There is always a moment that you remember as the pivotal point that changed your attitudes, perceptions or understanding of a specific wine or region. For me, and most of the UK fine wine trade, that moment came when we tasted the Suertes Del Marques Trenzado 2011 blanco. Nothing would ever be the same again in regards to perceptions surrounding Tenerife wines.
A blend of Listan Blanco and Vidueno as well as native varieties Marmajuelo, Gual, Vijariego Blanco, Verdello, Pedro Ximenez and Baboso Blanco, you could not conceive of a more indigenous styled Tenerife white blend than that of the Trenzado. The Listan Blanco vines are of course trained in the Cordon Trenzado method with the Vidueno on the Double Royat Cordon.
The old vines in the Cordon Trenzado trellising method.
Vines are ungrafted and come from multiple plots on volcanic soils, and are fermented using only indigenous wild yeasts. Aging is in concrete tanks, large foudre and some 500 litres used oak barrels. The wine is bottled unfiltered.
Suertes del Marques Trenzado Blanco 2016, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, 13 Abv.
An attractively rich, fleshy, yellow fruited nose that is abundantly opulent and open, allowing the aromatics to spill out of the glass, showing white peach, yellow citrus, lime cordial, yellow grapefruit zest and dusty, granitic minerality. The palate is richly textured, revealing impressive depth and subtle tropical fruit nuances. There are layers of tart pineapple, yellow grapefruit, yellow orchard fruits and pristine vibrant acids. The wine has a fleshy breadth and some phenolic grip, but is so characterful and fresh, energetic and crystalline, that this might well be one of the best expressions of the Trenzado white that I have tasted to date. Fantastically delicious, I can’t wait to get my hands on this new release! Drink now to 2024+
I make no secret that I enjoy drinking (slaying) unicorn wines! Some people get annoyed by even the mention of the term but I just love how evocative the word is. Of all Roberto Envinate and his team’s wines, this has got to be the rarest. Only 3 barrels of 228l were produced, all of which went to the USA and Mexico. The fruit all came from one unique terroir and is a blend of all the varieties (vidueno) that are planted in that vineyard, which is how wine was traditionally made.
This is a superb blend of 50% Listan Blanco, 45% Listan Prieto, and 5% Tintilla from vines of over 100 years old. This was bottled in July 2017 with no Sulphur additions.
Vidueno de Santiago del Teide 2016, A Chingao Vineyards & Envinate, DO Ycoden Daute Isora, Tenerife, 12 Abv.
When you know you are drinking a rarity, a wine does perhaps taste even better, or does the anticipation just awaken your taste buds a little? This beautiful blend is an alluring crushed cherry red with a smokey ruby depth. The nose is fairly reserved and restrained at first, even reductive, as you’d expect on an old vine 2016 wine from Tenerife. You do catch glimpses of the volcanic terroir with a dusty sweet cherry nose, crushed basalt and subtle peppery bramble berry spice. The palate is tantalisingly fresh and energetic, like a young tea total yoga instructor ready to put you through your paces at 6.30am in the morning. The texture is sleek, taught, vibrant and slightly lean, but all the better for it. Lovely layers of basalt and crushed gravel minerality melt into a complex pithy cranberry fruit medley with yet more red cherry and sour red plum fruit notes. This wine tastes like summer, even in the depths of winter. It’s so delicious, mouth watering and cool fruited, finishing with a lovely dry powdery chalky tannin grip. Long last since I tasted a wine that excited me this much, not because of its grandeur and flamboyance, but perhaps because of the lack there of. This wine challenges you, asks you questions… and the answers are all positive. Really, really lovely Roberto!
Since circa 2011, Suertes del Marques has produced a tiny amount of dessert wine from primarily Listan Blanco. The must is drawn off the other white cuvées and fermented to around 8 or 9 Abv before being fortified with spirit to 15% Abv. Only around 100 x 50cl bottles are produced each year and are marked with the date they were drawn from the Solera. They did not have an accurate spec sheet for the wine when I visited, but based on taste, this wine must have an RS of between 80 and 120 g/l residual sugar(?)
Suertes del Marques Blanco Dulce Solera NV (Nov 2014 Edition), Listan Blanco / Malvasia Aromatica, Valle de la Orotava DO, Tenerife, 15 Abv.
The colour is striking, being a wonderfully translucent shade of old gold and dark straw. On the nose, the senses are assaulted with notes of caramelised nuts, toffee apples, butterscotch, Madagascan vanilla pod, caramelised white peaches and the most vivid Sauternes like notes of dried apricots and bruleed oranges. But this is neither a late harvested wine nor a botrytis wine, and so the fruit aromatics remain pure and intense. The palate reveals great harmony and elegance, superb integration of sweet fruit and vanilla oak spice notes with seamless fresh acids and a long, honied, nutty finish. There are no clawing sugary notes or any tiring jammy fruits. Everything is superbly well proportioned and eminently drinkable. I expressed my dismay that Suertes del Marques don’t commercialise this wine further. It’s so delicious and food friendly (we enjoyed a bottle with Tenerife goats cheese and walnuts) that it would certainly find an instant cult following on the dinner party tables of London. In the past, only a handful of bottles were exported, but hopefully we will see a little more of this wine in London.
So my week of exploring Tenerife wines and vineyards was almost at an end and I managed to visit much of the island and tasted a good handful of the top wines. So it seemed fitting that my final winery visit was with Jonatan Garcia Lima at Bodegas Suertes del Marques in the north east of the island, the winery who can honestly claim to have put premium Tenerife wines on the UK and global fine wine map in the late 2000s.
Suertes del Marques was founded in 2006 and has played a pivotal role in developing the reputation of Tenerife’s wines on the world wine scene. Based in the Valle de la Orotova, Suertes del Marques is also home to the oldest vines on the island. The volcanic soils here were formed relatively recently with the last large scale eruption from Mt Teide occurring only 1000 years ago, and with its satellite crater erupting as recently as 1798.
The estate currently owns around 11 hectares over a multitude of different parcels, focusing exclusively on old vines, but also buy in numerous parcels of old vine fruit from 17 hectares managed by growers.
Tenerife has a long and fascinating wine history and a wealth of indigenous grape varieties such as Listán Tinto, Tintilla and Baboso Negro, most of which are over 100 years old and are pie franco vines, meaning they are ungrafted and grown on their own rootstock. The estate has over 40 varieties, many used for experimentation but focuses production on 8 main varietals.
Suertes del Marques is widely acknowledged by other bodegas on the island as Tenerife’s best producer, and owner Jonatan Garcia Lima is part of this growing breed of intensely passionate young Spanish producers who endlessly strive to drive the quality of their wines upwards.
In 2011, the whites and reds underwent a massive overhaul in packaging and label updating. The 2011 vintages were the first wines to make their mark on the UK trade, and demand has continued to rise continuously ever since.
Since the departure of winemaker Roberto Santana Envinate at the end of the 2015 vintage, Suertes del Marques has started working with the talented young winemakers Luis Seabra (ex-Niepoort) and Loles Perez (who is also one of the 15 growers supplying fruit to the Envinate Benje range of wines).
When I arrived to taste the barrel samples and new bottlings, the estate was already preparing to begin the 2017 harvest, where vineyards stretch from 350 metres up to 700 metres in altitude.
In the cellar, they were preparing the final parcel blends of their Vidonia 2016 white which is made primarily from old vine Listan Blanco (aka Palomino Fino) that is aged for 11 months in 500 litres barrels. While the estate has over 13 labels, their village red wine 7 Fuentes now forms up to 55% of their total production.
The Suertes del Marques Wine Range:
Trenzado is a blend of mainly Listán blanco blended with a “vidueño”, or field blend, where native grapes such as Gual, Marmajuelo, Baboso Blanco, Albillo Criollo, Vijariego Blanco and Verdello populate the vineyard. This captivating white takes its name from the trellis system unique to the Canary Islands: “el cordon trenzado” (the braided cord), a multiple cordon with a number of the vine’s branches braided together.
