Canary Islands. Wines of salt, stone and ocean.

The Terroaristas blog published a few days ago an excellent post that explains the origin, history and current moment of the new Canarian winemaking. A must-read, which starting from the times of the historic Canary Wine, the subsequent commercial decline after the "Treaty of Methuen" and the resurgence that has been detected since the end of the 1980s, explains the singularities that make wines quality canaries are unique in the world and promises them an excellent future.

We reproduce the original post but not before thanking the friends of Terroaristas, their words and the feelings that our elaborations have transmitted to them. (The wine blog) 06/19/2018

In Henry IV (Part II, Act II, Scene IV), Mistress Quickly says to Doll Tearsheet: but, i´faith you have drunk too many canaries, and that´sa marvelous searching wine, and it perfumes the blood ere one can say : what's this? ”. Shakespeare. In Henry IV (Part II. Act II, Scene IV) Mistress Quickly says to Doll Tearsheet: I must confess that if you have drunk a lot of wine from the Canaries, that wonderful wine that perfumes the blood and one says, what is this? (Bad translation of mine, sorry).

It's all about perspective. From the old continent, we think that the Canary Islands are the southernmost wine region. However, it is not unreasonable to think that it is the northernmost area of ​​what we call the New World. We are the Old World, the traditional vine growing areas with native varieties or at least native ones. The New World are the new places of production, all of them with varieties imported from the traditional areas. We are talking about the US, Argentina, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The perspective changes when you arrive at the Islands and let yourself be carried away by the tropical and unartificial friendliness of its inhabitants when you know the uniqueness of its climate and the formation of its soils and you see that all these singularities make it possible to produce world-class wines.

The conquest of the Canary Islands ended in 1496. It was populated by many European peoples. They were Spanish, but they weren't the only ones; Portuguese, Italians, French, etc. they accompanied the first colonizers. Each town brought, among many other things, its own grape varieties and its own way of farming. Therefore the islands were colonized by humans, but also by vines of different nationalities. The Canary Islands were an important supply port on the route from Europe to the Americas. Ships bought supplies, including wine.

Once again, the English are in charge of the development of viticulture in the Canary Islands, giving rise to the well-known and prestigious Canary Wine, sweet malvasia wine that conquered the tables of the aristocracy and royalty. The English searched for a place far from the Mediterranean, controlled by the Genoese. Misfortune befell the islands when the English, in 1703, reached an agreement with the Portuguese and signed the "Treaty of Methuen" also known as the "Treaty of Cloths and Wines". It is the shortest treatise in the history of European diplomacy, with only three articles, but it meant the decline until almost the disappearance of Canarian wines. The treaty contained a bilateral trade agreement in which Portugal undertook to buy wool from England and gave the Portuguese a series of tax advantages for their wines. Canarian sweet wine was replaced by Madeira wine. The decline of Canarian wine dragged on for a century during which it made cheap counterfeits of dubious quality sweet Madeira wine. In just a century, wine production almost disappeared. We had to wait for the rebirth of production until the 80s of the 20th century when several winemakers interested in making quality wines resume their activity and this last stage begins. At present, it is the second crop of the islands with 8,000 hectares, owned by 9000 winegrowers, spread over 11 denominations of origin. The first crop is the banana, 9,000 hectares. There are about 200 wineries, generally small in size, that produce a total of 18 million litres of wine. Approximately 10 million bottles with DO are marketed, of which 12% are exported and the rest is consumed in the islands by the inhabitants and tourists. The rest of the consumption necessary to supply the local market, about 50 million litres, is imported from the Peninsula.

The most relevant fact of the viticulture of the Islands is that there is no phylloxera. Phylloxera is an insect that devastated the European and world vineyard. The larvae of the insect bite the roots of the plants causing, by infection of the wounds caused, the death of the plant. The only viable way to continue growing the vine and avoid plant death is to graft the European variety onto an American root. This is how all the vines on the planet survive, being mixed, except in the Canary Islands and Chile. The non-arrival of phylloxera has allowed the existence of very old plants and, above all, the survival of a large number of grape varieties that with the arrival of the plague disappeared in the rest of the old world. The plants are planted directly, free-standing, without grafting. Graft-free vines live longer,

We envy the sunny and not extreme weather of the Fortunate Islands. However, some precision would have to be made. As I got off the plane, awaiting the slap of tropical heat and humidity, I felt cold. I am happy to wear my jacket from the Plateau that has saved my life so many times. When checking the temperature of Gran Canaria, I was very surprised to see that it was two degrees lower than in Burgos (13 degrees against 10). How is this possible?.

