Volcanic soils, the idiosyncratic cordón trenzado system and the mighty Atlantic make for a maverick terroir on the Island of Tenerife. We take a look at Bodegas Aruatava, a small family winery on the slopes of Mount Teide. Lisse Garnett reports, Jamie Goode Tastes
Tenerife is a large tropical island, tempered by the Atlantic, ten times nearer to the African continent than it is to Spain. The island is dominated by Mount Teide, the largest mountain in Spain (3718m) and an active volcano – the third highest in the world. It is from this that the soils and microclimates of the region are derived, making for an interesting tapestry of wine terroirs. Trade winds and the cool Atlantic ocean serve to moderate heat.
The island has no less than 5 appellations of which Valle de La Orotava is one. Bodegas Aruatava lies within this valley, not far from the famed Suertes del Marqués. Soils are made fertile by volcanic ash and dense vegetation, becoming rockier the nearer they are to the peak. Columbus reported seeing a great fire in the Orotava Valley as he passed Tenerife on his maiden voyage to the New World and eruptions continue to take place here periodically – the last in 1909.
Bodegas Aruatava was purchased by a 29 year old Don Américo García Nuñez in 1975. He decided to try to maintain the existing cordón trenzado, which is the slightly bizarre but wonderful way of training vines by braiding canes unique to this place and only in this place – this specific valley.
It is supposed that this extraordinary system was required for the pruning of the Malvasia grape which needed the length to bear fruit successfully. It also allows for the cultivation of other crops, for example potatoes or oats – a bi-cultural cultivation and rotational system that utilises the fertile soils as well as necessarily stressing the vine. Vines do not have to grow deep roots in this rich ground and are densely planted. They are estimated to be between one or two hundred years old – no one really knows – the yields are smaller as a result, and vine vegetation is encouraged. Furthermore the slopes are severe here: at Aruatava the gradient is 40% and trenzado allows the vines to adapt perfectly to the local geography.
Spain and Portugal long battled over this island in order to make slaves or converts of the native Guanche, and apparently this vine system is a cultural legacy of the Portuguese who conquered the north of the island in the late fifteenth century. Portuguese privateers were granted smallholdings for their successful service and naturally planted grapes, often Listan Negro, a cross of Listan Blanco/Palomino Fino (from Jerez) and Negra Mole from Madeira. They produced Canary or sack which is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and also by Ben Jonson, Pepys and Dryden – a sweet wine that was probably fortified. The Spanish influence is discernible in the South were vines are trained on paral/pergola or gobelet, varieties such as Listan Prieto, too, are suggestive of Spanish roots.
The Orotava valley where Bodegas Aruatava lies faces the Atlantic to the North with El Teide in the Southwest. The soils stem from volcanic eruptions, they are a mix of pumice and limestone, clay and lava. The winery is managed by Carlos Garcia, now Américo Garcia Núñez has retired, together with Enologist Tomás Mesa. Bodegas Aruatava is a winery in transition. There’s the historical legacy of a winery making wines for local consumption, yet with the Finca La Habanera wines there’s the ambition to produce something fine and the results are extremely promising.
Arautava Finca La Habanera Listán Blanco Cordón Trenzado 2020 Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, Spain
13.5% alcohol. Crystalline and precise with keen acidity. Lovely pure lemon and grapefruit fruit, with some stony, mineral notes and chiselled acidity. So fresh and detailed with amazing focus to the lemony fruit: the keen acidity is the backbone and there’s a slight saline finish which I really like. Has a grapefruit taper. 93/100
Arautava Finca La Habanera Albillo Criollo 2020 Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, Spain
13.5% alcohol. 25 year old vines, Cordon Royat, barrel fermented. This is a local variety. This has fennel and nuts, with a bit of barrel character, giving a savoury cedary edge to the bright mandarin and pear fruit. This has a nice weight to it: it’s quite elegant and mineral, but there is currently a bit of oak present that might integrate with time. Stylish, though. 90/100
Arautava Finca La Habanera Listán Negro Cordón Trenzado 2020 Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, Spain
13.5% alcohol. Pre-phylloxera vines. This has a lovely sappy green nose to it, with red cherries and raspberry and some floral overtones, as well as a hint of mineralic reductive notes. The palate has sweet strawberries with some cherry and raspberry, as well as a silky texture and some lovely sweet fruit. Supple and accessible with a slight sourness on the finish that adds extra interest. I really like this: it’s polished and expressive, but there’s lovely peppery black cherry detail on the finish. 92/100
Tangunillo Blanco Afrutado NV Vino de Calidad de las Islas Canarias, Spain
12% alcohol. Packaged in a blue bottle, this is targeted at the local market. Off dry with clean, fresh, slightly stony fruit. Listán Blanco (Palomino) from volcanic soils. A touch of grapefruit with good acid as well as some sweetness. Juicy and pure. 85/100
Arautava Blanco Seco Listán Blanco 2020 Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, Spain
12.5% alcohol. Mostly old vineyards over 80 years, cordon Trenzado. 700 m soils, volcanic soils, 500-600 mm rainfall. This has a subtle herby, matchstick savouriness on the nose. It’s light and delicate with a lovely stony edge to the pure lemony fruit. Has a lightness, but also nice complexity. Dry but rounded, finishing with as spicy flourish. Light and tasty. 89/100
Arautava Malvasia Aromática Seco NV Vino de Calidad de las Islas Canarias, Spain
A tribute to the old Canary Sacks of the 16th and 17th centuries. 200-300 m altitude in a border area between the north and south of the island. Small, steep plot on volcanic ash, steeply sloped grown on terraces. Aged in French oak. This smells of vanilla and cedar, and it’s hard to get past the barrel imprint. Citrus fruit with a touch of pear, but the oak really makes it mark and it’s hard to get past this. 82/100
Arautava Tinto Tradicional 2020 Vino de Callidad las Islas Canarias, Spain
13% alcohol. Listán Negro. Old vineyards with cordon Trenzado at 200-450 m altitude. Destemmed and tank fermented, with 4-6 day maceration. Modern, fruity and slightly confected with sweet red cherry and berry fruits with some bubblegum notes and a slight green hint. Very overt, fruity and easy with immediate appeal. 86/100
Arautava Fermentado en Barrica Listán Negro 2020 Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, Spain
14% alcohol. Old vines, cordon Trenzado. This has sweet, supple berry fruits with some bright cherry notes and also a bit of spice and tar. Nice bright berry and cherry fruit with some sweet stewed strawberry and a bit of herb and rubber. Sleek and appealing, in a modern fruity style. 88/100
Arautava Gran Reserva Blanco Listan Branco 2002 Valle de la Oratava, Tenerife, Spain
17.5% alcohol. Sweet and intense with marmalade, honey and apricot, as well as a touch of ethyl acetate. Some woody notes here with a savoury twist to the vivid citrus and apricot. Lots to like about this. 91/100
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