An awful lot of people I’ve met in the wine game did a similar degree to me: a languages one. I was a not-especially-good French and German student at Christ’s College during the early 90s. Despite my woeful student work ethic, I always felt pretty comfortable if you dropped me into Paris or Berlin. Spain, however, was a different matter – until I was lucky enough to have a string of Spanish girlfriends either side of the millennium. Spanish, I established, was pretty similar to French in terms of vocab, grammar and structure. And I learnt quickly.
This proved particularly helpful during recent trips to the Canary Islands. Having never visited these lumps of volcanic rock in the Atlantic until February 2019, my half-term family trip to Lanzarote was a revelation. If you’ve never been: go. And if you love interesting wines, definitely go.
The humble vine tends to produce the most interesting grapes (and wines) in the most interesting environs. Give it a safe, well-irrigated environment and it will give you something perfectly nice, but a bit boring. Stick it somewhere challenging or downright bloody difficult – and it will tend to offer up something special.
Lanzarote is a perfect case in point. The vines grow in circular hollows in the ground (the ‘soil’ being little more than black volcanic grit) with each hollow having a dry stone wall around it to protect against the wind. The vine (or vines) grow at the bottom of the hollow, where the tiny amount of rainfall collects. The result is something unlike anywhere else on the planet. Whites are to the forefront, although reds are produced as well. Malvasía Volcánica is the main grape variety – the clue’s in the name.
Elsewhere in the Canaries, all sorts of interesting grape varieties flourish in all sorts of extraordinary environments. The island of Tenerife has arguably the widest variety: five different ‘denominaciones’ exist there. Given that Tenerife hosts Spain’s highest mountain (Mount Teide at 3,718m), it’s no surprise to learn of so much variety.
We’ve recently brought in a pair of Tenerife wines at Thirsty & Hungry on King Street, with more to come from other amazing Atlantic volcanic islands. It’s a fascinating journey, well away from well-trodden paths. Are you game?