish recipes. Good stuff :-)

Bodegas Presas Ocampo (Tacoronte-Acentejo). Listan negro, Syrah, Carbernet, Tempranillo, Merlot. Barrel Fermented. Red and Black fruits, cocoa powder and vanilla from barrique, spices. A bit more international in style, with enough tannins to make a persistent finish.

This is the sub-marine version of Bodegas Presas Ocampo (Tacoronte-Acentejo). Yes, sub-marine! You have got it correctly! It's aged for few months 18mt down in the ocean, caressed by some octopus (watch video). The bottles are stained with calcareous formations similar to what you can see on a mussel's shell. An idea already experimented in Lanzarote few years ago. The impact on wine ageing? Not sure...but of course some wine expert will tell you the wines will posses a saline character :-)

 Bodegas Buten Crater is another benchmarking producer for reds in Tenerife.  Crater is made with Negramoll y Listán Negro from Tacoronte-Acentejo. Vibrant notes of red and black fruits, pepper and liquorice. Very polished and modern in style yet authentic and mineral.

Bodegas Buten CraterTacoronte-Acentejo. Magma is their vin de garde. Again very modern and Francophile in style, with Syrah added to marry Negramoll grapes. Concentrated and balanced with tones of black fruits, spices, tar, balsamic hints. It maintains authenticity and sense of place thanks to the minerals-infused palate.

Bodegas Viñátigo, 100% Malvasia Aromatica, D.O. Ycoden-Daute-Isora. Sweet Late-Harvest wine, Apricots, candied tropical fruits, vanilla and white flowers. Very good balance and persistence, it can be enjoyed as aperitf as well. 

Conclusions: The island of Tenerife has a very large offer of authentic and unique wines that ranges from whites to reds, from dry to sweet, from carbonic-maceration up to barrica ageing, from heroic volcanic viticulture down to sub-marine experimentation.
Wines are very food-friendly and therefore are best enjoyed at local restaurants. Given the very small production, you won't get the chance to taste many of these wines outside the island. So next time you plan to visit Tenerife, allocate some room for vineyards adventures instead of just sunbathing on the beach ;-)


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