Wines from the Canary Islands: Unusual, Interesting and Delicious

Wines from the Canary Islands are unusual, interesting and delicious, made with indigenous grape varieties that have been around for over 500 years.Lazarote

Technically, the Canary Islands are part of Spain. However, they are located just 60 miles off the coast of Morocco (Africa). The soils are primarily volcanic, with unique growing conditions that can produce a unique minerality in the wine, with smoky, flinty and saline flavors.

The most extreme condition are on the island of Lanzarote where individual vines each are planted in “craters” that remind one of the moon. Called “hoyos”, they are dug into the volcanic soil to protect them from fierce winds blowing across the Atlantic from the Sahara desert. The first picture shows a field of hoyos (human figure in the center shows the scale). The second picture is of an individual hoyo showing a low stone wall on the sea side of the crater, that provides additional protection from the wind. The black volcanic soil has high drainage, so with only a few inches of rain per year, the vines are severely stressed. canarias-single craterThe second function of the hoyos is to allow the vines to more easily reach the organic matter below the top layer of volcanic ash.




As you can imagine, harvesting is difficult, and done all by hand and with help from animals, as indicated in the third picture.



camelPlantings on other islands aren’t so exotic, but many are planted at high elevations on terraces carved into steep volcanic hillsides. Many different microclimates result in varied wines. Because of the geographical isolation of the Canary Islands, vines were not exposed to Phylloxera, the aphid that wiped out most of the wine grape vines in the world late in the 19th century. Thus the vines are planted on their own roots rather than being grafted onto rootstock, as is done in most of the world. Canary Island wine is an opportunity to explore wines made in the ancient way, and taste varieties of grapes not often seen. Interestingly, one of the earliest “reviews” was by Shakespeare, who mentions Canary Island wines in The Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Also, the “Madeira” used for the toast after the signing of the Declaration of Independence was actually from the Canary Islands.

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