First mentioned by the Bard, and shipped back to Blighty by the boatload in the 16th Century, the wines of Tenerife have long been admired for their quality and individuality. Geoffrey Dean went there to discover the island’s 6,500 hectares under own-rootstock vine, its dozen local grape varieties, five DOs, half a dozen wineries that are pushing the envelope, and tasted and recommends the wines that are worth seeking out. Dean also finds that wine tourism is alive and well, particularly in the European winter months.
Unlike the five other wine-producing Canary Islands, which have a single DO named after each island, Tenerife possesses as many as five DOs which underlines the diversity of wines that can be found there.
Wine tourists and drinkers searching for an unheralded gem should look no further than Tenerife. Wine has been made since the 15th century on this best known of the Canary Islands, where the highest vineyard sites in the EU and volcanic soil combine to produce an ideal terroir. Indigenous varietals, both red and white, give Tenerife a unique selling point, with quality exceeding expectations on a five-day visit. Throw in excellent restaurants, characterful boutique hotels and, of course, warm weather in the European winter months, and you have all the ingredients for strong year-round wine tourism.
Reference to wine production in Tenerife dates back to William Shakespeare’s times, with the Bard praising the island’s highly-reputed sweet wines. According to Carlos Cologán Soriano, in his well-researched tome, ‘History of Tenerife Wine’, around 13,000 barrels of the island’s wine were exported to England each year in the late 16th century and first half of the 17th.
Current Tenerife wine exports make up less than 5% of total production thanks to heavy demand on the island itself, not just from 800,000 residents but also from the legions of tourists, many of them thirsty imbibers. Moreover, domestic prices are extremely reasonable at all quality levels.
The island’s approximate total of 6,500 hectares under vine features a dozen ‘local’ varieties, although only two, Listán Negro and Marmajuelo, are thought to be genuinely indigenous. Listán Blanco (aka Palomino Fino), Negramoll and Vijariego, originated in Andalusia, while Baboso Negro and Gual (aka Bual) came from Portugal (Dao and Madeira respectively). Vijariego Negro (aka Sumoll) originated in Catalunya.
Unlike the five other wine-producing Canary Islands, which have a single DO (Denominación de Origen) named after each island, Tenerife possesses as many as five DOs. That underlines the diversity of wines that can be found there, although all DOs have varying amounts of volcanic soil. This comes from the island’s Teide Volcano, the most visited national park in Europe each year. The Tenerife DOs are Abona (in the south), Valle de Güímar (east), Tacorente-Acentejo (north-east), Valle de la Orotava (north) and Ycoden-Daute-Isora (north-west).
Some producers, such as Viñátigo, prefer to use the generic DO, Islas Canarias, especially for export purposes, as “nobody in the US or UK knows where Ycoden-Daute-Isora is” in the view of Juan Jesus Mendez, Viñátigo’s MD. He exports 60% of his 18 labels, four of which are available through Hallgarten in the UK. These showed particularly well, notably the Vijariego Blanco 2018. Fermented in barrique and receiving batonnage for six months while on the lees, this was complex and concentrated with a fullish body yet fresh acidity. Its pH was as low as 2.9, confirming it as the variety with the highest acidity in the Canaries.
One of several interesting Viñátigo reds was the Ensamblaje 2018, a blend of Tintilla, Baboso Negro, Negramoll and Listán Negro. Red and black fruit, together with supple tannins, underpin a complex, concentrated and long wine with ageing potential. An Ensamblaje Blanco 2018 made up of five varieties – Gual, Marmajuelo, Vijariego, Malvasia Aromática and Verdelho – also worked well. Gual is also used to make an ‘orange’ wine named Elaboraciones Blanco 2017 that is left on the skins for a month. A complex sweet wine, Malvasia Dulce 2009, completes a fine Viñátigo stable.
The Monje winery, which is situated at 600 metres in the Tacorente-Acentejo DO with fine views of the Teide Volcano, also has an impressively wide range. The family have been making wine since 1750, with fifth generation Felipe Monje now at the helm. Some of his Listán Negro bushvines are up to 200 years of age, for happily phylloxera has never made it onto Tenerife. As a result, all the island’s vines are on own rootstock, with none grafted onto American rootstock.
Monje’s medium-bodied Listán Negro 2014, which is vinified traditionally (rather than with carbonic maceration as many examples are on the island) has appealing fruit, neatly-integrated tannins and good length. At €15, it offers great value. Monje’s Bastardo Negro 2013 (aka Trousseau) is a pricier €46, but showed complexity, concentration and a lengthy finish as well as some structure from eight months in oak (a quarter new).
Listán Prieto, a dark-skinned variety that originated in Castilla-La Mancha, was brought to Tenerife in the mid-16th century, and is misleadingly known as Moscatel Negro in some parts of the island. Gratifyingly, the Alma de Trevejos winery near Vilaflor uses the correct name for their 2016 sparkling wine, which they proudly hail as the only one in the world made from Listán Prieto. At 1450m, Trevejo is thought to be the highest commercial winery in Europe, which helps to explain the thirst-quenchingly vibrant acidity of their bubbly. Made by the traditional method, aged on the lees for two years and receiving nil dosage, it offers real value at €15.
So too does Tenerife’s biggest co-operative, Cumbres de Abona, which receives fruit from over 300 growers and makes 17 different wines. Winemaker Pedro Rodriguez’s speciality is Malvasia Aromática, which he makes in both dry and sweet styles. His Testamento Esencia 2010 (RRP €30), which has 120g/l residual sugar, is very full-bodied, complex and long. It is one of Tenerife’s finest sweet wines.
A white blend of real distinction, suitably named Unico is made by Bodegas Ferrera (in the Valle de Güímar DO), being fermented with wild yeast in chestnut barrels from Catalunya. Winemaker Juan Ferrera, whose organically-farmed vines are at 1000m, blends Malvasia Aromática, Listán Blanco and Albillo Criollo in equal quantities. Full-bodied, concentrated and long, it gains complexity from 12 months on the lees, coming in at 12% abv and an RRP of €28.
Many other interesting wines from Tenerife are available for tasting at the excellent Casa del Vino wine museum in El Sauzal. A 400-year old wooden press by the entrance represents an imposing reminder of the island’s long history of viticulture. The restaurant there is outstanding, as is another with a fine selection of wines, El Secreto de Chimiche, near Santa Cruz. Gastronomic delights await visitors all over Tenerife, with other establishments worthy of commendation including Restaurante Regulo in Puerto de la Cruz, Casa de la Comidas La Parada in Icod and Parador las Cañadas del Teide. The artesanal brewery Tacoa, which produces excellent craft beer, also does tasty lunches.
Tenerife, therefore, has everything needed for successful wine tourism. Two excellent boutique hotels to stay at are Hotel Rural Victoria in La Orotava and Hotel San Roque in the picturesque old coastal town of Garachico. A plethora of good bodegas, aside from those already mentioned, include Reverón, Linaje del Pago, Marba and Zanata. With the quality of the island’s wines not in doubt, the future of the wine industry there looks very bright.