Grape Varieties

White Wines from the Canary Islands

When you go on holiday one of the enjoyable pastimes is eating local food
Posted 25th June 2012        

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When you go on holiday one of the enjoyable pastimes is eating local food and drinking local wines. Many of us will have passed happy evenings sitting at an outdoor restaurant table eating local delicacies and sipping a nameless local white wine which was poured into our wine glass from a simple glass carafe.

The majority of these local white wines have little or no international reputation and in many cases are never exported because the local demand is high. However, just because a white wine is produced locally and not exported, do not assume it is of basic quality.

One such holiday destination which has a plethora of local white wine on offer is the Canary Islands. Those of you who have visited one or more of these Spanish-governed islands off the coast of Africa are likely to have tried some of the local white wine; but were you aware that several of the white wines are of a high enough quality to earn themselves Denominacion de Origen or DO status, the Spanish equivalent of the French AOC classification system?

There are 11 DOs in the Canary Islands, scattered across the different islands. Whilst they share the same classification system as their far away neighbours on the Spanish mainland, the growing conditions are very different. Most of the vineyards are planted on a bed of volcanic rock and the sub-tropical climate is countered by planting the vineyards at altitude. Many of the vineyards are located at between 500 and 1,000 metres above sea level, some even higher, allowing for a fresher and more acidic white wine than the climate would suggest.

The vines themselves and the white wine grape varieties are unusual. Most of the white wine vines are ungrafted as phylloxera has never reached the Canary Islands so many of the vines were planted up to 100 years ago. Many of the white wine grapes grown are not international or even common Spanish varieties and they include Listan Blanco; Gual; Malvasia; Albillo; Moscatel; Marmajuelo and Sabro.

Five of the 10 DOs on the Canary Islands can be found on the island of Tenerife. Four of these DOs produce white wine. The white wines produced by wine makers in the Valle de La Orotava are typically light and fruity young wines. The vineyards are in the island’s north west region surrounding the towns of Valle de La Orotava, Puerto de la Cruz and Los Realejos and are usually found on the hillsides and on pergolas. The most common white wine grape is Listan Blanco and it is worth seeking out the sweeter white wines from the vineyards at higher altitude which include botrytised grapes.

Ycoden Daute Isora DO is on the western tip of Tenerife and is one of the island’s most dynamic and forward looking DOs. The wine-makers have embraced modern technology and produce lovely fresh young whites from the Listan Blanco grape.

The vineyards in Abona DO in the island’s south are the highest in Tenerife with some of the plantings as high as 1,700 metres where frost can be a danger. Many of the white wines are organically produced using Listan Blanco and Bastardo grapes.

Valle de Guimar on Tenerife’s eastern side is the smallest DO on the island but the small scale has not resulted in a drop in quality. Modern wine making techniques are used and white wine is produced from Listan Blanco, Gual and Malvasia grapes.

Gran Canaria has two DO wine regions. Monte Lentiscal is the smaller of the two DOs situated on the north east of the island. The white wines produced here are young and fruity with strong aromas. The rest of the island comes under the Gran Canaria DO which was established in the year 2000. Vines here have to be grown on modern trellises and the white wine grapes are primarily Moscatel and Marmajuelo.

The wines of Lanzarote DO are probably the best-known of the Canary Islands. Due to its unusual soil of black ash, vines are one of the few plants that grow and thrive on this volcanic island. Most of the vineyards are planted at a relatively low altitude compared with the rest of the islands and each vine is protected from the local wind by being planted in a hollow and surrounded by a stone cairn. Lanzarote white wine is made from Malvasia, Burrablanca, Diego and Breval and the sweet white wines are worth a try.

Some of the smaller islands have a DO classification. La Palma has three sub zones and the best white wines come from Fuencaliente in the south of the island. The sub zone also produces some good dry and fortified wines using the Malvasia white wine grape.

El Hierro, one of the westernmost of the Canary Islands, is a relatively small DO producing young and fresh white wines whilst traditional wine making still exists in the production of PX and Moscatel wines which are produced using methods dating back to the 17th century. La Gomera, another small island DO, was only given official DO recognition in 2003. Its mountainous landscape makes vine cultivation difficult and vines are generally trained along trellises. White wine grapes grown here include Gual, Malvasia, Albillo and Marmajuelo.

Image by Michael Scheffler from Wikipedia.


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