Posts Tagged ‘Canary Islands’

A pair of Envinate wines from the 2017 vintage

This pair of Envinate wines from the 2017 show good promise for development over the next several years despite being from very different terroirs.  The 2017 Envinate, Benje hails from Tenerife, Canary Islands whereas the 2017 Envinate, Albahra is from Almansa in continental Spain.  Both wines have a sense of lightness and lifted personality but they reflect their soils quite well.  The Benje is dry with long notes of stones and graphite whereas the Albahra offers ethereally ripe fruit flavors.  You may find them on the shelves at MacArthur Beverages priced in the ~$20 per bottle range.

2017 Envinate, Benje, Ycoden-Daute-Isora, Tenerife, Canary Islands
A Jose Pastor Selection imported by Llaurador Wines. This is a blend of high-altitude 70-120 year-old Listan Prieto with some Tintilla that was foot trodden, fermented in concrete and tubs with indigenous yeasts then aged 8 months in neutral oak barrels. Alcohol 12%. Earthy, almost sour red fruit with gossamer ripeness. Light in body, the flavors are lifted and dry marked by stones and graphite. It is underpinned by salinity and dryness but a beautiful ripe elegance floats above. Best on the first night. ***(*) Now – 2022.

2017 Envinate, Albahra, Almansa
A Jose Pastor Selection imported by Llaurador Wines. This wine is 100% Grenache fermented and raised in cement. Alcohol 13%. A nose of delicate berries and flowers. Fine texture with medium-bodied flavors of red fruit, bitters, and a cool finish. There is a touch of zip on the tongue, tart acidity, and modest structure. The wine is slow to open up, revealing an ethereal ripeness which coats the gums and fills the mouth by the aftertaste. ***(*) Now – 2024.

A Canary Island delight: 2016 7 Fuentes, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife

October 16, 2018 1 comment

The 2016 Suertes del Marques, 7 Fuentes, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife  is a fine wine whose light color is reflected in the lightweight body but not in the amount of flavor it delivers.  The lighter weight body, ethereal ripeness, and lively acidity remind me of an old-school style of wine that I particularly enjoy.  It drinks well now but should improve over the next year.  I recommend you grab a bottle or two from MacArthur Beverages.

2016 Suertes del Marques, 7 Fuentes, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife – $20
Imported by European Cellars.  This wine is mostly Listan Negro with a small amount of Tintilla fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel vats and concrete vats.  It was aged in French oak demi-muids and concrete.  Alcohol 13%.  A light to medium cranberry ruby color. Lifted on the nose. Round yet lightweight body with almost lively acidity that zips through the middle of the wine. It develops surprising ethereal ripeness with notes of stone and tartness on the sides of the tongue.  A satisfying glass of wine!  ***(*) Now – 2022.

Tenerife and Ribeira Sacra from Envinate

July 2, 2018 1 comment

There are some rather interesting wines produced by Envinte and of the most recent vintage I particularly like the 2016 Envinate, Lousas, Vinas de aldea, Ribeira Sacra.  It needs air to come into balance but then there is a tension between the high-toned, acidic flavors and the oily, ripe citrus fruit.  Cool stuff.  I could not coax the same complexity out of the 2016 Envinate, Taganan, Parcela Margalagua, Tenerife.  I often feel these Tenerife wines need short-term aging and that is my impression of this wine.  These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.

2016 Envinate, Taganan, Parcela Margalagua, Tenerife – $28
Imported by Llaurador Wines.  A field-blend of Listan Negro, Listan Prieto, Baboso, Negramoll, Malvasia Negra, and more from 100+ year old vines.  Alcohol 12.5%.  Brighter, lighter, tarter, with dry tangy middle and watering acidity.  Finishes with fresh tannic service.  Needs time.  ** 2020-2025.

2016 Envinate, Lousas, Vinas de aldea, Ribeira Sacra – $32
Imported by Llaurador Wines.  This wine is 100% Mencia sourced from 60 year old vines.  Alcohol 12.5%.  High-toned and yeasty flavors to start but by the middle a gentle ripeness spreads through the mouth with an old leather note by the finish.  The acidity is almost sharp but with air the oily, ripeness contains it, bringing balance to the orange citrus and dry floral flavors.  Needs some air to show best.  *** Now – 2020.

Another interesting Canary Island wine from Envinate

The 2015 Envinate, Taganan Tino, Tenerife, Vinos Atlanticos requires being open at least one day ahead.  It is made from very old vines of both known and unknown varieties grown in parcels tended by 15 different families!  These are wild vineyards, literally, with no training and vines popping out between rocks.  There are some compelling parts to this wine: the incensed fruit, mineral middle, and aftertaste which clings to your mouth.  At this stage you must coax the wine in your mouth so I recommend you cellar it for another year or two.  If this wine blossoms then it will desire higher marks.  The Taganan is available at MacArthur Beverages.

2015 Envinate, Taganan Tino, Tenerife, Vinos Atlanticos – $28
A Jose Pastor selection imported Llaurador Wines. This is a blend of Listan Negro, Listan Gaucho, Malvasia Negro, and other varieties from very old vines.  It was fermented with indigenous yeasts in plastic tubs and and concrete tanks then aged for 8 months in both tanks and used oak barrels.  Alcohol 13%.  After extended air a subtle depth comes out on the nose.  In the mouth are bright, incensed fruit flavors followed by a mineral middle of perfumed black fruit.  The flavors become savory towards the end as the structure of very fine drying tannins is soon matched by dry flavor.  The structure is supportive.  The aftertaste brings good, clinging flavors of delicate ripe fruit.  *** 2019-2025.

A Canary Island wine for the cellar

I continue to enjoy the Envinate wines selected by Jose Pastor which are available in the Washington, DC, area.  From the same portfolio Phil recently brought in the 2015 Dolores Cabrera Fernandez, La Araucaria, Valle de le Orotava, Tenerife.  I tried this bottle over the course of two days and I will admit it is a bit shutdown, making it hard to drink. I do like the tangy red flavor and unique profile of the wine but it is best revisited some time next year. This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.

2015 Dolores Cabrera Fernandez, La Araucaria, Valle de le Orotava, Tenerife – $20
A Jose Pastor selection imported by Llaurador Wines.  This wine is Listan Negro.  Alcohol 11% – 14%.  It is a grapey, cherry color in the glass.  Tasted over two days the flavors offer up wood notes mixed with tangy red fruit.  The tang is very much present on the tongue tip with the structure apparent throughout at this stage.  It finishes a bit astringent.  It comes across as closed at this point so maybe give it another year before trying again. ** 2018-2022.

A cool wine from the Canary Islands

This bottle of 2015 Viticultores Emilio Ramirez y Envinate, Benje, Canary Islands flat out surprised me.  On the first night it is certainly light bodied, a bit thin on flavor, and somewhat frail.  Though there is enough earthiness and tightness that I recorked the bottle.  Over the course of the second night the wine transformed.  Jenn succinctly described it as a wine of pepper on the nose and potpourri in the mouth.  There is more though, it is a gentle wine that develops a moderate amount of body, appropriate ripeness, and never loses a sense of its volcanic origins.   It is actually quite good and I would not be surprised if it is drinking really well by the end of the year.  This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.

2015 Viticultores Emilio Ramirez y Envinate, Benje, Canary Islands – $20
A Jose Pastor Selections imported by Llaurador Wines.  This is a blend of high-altitude 70-120 year-old Listan Prieto with some Tintilla that was foot trodden, fermented in concrete and tubs with indigenous yeasts then aged 8 months in neutral oak barrels.  Alcohol 12.5%.  The nose smells of black and white pepper with some dried floral notes.  In the mouth this light bodied wine begins with red fruit flavors, a little cranberry, with some ethereal ripeness by the finish.  With extended air it develops more weight by the middle with a rather substantial amount of tartness, minerality, and ripe texture.  More importantly the old-school potpourri flavor weave its way from start to finish.  ***(*) Now – 2022.

Two More Wines from the Canary Islands

January 3, 2013 2 comments

The Canary Islands suffered a devastating blow from Oidium but the wine industry began to recover by the very end of the 19th century.  In 1893 The Encyclopaedia Britannica found that the islands of Gran Canaria and Tenerife had returned to commercial levels of wine productions.  Whereas the wine of Gran Canaria were made similar to that of Madeira those of Tenerife “adhere more to the methods in vogue in Spain.”  This post features two more wines from Gran Canaria and Tenerife.  The Fronton de Oro winery is located on the island of Gran Canaria.  Bodegas Vinatigo, while located on Tenerife, is from the Ycoden-Daute-Isora Denominacion de Origen located in the north-west part of the island.  This is a very hot part of the island.  Both of these wines feature Listan Negro in the cepage which was aged for several months in barrel.  I really liked the Fronton de Oro for its minerally black fruit.  The Bodegas Vinatigo is completely different with ample tart red fruit but does not have the same depth of flavor.   The Fronton de Oro is available at Chambers Street Wine and the Bodegas Vinatigo is available at Despana Vino y Mas.  All three wines I have tried up to this point cost between $22 – $27 per bottle.  This certainly reflects the additional cost of shipping the wine from the island to continental Europe.  While these are inherently more expensive wines it is certainly worth trying at least one selection.


2010 Fronton de Oro, Malpais, Gran Canaria – $27
Imported by Jose Pastor.  This wine is a blend of Listan Negro and Tintilla aged four months in barrel.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The color is a rather light cherry garnet.  The light nose is elegant with raspberry and strawberry fruit, finely textured, and with a little pepper aroma.  In the mouth there is black cherry fruit, beautiful fresh acidity, and perhaps a touch of bacon.  With air it puts on some density and reveals minerally black fruit and ripe tannins.  *** Now-2016.


2010 Bodegas Vinatigo, Tinto, Ycoden-Daute-Isora – $23
Imported by Jose Pastor.  This wine is 100% Listan Negro which was aged for six months in French and American oak barrels.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The color is a light ruby garnet.  The light ot medium strength nose is of tart, red fruit which is a little pungent and vegetal.  In the mouth the tart fruit immediately stands on the tongue tip and is almost tangy.  Then there is more tart, red fruit, floral pastilles, and a savory aspect.  There are minimal tannins, lots of acidity, and more expansive flavors in the finish.  Unique in a good way.  ** Now.


A Wine From Bodegas Monje

December 29, 2012 Leave a comment

The Canary Islands are an archipelago of 13 islands located 100 km west of Morocco.  Tenerife is the largest, most populous, and tallest of the islands.  It is on this island within sight of both the Atlantic Ocean and the volcano El Tiede that you may find Bodegas Monje.

The Winery, Image from Bodegas Monje

The Winery, Image from Bodegas Monje

Bodegas Monje has its origins back in 1956 when Miguel Monje inherited a small parcel of vines.  Vineyards and wine were not new to Miguel as he was the fourth generation of Monje’s to produce wine since 1750.  Over the years he purchased surrounding vineyards such that today his son Felipe Monje produces wine from some 17 hectares.  The winery was modernized in 1983.

1986 Vintage Labe, Image from Jose Pastor Selections

1986 Vintage Labe, Image from Jose Pastor Selections

The vineyards are located in northeastern Tenerife in the Tacoronte-Acentejo Denominacion de Origen (DO).  It is here in the 17th century that these fertile slopes were terraced to for the vineyards which produced immensely popular wines.  Tacoronte-Acentejo was the first DO in the Canary Islands having been granted status in 1992.  In the span of 20 years the DO has grown from 10 bodegas and 523 hectares of vineyards to 46 Bodegas and some 2400 hectares of vineyards.  This makes Bodegas Monje one of the oldest wineries and among the first to bottle their own wine.

Listan Negro Vineyard, Image from Bodegas Monje

Listan Negro Vineyard, Image from Bodegas Monje

The vineyards of Bodegas Monje are located in el Sauzal at an altitude of 500 meters just 2 km from the coast.  There are only a few pests in the vineyards such as Oidium, Mildew, and Botrytis.  The island has never experienced Phylloxera so the vines are ungrafted.  The vineyards are not plowed but the grass amongst the vines are cut.  It is used to control erosion.  The soils are fertile and rich in elements but low in pH so every year some calcium carbonate is added to raise the pH.  This assists the vines in taking in nutrients.   Due to the terrain the vineyards are tended and harvested by hand.  The vineyards are planted with Listan Negro, Listan Blanco, and Negramoll along with other varietals.  Sometimes the varietals are mixed in the vineyards.

Harvest of Listan Negro and Listan Blanco, Image from Bodegas Monje

Harvest of Listan Negro and Listan Blanco, Image from Bodegas Monje

Both Jenn and I rather liked this wine.  I was made curious by the vintage perfume nose then delighted by the flavors of black fruit and minerals.  It really does taste of volcanic origins!  Though there is structure and balance for short-term aging I would not hesitate to drink this wine now.  I would like to thank Felipe Monje of Bodegas Monje for answering my various questions and providing images for me to use.  This wine is available at Chambers Street Wine.


2009 Bodegas Monje, Tradicional, Tinto, Tacoronte-Acentejo – $22
Imported by Jose Pastor Selections.  This wine is a blend of 85% Listan Negro, 10% Listan Blanco, and 5% Negramoll.  The different varietals are pressed and fermented together.  A combination of stainless steel and old barrels are used. Alcohol 13%.  The nose is light+ with interesting aromas of vintage floral perfume.  In the mouth the wine is a touch racy with weight to the ripe, savory black fruit.  There are minerals, lots of almost-juicy black fruit, and fine ripe tannins which are a touch delicate.  There is cool acidity which mixes well with the black fruit.  A subtle drying structure comes out in the aftertaste.  *** Now-2017.


A Brief History of Wine from the Canary Islands

December 28, 2012 4 comments

Wines have been exported from the Canary Islands since the late 16th century.  Even a quick look into the history of wine will reveal widespread and common reference to Canary wine.  As popular as it was it eventually experienced a decline in exports such that many readers of this blog may not have tasted an example.  Indeed as broad as I drink I did not taste my first sip of Canary wine until this month.  From what I gather the resurgence of Canary Island wine in the United States is owed to the importer Jose Pastor.  The Canary Islands represent the largest regional share in his portfolio with 14 out of 45 producers listed on the website.  Jose imported his first Canary Island wine back in 2007.  Since then this part of his portfolio appears to have gained traction in San Francisco and New York City.  During my recent trip to New York City one of the first questions I was asked at both Despana Vinos y Mas and Chambers Street Wines was whether I had tried one of the island wines.  I had not so I walked away with three different wines.  My knowledge of the Canary Island wines was spotted at best so for my next several posts I will focus on the turbulent and fascinating history of Canary wine and my actual tasting notes.

The Origins of Canary Wine

CanaryIslands, BT Welch and Co, FLucas Jr, Baltimore, 1823, Image from David Rumsey Map Collection

Canary Islands, BT Welch and Co, FLucas Jr, Baltimore, 1823, Image from David Rumsey Map Collection

The Canary Islands along with Madeira were discovered by the Portuguese and Castilians in the 15th century.  By the end of the 15th century it was agreed that the Castillians would control the Canary Islands and the Portuguese would control Madeira.  The Canary Islands are located off of the coast of Africa and were an important port of call before ships left for the Americas.  Land was cheap so plantations were quickly created to grow and mill sugar for export.  The rise of Brazilian and Caribbean sugar exports to Europe eventually undermined the Canary and Madeiran sugar exports.    Vineyard were also planted on the islands with exports of sweet white Malvasia from Tenerife gaining popularity in Europe throughout the 16th century.  By the mid 17th century West Indian sugar was half the cost of Canarian.  With the decline of sugar production and the rise in price of wine, vineyards were greatly expanded.  The main varietal was Malvasia brought over from Cyprus.    Its popularity resulted in a vineyard expansion to such extent that grain needed to be imported to the islands.

There were three main markets for Canary wine: Spanish and Portuguese provinces in America, Portuguese  Cape Verde, and European markets in France, the Netherlands, and England.  To these markets three types of wine were exported the highly popular Malmsey produced from Malvasia, a greenish dry wine, and a purplish sweet wine produced from late harvested grapes.  Though the vineyards were located in Teneriffe, Gran Canaria, and Las Palmas that vast majority were located in Tenerife.  In 1600 Tenerife account for 62% of the total taxes on trade in the Canary Islands and by 1688 it account for 90%.

War with Spain ended in 1604 and the Canary wine trade developed.  By the mid seventeenth century Portuguese independence from Spain meant the majority of Canary wine was exported to England.  The price of Canary wine in the early 1660s had reached twice that as in 1640.  Meetings were held to fix the price of Canary wine at 29 Pounds per Butt in 1662 and 32 Pounds per Butt in 1664.  With such high prices a group of merchants received a royal patent from Charles II in 1665 to form the Governour and Company of Merchants trading to the Canary Island.  Also known as The Canary Company the goal was to restrict the Canary Island wine import business to the Company so that they could negotiate for lower wine prices.  This was not received well at the Canary Islands where the Company’s agents were expelled from Teneriffe in 1666.  In an attempt to overthrow the Company, English ships were no longer allowed to land and no English merchants were allowed to live on the Islands until the Company’s charter was recalled.  In response the importation of Canary wine to England was banned.

