The Canary Islands, located off the coast of Morocco, but technically a part of Spain, form a backdrop for some of the most unlikely yet wondrous vineyards for producing fine wines in the entire world.
Take these interesting viticultural factoids: Where are the highest vineyards in Europe? Not in the Alps; What is the highest mountain in Spain? It is not in the Pyrenees; Where are some of the oldest vines in Europe? Not in Greece or Italy; Where are the furthest south that vines grow in Europe, outside of the 30-50 degrees of latitude bands taught in most wine books?
The answer to these questions is Tenerife on the Canary Islands. The island of Tenerife is dominated by El Teide, a volcano that is the highest peak in Spain. On all sides of it are vineyards making up the highest vineyards in Europe.
In a valley facing North and North east on the slopes of El Teide is the Valle de la Orotava DO and home to the vineyards of Suertes Del Marques. Visiting the vineyards of Suertes del Marques is like going back in time. The area is Phylloxera free and so the vines are pie franco (own rooted) and extremely old, with some potentially over 200 years! Many of the vines are trained using a unique method to this area called Cordon Trenzado where the vines spread out in long braids of wood, some up to 15-20 feet from the mother trunk! The varietal mix here is like a treasury of lost and little know grapes Listan Negro and Blanco, Malvasia Rosado, Vijariego, Baboso Negro and more.
Given the extremely special nature of what Suertes del Marques possesses, proprietor Jonatan Garcia Lima works all his vineyards organically and all by hand and with the utmost care and respect for nature and the history. And from these amazing and unique vineyards, he endeavors to make fresh, tensile and mineral driven wines that showcase the volcanic soils and the native varieties. To achieve his objective, through years of experimentation and refinement, he has divided up the slope into parcels to achieve a hierarchy (much like a slope in Burgundy) as well as a unique vineyard signature to each of his top Cru wines. These various parcels have names like El Ciruelo, El Chibirique, El Esquilon and La Solana.
To achieve the utmost purity and refinement to the wines, all work in the cellar is done with a minimum of interference. This includes all indigenous yeast fermentations, use of neutral large oak barrels with minimal racking and added sulphur during the élévage. There is also a minimum of filtration with the wines just passing through a large screen to remove any unwanted remnants, stems, grape skins, etc.
The resulting wines are super pure, and without artifice. They most certainly reflect the terroir from which they come. On both the reds and whites, they are fresh and bright with a strong underlying volcanic minerality, which Jonatan says can sometimes be misconstrued as reduction. The wines themselves can sometimes be a little reduced, particularly in the months after bottling given the minimal racking and low SO2. If so, he recommends a nice decant before serving. But, all in all, these wines are extremely versatile and can pair beautifully with a range of foods.
In years to come, these wines from these special and often ancient parcels could become as famous as the greats in France and Italy. Perhaps someday, more people like George Washington and Sir Toby Belch¹s character in Twelfth Night will be calling for a ‘Cup of Canary¹?!