The Tenerife Wine Odyssey ~ Exploring the Island and Its Wines…

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.