During these very same years London experienced the great fire of 1666 and the Dutch Navy were wearing on British ships.  With the great losses due to the fire and difficulties in transportation within London and over the seas, there were extensive challenges to importation and sales.  In London, members of the Company sought to petition alterations to the patent which ultimately lead to the cancellation of the patent in 1667 and the renewal of free trade with the Canary Islands.  Just one year later Charlie II married Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess.  He subsequently banned the importation of Canary wines to the benefit of Portuguese wines.  Trade eventually resumed, in 1681 4.5 millon quart bottles or 4,464 pipes of Canary wine were taxed in London.  By the 1690s two-thirds of the Malvasia from Tenerife was imported into London alone.  Rising import duties began to reduce the profitability of the Canary wine trade.  The War of the Spanish Succession broke out in 1701 forcing English merchants to once again leave Tenerife.

Canary Wines and Medicine

Dr. Thomas Sydenham, Mary Beale, National Portrait Gallery, London, Image from Wikimedia

Dr. Thomas Sydenham, Mary Beale, National Portrait Gallery, London, Image from Wikimedia

Canary Wine was not just consumed but prescribed in medicine.  Dr. Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689) revived the Hippocratic methods of observation and was a founder of epidemiology.  He considered the foundation of medicine to be rooted in beside experiences.  As such he actively studied epidemics in London beginning in the 1650s.  He is famous for the introduction of Cinchona bark and his use of laudanum which reintroduced it to the medical community.  In 1676 he published Medical Observations Concerning the History and Cure of Acute Diseases.  In it we find his recipe for Laudanum.

Strained opium (2oz), saffron (1oz), cinnamon & cloves (1 drachm each), & Canary wine (1 pint)

As to his use of Canary wine we may find reason in his remedy to the symptoms of the Gout.

I have tried many things for the Fits of the last Tears to lessen this Symptom but nothing did so much good as a small draught of Canary Wine taken now and then when the Sickness and Faintness afflict the Sick Nor is Red French Wine or Venice Treacle or any other Cordial thing which I have yet known so effectual But we must imagine that neither this Wine or any other Cordial if Exercise be not used can wholly preserve the Patient.

Canary Wine is used throughout his Medical Observations including a method to invigorate and strengthen the blood in the case of diabetes.

Take of the Roots of Elecampane Masterwort, Angelica, and Gentian each half an Ounce; of the Leaves of Roman Wormwood; white Horehound; of the lesser Centaury and of Calaminth, each one Handful of Juniper-berries one Ounce : Let them be cut small and infused in five Pints of Canary, let them stand together in a cold Infusion, and strain it as you use it.

Canary Wines in Bristol

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

I spent my formative year of wine-drinking in Bristol, England.  It was a fantastic city to buy wine in, with both new and long-established wine merchants.  I often shopped at Averys founded in 1793 and John Harvey & sons founded in 1796.  Starting in the 15th century Bristol was the second most important port after London.  If we look at the 1620s and 1630s we see that this extended to wine imports with London importing an average of 19,650 tuns seconded by Bristol at 2,341 tuns.

There are a large variety of records related to the importation of wine into Britain.  They frequently refer to wine in terms of tuns, pipes, and hogsheads.  A tun is an English unit of liquid volume originally set at 256 gallons then reduced to 252 wine gallons by the 15th century and eventually 210 Imperial gallons in 1826.  A pipe or butt is half the volume of a tun and a hogshead is a quarter the volume of a tun.

Import statistics rely on various customs books.  They reflect the variation in harvest date and yield, alignment with the bookkeeping calendar, and also greater political events.  In looking at 17th century importation volume of Canary wine to some degree they reflect the War with Spain in 1625-1630 and the war with France in 1627 which made 1620 into very early 1630s a difficult time.   This was followed by extra taxes on wine in the 1630s and a privileges granted to London wine merchants.  The decline in wine imports continued with the Civil War 1640-1641 and took until the 1680s to recover.  By then higher duties were being imposed.  With higher wine prices and the availability of alternative beverages wine imports declined again in the late 17th century.

Canary Wine Imports at Bristol

Sept 1600 – Sept 1601 1 – Canary wine 108 tuns (5.8%) out of 1871.5 tuns.
Dec 1612 – Dec 1613 2 – Canary wine 196 pipes (98 tuns, 5.0%) out of 1942 tuns.
Dec 1624 – Dec 1625 3 – Canary wine 171 pipes (85.5 tuns, 4.8% ) out of 1790 tuns.
Sept 1654-  Sept 1655 6 – Canary wine 33 pipes and 10 quarter casks (19 tuns, 2.6%) out of 726 tuns.
Sept 1682 – Sept 1683 11 – Canary wine 15.5 pipes(7.25 tuns, 0.6%) out of 1206 tuns.
Sept 1685 – Sept 1686 12 – Canary wine 78 pipes (39 tuns, 4.8%) out of 813 tuns.

Based on Port Books and Society of Merchant Venturers Wharfage Books

In the 17th century Canary wine imports by volume peaked in 1600-1601 at 108 tuns.  Wine was typically consumed in one quart bottle units so this volume represents some 108,864 bottles worth of Canary wine.  The population of Bristol was approximately 10,000-11,000 during the first decade of the 17th century.  Certainly not all of the wine was consumed within Bristol but if it was this represents 10 bottles for every man, woman, and child for one year alone.

Canary Wines in the County of Suffolk

At a more individual scale we can look at the consumption of Canary wine by John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol.  John Hervey (1665-1751) became a member of Parliament in 1694 then became the 1st Baron Hervey of Ickworth in the County of Suffolk in 1703 and finally the 1st Earl of Bristol in 1714.  While his diary is sparse with entries his Expensive Book are particularly detailed with expenditures on wine.  The first recorded year of wine expenditures is 1689 when he bought Clarrett and Duncomb wine.  In 1690 he began to drink Hermitage and in 1697 he purchased his first pipe of Canary wine.  John Hervey drank diversely and well.  In 1702 he purchased 4 hogshead of “obrian” (Chateau Haut-Brion) and in 1703 he purchased one hogshead of “Margoose Clarett” (Chateau Margaux).  Over the span of 54 year he purchased Canary wine ten times for a total volume around 2 tuns.  This represents an approximate household consumption of 2,106 quart bottle or three bottles per month.  The cost of his Canary wine ranged from 30 Pounds per pipe all the way up to 100 Pounds per pipe.  In the absence of an established annual trend this may reflect a range in quality of the Canary wine purchased.

Wine Expenses from The Diary of John Hervey covering 1688-1742

June 18 1697, 80 Pounds for 2 pipes of Fayall & 1 Pipe of Canary.
June 21 1697, Parcell of pictures & for a hogshead of old Canary, 80 Pounds.
Jan 15 1705, 9 gallons 1 quart of Canary he bought for me 4..15..0.
Feb 17 1710, 4th part of a pipe of Canary, 15 Pounds.
Feb 7 1711 60 gallons of Palme & Canary wine etc. 33..10..0.
March 8, 1718, 30 gallons of Canary, 12..1..6.
March 21 1718, Port-wines, Canary, & all other demands to this day, 114..17..6.
Jan 10 1724, 3 parcells of Canary, a pipe of Porte at 28 Pounds.
March 29 1734, for a pipe of Canary 30 Pounds.
Mar 26 1741, a hogshead of Canary at 31..10..0.

Canary Wine in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Geographical Distribution Of Indigenous Vegetation, Arthur Henfrey, Edinburgh,1854, Image from David Rumsey Map Collection

Geographical Distribution Of Indigenous Vegetation, Arthur Henfrey, Edinburgh,1854, Image from David Rumsey Map Collection

The Canary Island wine trade with Britain never recovered the vigor of the 17th century.  At the beginning of the 18th century English imports of Portuguese wines, including port wine, and the wines of Madeira increased due to favorable relationships between Britain and Portugal.  Thus with the Canary wine we see that in 1785 only 65 tuns were imported into Britain, in 1808 it increased to 1683 tuns, and by 1821 it was down to 1000 tuns.  Though exports from the Canary islands to Britain decreased the wines were still exported around the world.  In Williamsburg, Virginia we find 22 bottles of Canary listed in the Inventory of the Estate of Joh Marott in 1717.  Canary wines were also advertised for sale in The Virginia Gazette in 1771.

 ”To be SOLD at John Greenhow’s Store, near the Church, in Williamsburg, for ready Money, on reasonable Terms,…Old Spirits, best and common Arrack, Madeira, Lisbon, red port, Claret, Canary, and Renish Wines…”, Publisher: Purdie & dixon, Page: 3, Column: 2, 1771-12-12.

