Home > Good, History of Wine, Tasting Notes and Wine Reviews > “Very rare liquors”; Centuries Old Tasting Notes and A New One of Tenerife Wine

“Very rare liquors”; Centuries Old Tasting Notes and A New One of Tenerife Wine


I am always on the look out for a wine from the Canary Islands but I rarely spot a bottle for they have not caught on in the Washington, DC market.  This might be due to the slight premium in price, no doubt aided by the extra shipping logistics.   I am willing to pay this premium because I find the flavors unique.  Jancis Robinson wrote about these wines in her February article The Canaries – where vines, and wines, creep up on you.    She even noted that Canary Island wines were “hugely popular in Britain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” as evidenced by their inclusion in Twelfth Night.  But what was it that made those wines so popular?

Isle Canaries. 1700-1799. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, GE DD-2987 (8476)

Isle Canaries. 1700-1799. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, GE DD-2987 (8476)

During the 17th century the most popular wine from the Canary Islands was the sweet, white Malmsey.  John Paige was a London merchant who developed a trade during the 1640s and 1650s importing “luxury wine from Tenerife”.[1]  Amazingly, his business letters with his trading associate William Clerke survived from the years 1648 to 1658.  These letters provide fascinating details about the Canary wine trade.  John Paige wrote on May 28, 1649, that of the 11 pipes he received the “Rambla wines proved white and green, but the Orotava wines proved the richest Canaries that ever came to England”.[2]  In a previous letter he noted the Orotava vintage was “extraordinary rich but high colour.” Unfortunately the vintners were afraid to purchase them because they believed they had “put molasses in them and that they were not natural from the grape.”  John Paige continued to his agent that “now our vintners are grown so curious in their tastes that none but rare wines will serve their terms.”  He noted the price difference “betwixt ordinary and very good wines ” exceeded “£4 or £5 per pipe.”  That is a significant difference given that he had sold the 11 pipes at  £20 5s ready money.  One well received parcel was later described as containing “gallant rich wines”.[3]  Two years later John Paige wrote that the wines of Mr. Rouse and Mr. Audley respectively sold for £27 and £29 per pipe.  This was a suitable price given that “they were the best wines” he had ever tasted.

Not every wine that John Paige imported was well received.  On January 8, 1652, he noted that other merchants were selling at £29 and £30 per pipe.  He struggled to sell his wine at £18 per pipe for “no man’s prove [so bad as] mine, insomuch that no man will taste them.”[4]  We may guess what these unfavorable wines tasted like based on other comment by John Paige.  These bad wines were “generally green”, “small, hungry wines”, and even “mean wines, green and thin bodies and flashy” [5]  Even “better bodied wines…were bad enough both, being very green”.[6]  When John Paige could not sell merchandise he wrote of the “goods here are drugs, no vent at all for them”.[7]  He received bad wine from William Clerke on a number of occasions writing him that “You are not fully sensible” for the good wines were “a precious commodity” and “bad wines as great a drug.”

Today, it is the dry, red wines that I look for.  In Jancis Robinson’s article she comments that “most interesting was a visit to the painstakingly assembled” vineyards of Suertes del Marqués.  Just a few days ago Jenn and I tasted the introductory blend from this estate, the 2012 Suertes del Marqués, 7 Fuentes, Valle de La Orotava, Tenerife.  I was immediately drawn in by the exotically spiced nose that echoed through in the flavors.  It really was curious.  This wine was purchased at the Wine Source in Baltimore.

Tenerife1

2012 Suertes del Marqués, 7 Fuentes, Valle de La Orotava, Tenerife – $20
Imported by Eric Solomon European Cellars Selections.  This wine is a blend of 98% Listan Negra and 2% Tintilla sourced from 10-100 year old vines from three parcels located at 400-650 meters.   The fruit was separately fermented in stainless steel then aged for eight months in concrete and French oak casks.  Alcohol 13%.  The nose bore exotic aromas of scented red berries.  In the mouth the red fruit had mineral undertones and was enlivened by a lot of acidity that made way to a spicy finish.  There were tightly-ripe raspberry flavors, minerals, and a dry finish.  The persistent aftertaste carried finely ripe flavors.  *** Now-2017.


[1] ‘Introduction’, The letters of John Paige, London merchant, 1648-58: London Record Society 21 (1984), pp. IX-XXXIX. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=63981&strquery=canary wine Date accessed: 18 July 2014.
[2]’Letters: 1649′, The letters of John Paige, London merchant, 1648-58: London Record Society 21 (1984), pp. 1-8. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=63983&strquery=taste Date accessed: 18 July 2014.
[3] ‘Letters: 1650’, The letters of John Paige, London merchant, 1648-58: London Record Society 21 (1984), pp. 8-31. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=63984&strquery=rich Date accessed: 18 July 2014.
[4] ‘Letters: 1652’, The letters of John Paige, London merchant, 1648-58: London Record Society 21 (1984), pp. 57-82. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=63986&strquery=taste Date accessed: 18 July 2014.
[5] ‘Letters: 1653’, The letters of John Paige, London merchant, 1648-58: London Record Society 21 (1984), pp. 82-99. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=63987&strquery=mean Date accessed: 18 July 2014.
[6] ‘Letters: 1651’, The letters of John Paige, London merchant, 1648-58: London Record Society 21 (1984), pp. 31-57. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=63985&strquery=very green Date accessed: 18 July 2014.
[7] ‘Letters: 1651’, The letters of John Paige, London merchant, 1648-58: London Record Society 21 (1984), pp. 31-57. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=63985&strquery=drug Date accessed: 18 July 2014.

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