Culture, Recommendations

Wines of the Heart [Vol.5]: Tenerife

Written by Simone Popov · 6 min read >

It’s wild to think in what sorts of conditions a vine can grow on Tenerife.

Indeed, the Vitis species- and more particularly, our favorite Vinifera subspecies- is a survivor, able to adapt to a diverse range of climates and temperatures. Even 100 km off the coast of West Sahara, surrounded by the Atlantic and suffering from some of the hottest temperatures in Europe (though it is far closer to Africa, geographically and climatically), we find the vine and the producers who tend the vine in ways we can’t even imagine on soils that beg the question “can anything grow in that? Or at that elevation?”   Taking a cue from surfing with sharks (or driving on the perilous Mt. Teide roads, Jesus!), the vignerons on the island take extreme viticulture to the next level, with some (but not all) excellent results. Here are some of my favorite wines from Tenerife.

A quick disclaimer: I usually like to do these Wines of the Heart articles for wines readily accessible in the U.S. market. Most of the wines featured are available, but a few are not. Even Envinate, which has garnered cult status globally, is still challenging in most U.S. markets.  

Envinate Palo Blanco

Price: $52 [WineSearcher]

I will start with the heavy hitter, the producer, and the wine that opened my eyes to the possibility of fantastic wines made from grapes grown on the absolute edge of where viticulture is possible. If you have not heard of Envinate, the four viticulture school grads who set out to redefine Spanish winemaking, do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle. The winery farms vineyards in Galicia, Tenerife, and Castilla la Mancha, though- regardless of vineyard area- Envinate’s sought-after wines don’t stay on the shelves for long.

Fortunately, on the Island of Tenerife, you can find Palo Blanco at the local wine shop, Migan at the fine dining establishment, and Benje (Envinate’s lower-priced easy drinker) at a popular cabana on the Southern Coast (though not exactly the most authentic place in Tenerife, at least you can drink local wines)

The Terroir

The Listan Blanco grapes used for this wine are grown in Palo Blanco (hence the name) on the Northern side of the island of Tenerife. Aside from being at high elevations in the foothills of Mount Teide (the tallest mountain in Spain), the area where these grapes grow receives the first Northerly winds coming off the Atlantic; thus, the environment directly impacts the flavor of the wine (the most direct example of terroir). Palo Blanco is truly salty, high in acid, livewire,  yet well-textured and weighty at the same time, like drinking a saltwater solution but counterbalanced by delicious just-ripe and ripe fruits.

Palo Blanco is, in my eyes, a true “vin de gastronomie” and can pair well with a diverse selection of fresh seafood dishes, as the salinity and bright acidity would integrate well with the fish.

Vigneron Style

The wine is100% Listan Blanco (aka Palomino Fino of Sherry fame) from 100-year-old vines planted on the Northern side of the island of Tenerife at elevations of 600 meters. The vines are braided via the traditional “Cordon Trenzado” method, fermented in concrete [sans MLF], and aged in large 2500L Friulian oak barrels. ⁠

Tajinaste Paisaje de Las Islas Espumoso Reserva

Las Islas, the best Tenerife sparkling?

Price: $31 [Vivino] No U.S. Locations

This wine was a part of an incredible dining experience on the island. Multiple times, I heard myself utter, “Wow, I can’t believe it is that good.”  Tajinaste Paisaje de Las Islas, made in a Blanc de Noirs style from 100% Listan Negro (no relation to Listan Blanco, interestingly enough), was unlike any sparkling wine I have ever had, and I mean that in the best way possible. There was plenty of lees aging, but on the wine, the yeast cells weren’t a flavor by themselves but instead supported the Listan character.

The flavor profile, as I remember it ( I did not take tasting notes), was that of wild berries with some earthiness, cellar funk, and toast. All the flavors seamlessly fused in a delicious, dry, sparkling, with very fine and precise bubbles. It was great to see a sparkling that pays tribute to Champagne in quality and winemaking but has such a unique fingerprint to stand on its own. Sadly, this wine- and most sparkling wines from the island- are not readily available in the U.S. Still, I would seek out these wines if they show the same promise and quality as Paisaje de Las Islas.

To try Canarian Sparkling in the U.S., you may want to check out the Los Bermejos Espumoso from the island of Lanzarote. It doesn’t quite match up (in my opinion), but it is still a worthwhile acquisition.

Vigneron Style

While attempting to probe the server for tasting notes in semi-functional Spanish, I gleaned that this is a traditional method sparkling wine. Later research shows fermentation in barrels and 18 months sur lie.

