The Canary Island chain, off the north coast of Africa (Morocco) has a diverse group of microclimates. The soils here are entirely volcanic which lends itself to their unique minerality as well as naturally creating low yields due to the high drainage of porous soils. The minerality is not flinty, nor citrusy or chalky. It’s sometimes smoky, a bit saline, and other times it’s like drinking liquid stones. In addition, due to its geographical isolation, varietals that are obsolete on mainland Spain are still being planted as they have remained unexposed to Phylloxera and are mostly still planted on Vinifera rootstocks.
Vines were planted as early as the 16th Century and the islands were highly acclaimed for their sweet wines made from Malvasía – made in an oxidative and Maderized style as in Madeira, Sherry, Port and the like. As you’re bound to find out when researching wines from the Canaries, Shakespeare mentions the Canary wines or The Canary Sack (suggested to have come from La Palma) in The Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Lanzarote: the farthest east of the seven main islands, is home to the most dramatic terroir of the island chain. Lanzarote’s climate is particularly drier and hotter because it lacks the extensive mountainous terrain than the others have, therefore creating a more even climate throughout. However, the winds here are extremely intense and most of the vines are planted in hoyos or holes in order to survive them.
…From Lanzarote, you can only go west…
Tenerife: this is where modern day Canary Island wines began. The oldest DO of the Canary’s is Tacaronte-Acentejo, established in 1992, is situated on the northern part of the island and is known for producing some of the best wines in Tenerife and the island chain. The vineyards here reach an elevation of 3000 feet and are terraced into the steep hillsides. On Tenerife, the red wines are the most common and are mostly made from Listan Negro which tends to be juicy, but you’ll often find it blended with Negramoll or Tintilla which add more structure. Baboso is also on the rise and created a much meatier style wine. Ycoden Daute Isora is a recently created DO on the far western side of Tenerife. The whites are mostly Listan Blanco and Malvasia while the reds, made mainly from Listan Negro and Negramoll are velvety to the palate with a unique character.
La Palma: These are the farthest west and are perhaps the most diverse. La Palma is the second highest in altitude behind Tenerife. Due to its elevation changes, its weather can be drastically different within the island itself on any given day and it can shift quite quickly. Much of the island is a biosphere reserve They are known mostly for their sweet wines from Malvasía, and less commonly seen Verdello and/or Listan Blanco. El Hierro weather is milder year round and is often misty and humid and has red iron rich soils that give the wines an unusual mineral character to the wines.
Gran Canaria: Located in the heart of the chain, it is the warmest island due to the trade winds. It is mountainous in the center and is often referred to as a mini continent with a variation on weather and landscape. This means that despite the island’s limited size the same grape varieties have a vast range of characteristics. There is only one DO on this island – Gran Canaria, but there were two until recently. The other one was Monte Lentiscal, which was later absorbed into the Gran Canaria DO.