From old-vine Listán Blanco, this unique white is wonderfully mineral, with a matchstick nose and pleasantly reductive notes alongside citrus, peach and nuts. It’s also fresh, textured and incredibly complex, and quite versatile with food. A truly singular wine.
7 Fuentes 2016
Suertes del Marques refers to this as their “village wine” and it’s a good introduction to their reds. It comes from a blend of several plots, all on volcanic soils, and its main component is the wildly aromatic Listán Negro, followed by a small amount of Tintilla (aka Trousseau). A juicy and refreshing wine that showcases the vivid aromas and flavours of Listán Negro.
La Solana 2015
Made from a single vineyard of old-vine, high altitude Listán Negro which is vatted into small, open concrete tanks for a cold soak before fermenting in French oak.
The resulting wine is very aromatic and perfumed, juicy and smoky. Intriguing and ever-changing, it’s the kind of wine that makes you smell it twice.
Candio 2015, El Esquilon 2015, El Ciruelo 2015 and El Chibirique 2015 are produced from single parcels of Listán Negro, and are sometimes interplanted with a small amount of Listán Blanco, like in El Chibirique, which is named after a centenary plum tree that grows alongside the vines. Very fine, fresh, peppery and aromatic, and extremely elegant on the palate. Burgundy-esque yet with a personality all of its own.
Los Pasitos 2015 is a wine that comes from a tiny 0.25-hectare plot planted with Baboso Negro grapes on volcanic and clay soils. The wine processes amazing aromatics and lovely bright cherry fruit on the palate, with an intensely mineral finish.
The main whites and reds of Suertes del Marques will be reviewed on this blog individually, including their uber rare Blanco Dolce.
Such a wonderful way to end my trip by visiting and tasting all the wines of Suertes del Marques, where the Tenerife wine revolution began. I highly recommend visiting the island and tasting their amazing volcanic wines.
It was at a tasting in London, 5 or 6 years ago, that I was first introduced to the “new wave” wines of Tenerife. Roberto Santana Envinate was working as head wine maker at one of the other top island wineries, Suertes del Marques, based near La Orotava, and I remember the white wines based around Listan Blanco just blowing me away.
Roll the years forward and Roberto, along with young guns Laura Ramos, Jose Martínez and Alfonso Torrente, are continuing to make some of the most fascinating white wines on the island. Táganan is the old local name for this rugged vineyard area, located on the northeastern side of Tenerife, where vines are planted on primary volcanic rock on cliffs just above the Atlantic.
The white wine is a blend of the many different native varieties, which are vinified separately, with some parcels undergoing skin contact. A truly unique and characterful white wine that is deliciously pithy, saline and smoky with refreshing acidity is the result. Varieties include Marmajuelo, Malvasia, Listán Blanco, Gual y Forastera and Albillo, grown organically at between 100 and 500 metres altitude.
This Táganan white was only bottled in July 2017 and is already showing nuanced complexity. A pale straw yellow, the nose is vibrant and bristling with notes of pear purée, white peach, and baked apples. As expected, this wine is full of intrigue and possibly asks as many questions as it answers. The salinity again rises to the fore with real maritime notes of oyster shell and sea breeze together with subtle smoky oxidative, briney fino sherry complexity, enhanced by the 30% portion of grapes fermented on their skins. The palate too shows fine mineral detail, pithy pear skins, honied white citrus, lemon biscuits and the most faint wood spice hints. There is plenty of fruit concentration interwoven with the intense crushed granite, volcanic basalt minerality that underpins every sip. Pithy with slightly grippy phenolics, this wine has a long, tart, salty finish. Ready to go now, I would probably give this wine another 3 to 4 months in bottle to find its inner yin and yang.
Palo Blanco is the new white project Roberto and colleagues have been working on in the La Orotava region in the north east of the Island. Made from Listan Blanco grown on cordon trenzado from ungrafted vines over 100 years old from an area called Palo Blanco. There you can find a terroir with the highly reputed black volcanic soils which Roberto feels give the most interesting characteristics for white wines specifically, with intense minerality and linearity, or vertical wines as Roberto says. Fermented without skins, in concrete tanks, the wine was then moved to 2500 litre oval foudres from Friuli for further aging.
