23 January 2021

Vineyards of the Canary Islands

Volcanic eruptions are terrible for vineyards, but only briefly. Once the lava cools, the volcanic soil left behind creates delicious wine that is lean, racy, and mineral: Santorini’s Assyrtiko, Nerello Mascalese from the slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna, Northern Californian Cabernet Sauvignon. Vines planted by Spanish and Portuguese settlers made the Canaries famous: In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Sir Toby Belch speaks of “a cup of canary.” Then their popularity waned, and for 200 years, the trade winds brought no trade.

“And a good thing, too,” says Jonatan García Lima of Suertes del Marqués on Tenerife, the Canaries’ largest island. No trade meant vines could grow and adapt in peace, and the result is a remarkable range of varieties that, if not precisely indigenous (Listán Blanco is also Palomino, the grape of sherry, while Listán Prieto is better known as Mission, the earliest European variety planted in the Americas), are so different from their other incarnations as to be almost unrecognizable.

Those vineyards are starkly beautiful but surpassingly strange: covered in black volcanic ash, each vine planted in an individual depression, shielded from that chill wind by its own semi-circular wall of ink-dark rock. Driving through La Geria, the island’s principal wine region, is like crossing a giant muffin tray with vines where the muffins should be. 
More info at Food & Wine.


  1. The Spanish really love their monoculture.

  2. As hinted, the wine grapes of Santorini are also grown in shallow, round depressions with small rock walls on the windward side. Further, the grapevines are grown in circles. When the grapevines are pruned, this creates a large number of vine-wreaths that are used as decorations around the island. After the leaves fall off, they are just the vines, but they are sometimes painted and have small decorations applied.


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