Enjoying Paisaje de las Islas at Secreto de Chimiche Restaurant

Piedra Fluida “Los Frontones”

Price: about $30 [WineSearcher] No U.S. locataions

Piedra Fluida, with a standard island DO. No specific DO because of unique terroir and high elevation

This wine is yet another one that Tenerife keeps tight under wraps without sending any to the U.S. market. Fortunately, the kind purveyors at the local Tenerife wine shop introduced me to “The Fluid Rock” and its incredible wines.” These grapes are planted at the highest elevations in all Europe”, they told me. My response was, “Take my money!” To say I was intrigued is an understatement.

 Now, before I get into hot water about mentioning anything “rock” or “mineral” about the character of the wine, I am well aware rocks don’t have flavor, and I am not taking the name of the wine literally. However,  the roundness and weight of this wine were what I imagine a rock would feel if converted into a cool, liquid form. (as opposed to hot liquid form, also present on the volcanic island of Tenerife). Complementing this richness is a decent acid backbone gained from extreme elevation viticulture and notes of ripe fruits, and a toasty, bready, graham-cracker-like flavor profile. If the Palo Blanco is your highly taught, precise Guide Michelin feature,  this is the local Guachinche, the local eatery known for its delicious quality and welcoming atmosphere.

Vigneron Style

Though the location of this vineyard is on the South Island, the elevation more than makes up for the immense heat of Southern Tenerife. The vines for this wine are planted at 1,650 meters elevation, the highest-planted vineyard in Europe. The grape is 100% Listan Blanco, pressed without de-stemming, fermented in large 1,500L foudres, undergone partial malolactic conversion, and held on lees until bottling.    

Suertes del Marques “Trenzado”

Price: $25 [WineSearcher]

Alongside Envinate, Suertes del Marques has been at the forefront of Tenerife’s wine progress and building a name for the island as a quality wine region. So, on the penultimate day of my visit, I had to grab a bottle to see what the hype was all about.

What’s “Tenzado”

The name “Trenzado” comes from the unique vine training method on the island (particularly in Valle de Orotava, where these grapes live). The multiple canes (branches) get continuously woven with each harvest as the vine expands horizontally. The long “braid”- supported by stakes in the ground- can reach incredible distances (even into a neighbor’s vineyard, a winemaker on Tenerife joked). Such a method allows for lower yields, better concentration of fruit, and better use of the scarce land on the island. You can interplant various fruits and other plants (like coffee, herbs, and potatoes) underneath and between the long-braided vines. The Palo Blanco is also trained via Cordon Trenzado.

The “Trenzado” or braided method used in Valle de Orotava and Taconte-Acentejo

Tasting Notes

There was quite a bit of depth to this wine, with flavors of sea salt, ripe apple, exotic fruits (maybe like fresh papaya), sage/dried herbs, apple skins, charred earth, bread crust, and goat cheese rind. The Trenzado was a pure example of Northern Tenerife viticulture, dry, high acid, medium body, intense flavors. Oddly enough, despite the low 11% alcohol, this wine is fleshy and round on the palate and has a presence and a weight uncharacteristic of its alcohol. The closest wine to this was the Piedra Fluida, and both of these wines exhibited a tremendous tropical fruit character balanced by a good helping of acidity.

Vigneron Style

This wine is 90% Listan Blanco, with Pedro Ximenez, Vidueño, and a handful of local varieties making up the difference. Vines grow between 350-750 m above sea level. The wine ferments and ages in concrete tanks and large 500L oak barrels.

Envinate, Migan

Price: $45 [WineSearcher]

The last wine on this list is yet another one from Envinate, this time a vino tinto I enjoyed on the same restaurant visit where I had the sparkling.

(If you ever are on the island, check out El Secreto de Chimiche, you won’t regret it)

The Migan is a beautiful, high-toned, smoky, red berry-forward wine that can pair delightfully well with various meaty and earthy dishes and was a perfect companion for the entire tasting menu. There is no better wine to encapsulate the red wine style of Tenerife, the quality wine that brings complexity and enjoyment in equal measure.

Vigneron style:

The wine is 100% Listan Negro, sourced from two very old parcels, trained via braiding (trenzado) at 600 and 350m above sea level. Hand harvested, pressed manually by foot, and fermented with approximately 75% stem inclusion. In concrete. Aged in neutral large format oak barrels for 11 months and bottled without fining or filtration.

Conclusion

Like the other Canary Islands, Tenerife may still be flying under the radar. The island can produce some exceptional wines, but with its sub-tropical climate, high-elevation vineyards, and small artisanal domaines, it is still ways away from being a mainstay on restaurant wine lists. But for those looking for adventure and visiting a wine region like no other, I strongly recommend hopping on a plane and flying out to this gorgeous and rugged island. But if a voyage like that is impossible, I recommend seeking out some of these wines, which is the next best thing!

For more Spanish Wine Stories check out The Dispatch Wine focus: España.

For more recommendations, check out the “Wines of the Heart” Series

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