The other day I organized an introductory tasting on the wines of the Canary Islands. In the past, I had the opportunity to acquaint myself with the wines of what are arguably the islands’ most well-known producers, Vinatiego and Suertes del Marques. Given that they are not commonly found or well-known, even by winegeek standards, I thought they warranted a closer look.
Surprisingly, the Canary Islands are home to 10 different appellations with close to 10,000ha planted. The wines produced were in the past guzzled up mostly by the tourists visiting the islands, but in recent years there has been renewed interest among winelovers for a number of reasons. First up, terroir. The Canary Islands are relatively young, with El Hierro being ‘only’ 1 million years old. Volcanic activity governs the islands’ soil composition and continues to play a role. Tenerife’s biggest volcano, El Teide, last erupted in 1909, but is still carefully monitored as future eruptions are all but unlikely. This terroir alone would not suffice to build the Islands’ reputation, which brings me to my second point: the grape varieties.
There are about 10 varieties which are said to be indigenous. About half of those can be considered truly local; the others have their origin in either Spain or Portugal. Nonetheless, aside from the two varieties shared with Madeira (Gual and Negramoll), they do all derive a unique character from being planted on volcanic soils. This has been a major selling point in recent years; tired of international varieties being used all around the world, winelovers increasingly realize that Spain can be a real treasure trove when it comes to originality. Compounded with the fact that there are quite a few ungrafted vines around as phylloxera never got a hold on the island, it is no surprise that it piques the interest of your everyday winegeek.
Suertes del Marques was founded in 2006 and has played a pivotal role in developing the reputation of Tenerife on the world wine scene. They are based in Valle de la Orotova, home to the oldest vines on the island. The volcanic soils here are relatively recent following past eruptions, which means that wines here may also be the most outspoken ‘volcanic’ in character. The estate currently manages about 9ha over a multiple of different parcels, focusing exclusively on old vines.
Today we take a look at the estate’s Vidonia 2014. A blend of three different parcels, all planted with centenarian ungrafted Listan. This grape variety is the same as Palomino Fino, the staple variety used for Sherry. Relatively high in yield and a bit neutral in character at best, it does not have the greatest of reputations when it comes to dry wines in mainland Spain. Here however, controlled yields (less than one sixth of what you would get in Jerez), the age and the volcanic soils work together to create a truly interesting wine.
It is not for the faint of hearted, as the palate in particular borders on the austere. The intensity of flavors however, as well as the evolution that the wine shows in the glass are just great. Flintiness, almonds, a bit of honey, freshly plucked apricots and a floral purity follow each other in rapid succession, carried by a razor-sharp acidity. There is a sense of linearity, a tanginess that makes it remarkable. It has something of an almost naked Burgundy, tight, one-track-minded but offering intensity and character all the way. It may not be to everyone’s liking at first, but give it time, or a hearty dish with it (for someone reason it screams veg instead of meat to me) and it will be a memorable experience.