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.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
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

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor