Sun, Sand, and…Vineyards? (aka Discovering the wines of Gran Canaria)
When my dear, globe-trotting husband revealed to me that his next work trip would be to the Canary Islands, I promptly informed him that I’d never speak to him again if he didn’t bring me along. Although I think it was a tough choice (the prospect of my muteness was a tempting one), he must’ve realised it was in his interest to book the flight without further discussion.
A 200 year old press at Bodega Marcelo
Days before departing, a wine-loving friend of mine, having just returned from his own trip to Gran Canaria, recommended I visit a few vineyards while there. I had vaguely heard mention of wine being made in Las Islas Canarias but could not have named you a single grape variety grown there or a producer. True to form though, while my husband was off working, I turned my long weekend break into a wine trip.
A break from wine with the local beer, Tropical (in an Amstel glass!)
Gran Canaria gets millions of tourists a year who come primarily for the sun and sand, so the hotel clerks were a little baffled as to why this non-Spanish speaker wanted to travel, without car or husband inland to the Island’s vineyards. However several circled maps, two buses, 2.40 euros, and a walk down some hilly vineyard-strewn roads later, and I found myself shaking hands with Carlos Diaz, owner of Los Lirios, a Bodega near Santa Brigida in the D.O. of Monte Lentiscal.
Carlos was a man after my own heart, and led me straight to his cellar. I was given tastings straight from the tank of his young red from the native grape Listan Negro (found, like so many other varieties, solely in the Canary Islands), and his white, which was a blend of Moscadel, Listan Blanco, and Malvasia (a very specific version to the island). The fragrant Moscadel shined through on the nose but strangely not on the palate at all. However, Carlos’s trophy was his dessert wine, the most internationally successful style made on the islands. 100% Moscadel Negro (again found solely on the islands) and the colour of a Madeira (despite being only one year old and much less time in oak) was rich and delicious. Carlos, like many winemakers, took over the family business from his father. His family has been making wine for 25 years.
The generous Carlos gave me an unlabelled bottle of his dessert wine to take home which sadly, out of the four bottles in my suitcase, was the one that broke in the plane’s cargo hold resulting in clothes and toiletries being scrubbed of sticky wine at 2AM back in London. I was far more gutted about the loss of the special gift than I was the saturated clothes.
After a brief tour of his tiny but lovely vineyards, Carlos then drove me to his neighbours’ bodega, Marcelo in Plaza Perdido. I was given a tour of the bodega by head honcho Santiago Robaina, whom at 73 years of age was still out tending his vines every day and making all of his wine with tender loving care. From what I could gather (the conversation was a mix of Spanish, bits of English, and Italian—the latter two mostly on my end), Senor Robaina is quite the legend amongst the people of Gran Canaria. He doesn’t sell his wine—the people come to him if they want to buy any. And he clearly prefers it this way. He is a top dog in winemaking in this region (Carlos obviously highly respected him) and I felt lucky to have stumbled upon a private tasting with the man himself. Senor Robaina treated Carlos and I to tastings of his Listan Negro bursting with fresh fruits and violets on the nose. Most Canary Islands wine is meant to be drunk young (joven) so Carlos’s red was aged in American oak for only three months, and Santiago’s for around five. Next up was his straw coloured Malvasia blend (again Moscadel coming through on the nose but much less on the palate) which he matched with spicy sausage and bread.
Two generations: Winemakers Carlos and Santiago chatting in Bodega Marcelo
I listened while the two winemakers of different generations chatted about (from what I could dicern) winemaking techniques, harvests, etc. Carlos dropped me off at the local bus stop and I thanked him profusely for his generosity, which I am so lucky to have found amongst most winemakers I’ve met. It is this kindness, this desire to share their passion for the craft they work so hard to perfect that infuses into the wine. Once you know the people behind the wine, every glass suddenly becomes much more enjoyable.
The next day I dragged my beer-drinking Aussie husband back onto a bus inland to the ‘Casa Museo del Vino de Gran Canaria’. The Museum turned out to be disappointing and the tastings very expensive and limited, however the young staff were lovely and helpful. We tasted four wines (at 1.50 euros per small tasting it was all we could afford!). I am still not convinced at the islands’ abilities to make red wines (the one I tried there was completely over-oaked) but the dry white was oily and nutty and interesting. In the end, I bought a seme-dulce, and a dulce, or dessert wine, the islands’ true specialties. It wasn’t the personal experience I’d had at Los Lirios or Bodega Marcelo, but I felt privileged to be tasting these wines at all, as virtually none of them are exported and therefore are drunk solely on the islands themselves. While it’s a shame not to share them with the world, a selfish part of me is happy to keep them my little secret!