Canary Malmsey set for return after 300 years

For decades, the words "Lanzarote" and "alcohol" have conjured up images little more glamorous than British tourists enjoying copious quantities of lager.

Now the government of the Canary Islands is hoping to project a different image of the sun-kissed Spanish outpost by resurrecting the fortunes of a wine whose qualities were once lauded by Shakespeare and reputedly drowned the brother of a medieval English king.

Malmsey (known as "Canary" in Elizabethan England), a sweet fortified wine made on the islands since the 15th century, was the drink of choice on the British Isles for aristocrats, writers and merchants for more than 150 years, until the trade suddenly ended in the 1680s.

The name Malmsey is now associated by most people with Madeira, where it is produced using the same grapes. But a small group of Canary Islands producers are determined to reverse that trend, and gathered this week in London to try to persuade retailers and restaurateurs to once more stock the wine that inspired Shakespeare to write in Henry IV: "You have drunk too much Canaries, and that's a Marvellous searching wine."

Felix Garcia, international director of Proexca, the state-owned Canary Islands' export agency, said: "We have more than five million tourists a year who come here but few leave the islands knowing about Malmsey.

"We have concentrated for a long time as an island on tourism. Now it is time to expand on some of our other strengths. Britain is one of the oldest markets for this wine and we want to restore that link.

"The UK is probably the most sophisticated wine market in the world. Consumers here have a choice of almost every wine and it is very competitive. But we believe we have a very special product that should again be available here and prosper."

Malmsey, which is made from the malvasia grape grown on the slopes surrounding resorts on Lanzarote, La Palma and Tenerife, is thought to have originated in Ancient Greece. It accounts for just 15 per cent of the 14 million litres of wine currently produced on the islands. Its production remains largely artisanal, with small co-operatives and family-owned farms producing 2.7 million bottles a year. By comparison, the annual production of sherry is 120 million bottles.

The Canaries, which are off north-west Africa, managed to carry on producing Malmsey because the islands' isolated position protected vineyards from phylloxera, the lethal fungus which devastated most of mainland Europe's vines in the 19th century.

The wine is thought to have reached British shores in the late 15th century. By legend, George of Clarence, brother of Edward IV, was drowned in a barrel of Malmsey in 1478 after plotting to overthrow the king.

An accident of geography gave towns on Tenerife such as Lanzarote the perfect micro-climate to produce the wine and then export it via trade routes to the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries. By 1570, London was importing 20 million litres of Malmsey each year, making the rich dark liquor a favourite in drinking houses and the royal court.

The flourishing Anglo-Spanish trade was brought to an abrupt end in 1666 when islanders rebelled against the dominance of the London-based Canary Island Company, which had a monopoly on exports. When producers expressed their discontent by smashing barrels so that Malmsey flowed in the streets, Britain retaliated by banning the wine and swapped to the Portuguese rival, Madeira.

Clearly the nine Malmsey co-operatives taking part in the scheme are aiming for a discerning clientele. The average price for a bottle of the dessert wine is expected to be about £20.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system