When we think of wine, the regions of Bordeaux, Tuscany and Napa Valley come to mind. However, the Canary Islands are often overlooked. This sunny archipelago was once renowned for its exquisite wine, and still produces some of Europe’s finest bottles today. If you’re setting off on a Canary Islands cruise, it would be a crime not to sample some of Lanzarote’s delicious white wine.
The history of wine in Lanzarote
The Canary Islands were once famous for their wine. In the 16th century, the traditional wine of the islands, made from the Malvasia grape, was the choice of European royalty. In fact, it soon became so popular that it was the Canary Islands’ main source of income. Even William Shakespeare allegedly accepted barrels of Malvasia wine as payment for his work. After the industry boom in the 16th century, the production of wine slowed.
A series of devastating volcanic eruptions in Lanzarote that started in 1730 and lasted for almost seven years, left a quarter of the island covered in lava and sand, resulting in the other-worldly landscape we know today. The land was no longer fertile, meaning no crops such as barley or wheat could grow. Instead, the locals attempted to create wine and found that Lanzarote’s uniquely humid climate provided enough water to help the vines flourish. The arid landscape also prevented insects and parasites from blighting the crops, as they did in France in the 19th century.
Although Lanzarote began producing wine much later than its neighbours, the desolate yet enchanting island came to produce some of Europe’s finest wines. Today, there are 13 wineries (bodegas) on the island, which lies 80 miles off the coast of Morocco. Although it did not begin producing wine until much later, Lanzarote still has the oldest bodega still running in the Canaries, El Grifo. It’s also one of the 10 oldest wineries in Spain.
Wine of Lanzarote
The wines produced in Lanzarote are typically white wines, made from the Malvasia grape. Such wines are crisp and refreshing, perfect for enjoying on a hot summer or even winter’s day, as the Canary Islands enjoy pleasantly warm sunshine all-year-round. Gran Canaria, on the other hand, is famous for its red wines, while Tenerife (being the largest of the Canary Islands) provides most of the archipelago’s wine, producing both white and red.
Lauren Aloise of travel blog Spanish Sabores gave us a bit of an insight into the production of wine on the island: “Malvasia is the main grape of Lanzarote’s obscure vineyards, and bodegas have been using it to make sweet wine for centuries. For something different, however, bodegas like Bodegas El Grifo are making dryer styles— here they have a barrel fermented version worth a try!
“Lanzarote’s harvest is much earlier than most winemaking areas in Europe— as early as July grapes have reached maturity and are ready to go. Here everything must be hand harvested, which is quite a challenge for wineries. Luckily, locals often help out— for a bottle of wine in exchange!”
Vineyards to visit
While you may associate vineyards with rolling hills and row upon row of perfectly formed grape vines, Lanzarote’s vineyards are totally unique. To grow crops in this somewhat desolate landscapes, wineries create endless rows of dimple-like craters and stone circles. These structures, called ‘zocos’, are created for each individual vine and provide much-needed shelter from the wind. As well as being practical, the zocos make visiting vineyards in Lanzarote a truly surreal experience. The team at Lanzarote Guide told us more about the island’s unusual vineyards:
"Lanzarote has a unique wine-making tradition: each vine is planted in its own pit in the black volcanic gravel and protected from the wind by a semi-circular stone wall. This, together with Lanzarote’s arid climate is not a formula for mass-producing large quantities of wine, but we think that the end product is well worth the effort.
“Malvasia (white) is the most popular grape variety, and of particular note are the Bermejo Malvasia Seco and Yaiza Malvasia Seco. Many of the bodegas in the La Geria valley are open to the public, where you can sample the vino and enjoy the spectacular scenery."
Bodega Vulcano de Lanzarote
Bodega Vulcano may be one of the youngest wineries on the island, but unlike other wineries, it produces wine throughout the year. It produces up to 50,000 bottles a year, focusing on five distinct wines – dry, semi-sweet, rose, young red and dessert wine. If you can’t make it to the bodega itself, look out for their wines in restaurants throughout Lanzarote.
Bodega La Geria
In the heart of Lanzarote’s main wine region (from which it takes its name), Bodega La Geria is one of the most popular wineries in Spain. The vineyard itself is truly spectacular, making it the perfect backdrop to try the wines. The team pick the grapes by hand from the area’s challenging terrain, as it is not compatible with machinery.
For those of you wishing to take a complete journey through the process of winemaking in Lanzarote, Bodegas Rubicon has everything you need. The vineyard itself dates back three centuries, and its exhibition and tasting rooms, as well as the old family home, are free to visit. The winery also has a fantastic restaurant where you can enjoy tapas with your perfectly paired wine.
The Lanzarote Wine Run
The Lanzarote Wine Run is one of the most unusual sporting events in the world. Participants choose between a 22.3 kilometre race and a 12.7 kilometre walk through the wine territory of La Geria, stopping at bodegas along the way for a refreshing taste of wine. Once the runners and walkers have reached the finishing line, they can enjoy the food festival, which welcomes restaurants, cheese producers, wineries and bakeries to indulge in a taste of the Canary Islands. The event takes place in June, so if you happen to be on your Canaries cruise at the time, be sure to stop by to witness this remarkable spectacle.