The 19th century view of Canary wine appears somewhat consistent in that Tenerife produced the largest amount of wine followed by Gran Canaria.  Of the three wines produced the sweet Malmsey from Malvasia was considered the best.  In 1833 Cyrus Redding published a book on wine commenting that the Canaries produce 25,000 pipes of white wine annually while 15,000 are consumed internally or distilled.  Tenerife alone producing 22,000 pipes.  Upon tasting a 126 year old bottle in a small pint-size bottle he found it was “flavour was good, and it had ample body.”  “Teneriffe produces the best wines of all the islands, having the greatest body.”  “On the eastern side of Palma, Malvasia, or Malmsey, is grown, which in a few years gains a bouquet like a ripe pine-apple.  The dry wines are not as good as those of the other islands.  The best vines do not grow more than a mile from the sea.”

In 1863 Agoston Haraszthy found the Canary Islands producing a large quantity of wine with Tenerife alone responsible for 40,000 pipes of wine.  This included the Malvasia wine which he found “of agreeable taste, sweet and spirituous” and the “Vidogne, which though keen and tart when new, gains by age.”  He notes the wines of Palma island were considered inferior.  Two years later wine merchant W. R. Loftus states the principal islands were Gran Canaria and Tenerife.  The wines also known as Teneriffe “resemble Madeira, though far from possessing its flavour or body.”  The dry Vidonia produced from the Vidogna grape “has a good body, and improves with age.  It is made from grapes gathered before they are ripened, and when new it is far from pleasant; but a few years soon removes this flavour, and greatly increases its mildness.”  Palma is inferior to that of Teneriffe.  The Malmsey is “very excellent, although possessing, as some affirm, an acid quality.”  He notes that in 1827 417,703 gallons of Canary Wines were imported into Great Britain but have decreased ever since.

Though Agoston Haraszthy and W. R. Loftus do not mention the Powdery Mildew which hit the Canary Islands in 1852, Thomas George Shaw comments that the Oidium attack “sufferings and losses have been consequently great…”.   The Canary Islands suffered two blows from Powdery Mildew in 1852 and Mildew in 1878.  These attacks devastated the vineyards to such an extent that in 1888 Charles Edwards writes that he no longer purchased the wines for the disease “came disastrously upon the vineyards of Tenerife.”  By the end of the 19th century the wine industry appears to have recovered.  In 1898 A. Samler Brown wrote that wine exports reached a low of 4,855 Pounds in 1885 but just 13 years later had reached some 25,000 Pounds per year.  The grapes planted were Tentillo, Negra Molle, Moscatel (black and white), Verdelho, Pedro Jimenez, Forastero, and Vija-Riega.   The inferior vineyards were found higher up on the hills and were more susceptible to disease.  The better vineyards were lower, warmer, and produced more expensive wines.  Wines in barrel were mature in eight years but improved up to 25 years of age.  Fortified wine was still produced along with a small amount of high quality sweet wine known as Gloria.  Red Canary was also produced and Samler Brown found that the red wines of Tacoronte were the best reds in Tenerife.   Indeed 90 years later Tacoronte-Acentejo became the first Denominacion de Origen (DO) in the Canary Islands.

Contemporary History

Vineyard in Tacoronte, Image from Bodegas Monje

Vineyard in Tacoronte, Image from Bodegas Monje

I have not found much detail on the 20th century history of Canary wine.  In 1972 D. E. Pohren write, “the island of Tenerife, with its strong, dry white wine from Guimar, its heavy-bodied, strong red from Tacoronte, its aged wines from Icod, etc.; and La Palma, with its claret of 14-16% from Fuencaliente and its highly aromatic , white wine from localities scattered throughout the island”.  In terms of varietals planted there are “Malvasia, pedro ximenez, albillo and listan predominate on the islands.”  In 1992 Tacoronte-Acentejo on Tenerife was granted the first DO for the Canary Islands.  Since then a total of 10 DOs have been granted, five of which on Tenerife with the remaining five on La Palma, Hierro, Gran Canaria, La Gomera, and Lanzarote.  This year Decanter Magazine found the wines to have increased by 72.9% in volume and 5.4% in value, and the Balearic Islands, up 20.9% and 5.1% since 2011.


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