One of the Christmas presents that wasn’t intended as one but turned out to be one of the nicest was a book! The Epic Wines of the Canary Islands, written by a fellow academic, geologist Santo Bains, whose labour of love is now well on the way to making him a foremost expert on the subject. His book enjoys the collaboration of Michelin-level former-Abama sommelier Rodrigo González Carballo and Tarragona University oenologist Dr Maria Francesca Fort Masal. It’s also written under the auspices of the Canarian Government’s Min of Ag, and is beautifully produced, magisterial in content, and free!
There is a wealth of information in it, and many surprises. Did you know, for example, that the fundamental vine that has grown here for around half a millennium – the Eurasian grapevine Vitis vinifera L – was brought here by the Spanish conquerers? Did you know that that vine was around 10,000 years old when it arrived? We have a history of geological timespan here in our very vines! Moreover, that vine was wiped out in Europe within the last couple of hundred years or so by an American aphid which couldn’t tolerate the Canarian climate, and so what we have here is all that remains of it. In the world!
Over the past years, of course, the vines have been adapted, grapes evolved, different varieties introduced, but the root of the vine is ancient indeed and these islands deserve to be called blessed when they are home to its last vestiges. And what vestiges they are! Some of the best wines in the world, acknowledged through the last 500 years, and still improving, some of them! An economy that has thrived through history and is thriving still, and providing a base for a good slice of the tourism sector as well.
Santo doesn’t just describe the wines, though. There are recommendations for food choices to ensure the best marriage of taste, flavour and experience; there are lists in various orders to help us find the wines we’d prefer to drink based on our personal preferences; and there are anecdotes galore, not least about the more Spanish sounding of our place names. Did you know, for example, that the Conquistadores needed a good sheltered harbour in north Tenerife for the vines they brought here because they quickly realized that they needed to export to maximise the market for their wines, a market in which they felt sure they’d make their fortunes and which was booming, especially in England.
They chose Garachico, a portmanteau name comprising the Guanche word Gara with the Spanish chico, the combination meaning “little harbour”. That harbour needed to be serviced … hence Los Silos, the silos where the product was stored in quantity. And if you ever wondered at the origin of the name of the town Icod de los Vinos, wonder no more! It was named after the vines planted near the harbour from which the maximum trade was to be exported. And that’s just scratching the surface of Tenerife’s chapter alone … there are chapters about all the islands here.
I hope I’ve given you a taste of this marvellous book. I’m lucky enough to have the beautiful hardback version but the free e-book is available in various formats, and can be downloaded from the main website HERE, and there’s also THIS website to support it. Do get it, you will not be disappointed!