The climate is subtropical with great influence from the ocean. The temperature of the ocean water is 5 degrees lower than in the Mediterranean; in fact, the Mediterranean area is much warmer.

The trade winds from the ocean collide with the northern part of all the large islands, providing humidity and freshness. The difference between the northern part, cloudy and humid, and the southern part, tremendously dry, is enormous, creating different microclimates, by orientation and altitude, in a few kilometres away. The temperature rarely goes above 25 degrees, helping long ripening cycles, good for the quality of the grape.

The Canary Islands are of volcanic origin. Volcanic eruptions deposit magma in the form of lava in different layers. Magmatic pockets are made up of different minerals. The degradation of the soil, fast as it is a fragile soil, creates a mixture of different mineral compounds unique in the world. It is no exaggeration to say that every few meters is different. And only.

One more element adds complexity to the "terroir", the altitude. The vineyards go from sea level to more than 1,300 meters of altitude. For every 100 meters of altitude, the air temperature drops 1 degree. In some parts of the islands it is cold, with the climatic variation from subtropical at sea level to continental in the highest areas. Harvests start at low altitude in mid-August and end in early November at the highest locations.

The dream of any denomination (and of any producer); all types of soils and climates, where countless unique varieties grow in a small handful of kilometers.

Wines of salt, stone and ocean.

Obviously, it is difficult to make a general assessment of the wines, and it would take a much longer visit to understand the true potential of this wine region, destined to be an international star. Just to give an example. In 2001 they began a work of genetic identification of the varieties, to know in a scientific way that they had in hand. They were collecting samples and a processor told them -this is malvasia-, they collected the sample and analyzed it. Of the variety called malvasía, 21 genetically different grape varieties have been detected, they are other varieties. How many varieties suitable for winemaking are there on the islands? I don't know knows yet, but more than 200.

However, most of the wines I have tasted have something in common: salinity. It is a refreshing sensation, which brings complexity and above all a mineral sensation almost impossible to discover in wines from other latitudes. Among the wines tasted, there was some of surprising uniqueness and quality. They are oddities, hard to find, totally personal. The road has begun to be travelled and little by little we will see how they will climb positions of international prestige. They are the present of quality wine, from a winegrower-producer, so scarce and so necessary.

Establishing a list of wines that I have liked always implies the risk of being unfair to some that I have not tasted or have forgotten to write down; however, I will try to be honest and say the ones that have surprised and liked me the most. They were a lot.

Bodegas Viñátigo. The project could not be more interesting. They make at least 17 different wines, in various price segments. Categorized into "Classics", "Varietals", "Assemblages" and "Ancestral" is an example of the tremendous diversity and infinite possibilities provided by the different microclimates, soils and varieties.

They are all good and if you have the opportunity, do not hesitate to taste them all. Highlight the "Viñátigo Ensamblaje Blanco", a production of 2475 bottles of the gual, marmajuelo, vijariego blanco and malvasía varieties. I am not wrong much when I say that it is one of the most impressive wines I have tasted this year.

Black Plains 2006. White wine without barrel ageing, only in steel tanks. Incredible freshness and youth in a wine of more than 10 years. Bodegas Agala. Agala 1318 white. Vineyard located at 1318 meters of altitude. Fresh, elegant and deep. Very young, with the ability to keep.

Agala 1050 young red Agala Crianza 2014. Red wines of Canarian, saline and fresh varieties.

Pediment of Gold. A classic of the islands. Very fresh and simple wines, to drink quickly, with the apparent fragility of elegance. Highly recommended. Los Berrazales. Wines with personality, somewhat more complex, oceanic.

Thanks to Juan Jesús Méndez Silverio for his master class, from which I have taken all the data (if there is any wrong, it is because of the density of the concepts and, let's face it, canaries speak very quickly).

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