Wednesday 22 May 2019

The wine buff: What makes the vines in Tenerife so spectacular

 

Towering above: the legendary volcano, Mount Teide in Tenereife, is the highest summit in the Canary Islands
Towering above: the legendary volcano, Mount Teide in Tenereife, is the highest summit in the Canary Islands
7 Fuentes 2016
The Fire Tree
Vidonia 2017
Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

As you fly into Tenerife, the island reveals itself dramatically. Volcanic rock rises out of the sea, and the peak of Mount Teide, the island's legendary volcano, pierces through a sheet of white cloud. Located just 100km from the coast of Morocco, the arid landscape below is semi-desert. Although it is part of Spain, it's more like Africa, and you would wonder how it is possible to grow grapes here.

The parched landscape changes to lush green as you head to the north side of the island, where there is 10 times more rain than the south, and the temperature is five to 10 degrees cooler. I was there, not for a bit of winter sunshine, but to visit Suertes del Marqués, a small winery with stunning vineyards in the volcanic soils of Valle de la Orotava, in northern Tenerife. It is owned by Jonatán García Lima, one of Spain's most exciting young wine producers.

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The first vines were planted here at the end of the 15th century by the Portuguese, and wine became the island's most important commercial product.

Interestingly, Jonatán told us, there is an Irish connection. The key exporters and merchants at the time were Irish and British, and there are many documents on the Cólogan family dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, with details on the expatriate Irish Catholic community of Tenerife and their trade with Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin. The Cólogans were also the merchants who won the contract to supply wine to the first fleet sailing to Australia, so the first wine drunk in Australia was from Tenerife and it was bought from an Irishman.

What makes the vines in Tenerife so spectacular is their age. Whereas most of the vines in Europe were wiped out in the late 1800s by a disease called phylloxera, Tenerife's isolated location meant that it escaped the scourge. This means that at Suertes del Marqués some of the vines are 250 years old. But it is not just their age that is spectacular, it is their sheer presence. Unlike the manicured lines of trellised vines you normally see, these vines snake down the steep hillside horizontally, up to 10 metres in length, the canes plaited and tied with twine to keep them in place, using a hugely laborious system called cordón trenzado. Beneath the long ancient arms of the vines is lush green vegetation which contributes to the quality of the organic soil.

Typically, the vines are planted at 300 to 700 metres above sea level, with the temperature getting cooler further up the slopes. While there were leaves on the vines in the lower vineyards, they had yet to come out higher up.

Among the indigenous grape varieties grown here are Listán Negro and Listán Blanco. While many of these old vineyards where pulled up to plant Tenerife's world -famous potato, it is through the efforts of Jonatán and a handful of producers that these ancient vines have been preserved. The wines are truly spectacular and well worth seeking out.

Grapevine

More events for Spanish Wine Week - Aoife Carrigy will be pairing wines from northern Spain with north-Indian food in Pickle, Dublin, on April 9, John Wilson will be exploring hidden gems of Spanish wine in the Legal Eagle, Dublin, on April 12 and Leslie Williams will be hosting Irish-Spanish fusion tapas in Sol & Sombra in Tralee on April 8. Tastings take place in Dublin in Whelehan's, Ely, 64 Wine, Morton's, Clontarf Wines and more. See spanishwineweek.ie

Vidonia 2017

€34, 12.5pc, from Green Man Wines, Loose Canon, Ely 64 Wine

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Vidonia 2017
 

A truly spectacular white wine from Suertes del Marques, this is made from ancient Listán Blanco vines. Rich, layered and textured, this is beautifully balanced with a citrus freshness and streak of flinty minerality.

7 Fuentes 2016

€22, 13pc, from Baggot St Wines, Clontarf Wines, Bradley's Off Licence, Eleven Deli, Ely 64 Wines, Drinkstores, Redmond's, Martin's Off Licence

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7 Fuentes 2016
 

A red wine from Suertes del Marques which includes grapes from 250-year- old vines, this is deliciously inviting with flavours of crunchy red cherries, red currants and a nice hit of spice.

The Fire Tree Sicilian Nero d'Avola 2018

€22, 13pc, from Aldi

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The Fire Tree
 

Also from a volcanic island, the Sicilian Nero d'Avola grape is very on trend, and this ripe, fruity wine with flavours of red fruit, blackcurrants and a touch of spice would be perfect with a charred pizza or grilled meat.

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