This barrel sample is being readied for bottling towards the end of 2017, along with the Táganan Tinto 2016. What immediately strikes you about the aromatics is the intense, extra lifted dusty minerality, a melange of crunched gravel, wet grey slate and volcanic basalt, laced with tart green apple, crunchy green pears, sour plums, spicy lemon grass notes and smoky wet hay. On the palate is where the majestic old vine concentration elevates this wine to another level. Compact with racy acids, there is ponderous mid palate concentration and depth, all finely tailored together with such harmonious texture and a supremely saline, pithy fruit balance. The finish is fleshy and broad with mouth watering lemon pastille, green peppercorn, oyster shell, lime peel and wet river pebble terroir notes. An absolutely stunning expression, this could end up being one of the highlights of my Tenerife white wine tastings. Drink now to 2030+.
It has been said many times… That some of the most beautiful regions in the world to visit are also some of the greatest wine producing areas. As if tasting and drinking fine wine is not enough, you get to do it in aesthetically majestic locations all around the world.
This summer, the vinous compass was set to the Canary Islands and in particular, Tenerife. The last time I visited this barren, desert-like volcanic island was in the early 80’s on a 2 week family holiday. While I have fond memories of this trip, and in particular the black volcanic sand beaches and the impressive El Teide volcano, in the Parque Nacional de las Canadas del Teide, wine and vineyards certainly did not feature in any way.
About 5 or 6 years ago, the wines from Tenerife started to turn heads in the UK market in a serious way. Stylistically often slightly reductive, crunchy, intensely mineral, saline and fresh, these wines, both reds and whites, are often produced from 80 to 100+ year old vines grown in rugged, exposed volcanic vineyards.
I have it on good authority that the Elizabethans knew more about Tenerife’s wines than current consumers. Indeed the Bard, Shakespeare himself, referenced the wines of the Canary Islands in several of his plays, including a barrel of Canarian Malmsey in one of them. The modern resurgence of interest in wines from Tenerife has gone hand in hand with a massive improvement in quality and there are now over 70 bodegas on the island and several more garagist producers.
These bodegas are spread over five separate areas, each of which has been given a Denomination of Origin to certify the quality of the wine. These are:
Tacoronte Acentejo: The best known and largest of the wine growing areas covers the lush slopes along Tenerife’s north east coast. Vines stretch from near sea level to 1000 metres, producing mainly reds. This is the area that most award winning reds come from.
Valle de Güímar: Again vines are planted from just above sea level, but this time they reach the 1500 metre mark. The sunny Güímar Valley is best for new whites (dry, semi-dry and fruity).
Valle de Orotava: Even though it’s next to the Tacoronte Acentejo area and is also on the north coast, the Orotava Valley is known for its white wines as much as for its reds. The famous Spanish historian and botanist Viero y Clavijo called the valley a ‘great vineyard of malmsey’. But then he was born there.
Ycoden Daute Isora: The vineyards in the north west of Tenerife were originally cultivated by the Portuguese, Flemish and Genoese (some village names around this area give an obvious clue to who settled in the area post conquest). Ycoden Daute Isora is known for its distinctive whites.
Abona: The area that many think of as little more than an arid rock, Tenerife’s southern parts, produces some very good whites, and even the occasional decent red. Vines are planted at two levels, between 200 and 800 metres and then as high as 1700 metres, the highest altitude for vines in the EU.
Because of the diversity of terrain and even climate, vines are planted in a variety of ways. There are five main methods. In some parts the vines are planted in low-lying rows and held up by forks. In others vines are supported by wide frames. Sometimes vines are tied to wires or cut back to form a small bush. Probably the most attractive method is when the vines are plaited together, creating gnarled natural supports up to eight metres long.
Over the next week, I plan to review some of the finest examples of red and white wine on the island, focusing on producers available in the UK market already.