The unique wines and vineyards of the Canary Islands
The Canary Islands are a favorite holiday destination and cruise ships visit regularly. Yet few visitors know that this sunny archipelago with its beautiful beaches, volcanic landscapes and lively bars, 60 miles west of the Moroccan coast, is also a paradise for wine lovers.
Wines from the Canary Islands
Wine has been produced in the Canaries since the 15e century, when the Europeans conquered the islands. For many years, British merchants and Royal Navy ships transported sweet, fortified wine from the Canaries to mainland Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia. Millions of gallons of sackcloth or malmsey as it was known were exported to the UK each year during the 16e and 17e centuries and enjoyed by royalty, aristocrats and writers, including Shakespeare.
As the desire for French and Portuguese wines began to grow in the 18e century, the demand for Canarian wine declined and most of the islands’ industry collapsed. Now, with a growing interest in more unusual, fresh and flavorful styles, the islands’ wineries offer something new for the modern wine lover. They are completely unlike anywhere else on Earth and no more so than those found on the lunar island of Lanzarote.
Literal blowout on the wine scene
Lanzarote is the oldest and most north-eastern of the seven main Canary Islands. It is thought to owe its name to a Genoese sailor, Lancellotto Malocello, who arrived there on the 14e century.
In 1730 a series of volcanic eruptions began which lasted six years. They destroyed the crop-producing central plains and created the moonscape we see today. About a third of the island (77 square miles) became covered in lava and ash, called picon.
Despite this devastation, the volcanic debris was found to have special properties. It has proven particularly good for growing wine grapes.
Harsh climate, ingenious solutions
Lanzarote has a semi-arid subtropical climate. There is very little rainfall and no bodies of fresh water either. However, the humid Atlantic trade winds (alisios) blowing from the northeast keep humidity levels high on the island, except during calima, a hot, dry wind blowing from the Sahara. Nutrient-rich picón is excellent at soaking up this scarce moisture, so it can nourish growing vines in otherwise impossible conditions. Therefore, the islanders developed ingenious methods of viticulture, which endure to this day.
Many vines are planted in the center of crater-shaped pits called hello. These are dug deep into the ground, beyond thick layers of picón and solidified volcanic lava. The hoyos are surrounded by semi-circular stone walls called socos. These protect the vines from wind and daytime heat while trapping moisture.
Alternatively, some producers use zanjas — rows of vines dug in trenches, protected by long stone walls — and a few vines are planted in chabocosnatural volcanic cracks in the lava.
There are five indigenous grape varieties on the island. The main one is the volcanic malvasía, generally producing white wines with tropical and citrus notes; mineral and saline freshness; and lively acidity. Diego also produces wines with high….