Kate Simon: Say cheers on Lanzarote – the wine isn't half bad
Kate Simon is the Travel Correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. She was Travel Editor of The Independent on Sunday from 2005 to 2011. Kate is also the co-founder of Little Black Book Creative (www.lbbcreative.co.uk), which offers editorial services, media relations consultancy and travel-writing training.
Sunday 23 October 2011
Hands up. When I was invited to visit a vineyard while I was in Lanzarote last week, I didn't hold out much hope of actually liking the grog.
Why? I suppose I hadn't thought that this holiday island in the Canaries would be a destination to delight oenophiles. Needless to say, I was in for a pleasant surprise; the whites, reds and rosés produced out of Lanzarote's volcanic ash are a revelation.
There are about 18 commercial vineyards on Lanzarote – with thousands of private growers tending patches of vines across the island, too – and the low yield of grapes means that you shouldn't expect to pop down to your local off-licence to pick up a bottle to try. On Lanzarote, many of the wines are available only at very few outlets, and the furthest most of them travel is to neighbouring islands in the Canaries, though Europe is beginning to get a look in.
Many of the vineyards can be found around La Geria, on the road between San Bartolomé and Playa Blanca, in the lap of a range of brooding volcanoes. Vines were first planted on Lanzarote in the 18th century after a series of devastating eruptions made it impossible to cultivate much else. You don't have to like wine to enjoy this extraordinary landscape; the eerie black fields are dressed with small crescents of stone that cradle the green vines. It's a traditional method of planting that is now losing favour; today regimented lines, as seen around the El Grifo winery, are preferred because they promise to increase the yield threefold.
El Grifo may be harnessing new techniques, but it's also the Canaries' first vineyard, founded in 1775, and one of the oldest in Spain. With a nod to its longevity, the winery hosts a museum in its old wine cellar, where you can see some of the tools used for viticulture over the centuries. But it must be said, this is a dull info-lite exhibition that desperately needs updating for a 21st-century audience and is barely worth the €4 (£3.50) entrance fee apart from the tasting at the end.
More interesting is a tour of Lanzarote's newest vineyard, Stratvs, a modern complex that opened in 2009 with a large winery, two restaurants, and a shop. There, you can take a guided tour and learn from an expert about how the vines are planted, the varieties grown – malvasia and moscatel dominate – and see where the grapes are processed.
Once you've tried a glass of Lanzarote wine, I guarantee you'll be hunting out the local sauce for the rest of your holiday.
If you are heading for Lanzarote any time soon, drop into La Cantina, at Calle Leon y Castillo 8, in the charming former capital of Teguise. This old whitewashed building was recently turned into something more than its rather bald name suggests by owners Benn and Zoe.
Music nights, a cinema club, and a vintage shop complement the core activity of drinking and dining in this warren of rooms with an open-air courtyard at its heart. Plus, the menu offers welcome relief from the island's rather same-ish restaurant fare, with choices such as Vietnamese rolls featuring alongside locally sourced tapas of Canarian cheeses, potatoes, and cured meats, and piquant mojo dipping sauces.
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