The road along the west of Tenerife which links the South of the Island to the North is a long and meandering one. Travelling these roads is a feat in itself. Sharp twists, u-bend turns, vertical cliff drops, dramatic altitude increases and above all, stunning views over the island. It’s stunning, petrifying and dangerous in equal measures.
Whilst many tourists in Tenerife will take this road for the views alone we had an additional motivation. We were one our way to meet Jonatan Garcia of Suertes Del Marques.
Anyone with a vague interest in my Instagram page or blog may have noticed that I have a lot of love for Suertes Del Marques and their wines. Whilst I hadn’t tried their entire range (they have 14 in total), the wines that I had tried are some of the finest in Spain.
As we left the bright lights of the South we travelled up through the towns at the foothills of Mount Teide. Mount Teide is an active volcano located in the centre of the island. From the Ocean floor it measures 24,600ft making it the Earth’s third-tallest volcanic structure. More importantly it produces the volcanic soils that make Suertes Del Marques’ wines so unique…more on that later.
The further North we travelled to Suertes Del Marques the more Spanish the Island felt. As we reached the small village of El Retamar a man walked a donkey to a nearby fountain for a drink, further on the church bells chimed in Santiago Del Teide, this was definitely Spain.
Tenerife has a long history of winemaking. It is one of the few global wine regions unaffected by the phylloxera pandemic. Vines in Tenerife grow on their own roots rather than grafted onto Phylloxera-resistant rootstocks meaning that many working vines are hundreds of years old. There are around 20,000 acres of vines in Tenerife and the region is now split into a neat jigsaw puzzle of five appellations; Yconde-Daute-Isora, Valle de la Orotava, Tacoronte-Acentejo, Abona and Valle de Güimar.
Suertes Del Marques is located within the Valle de la Orotava region in the very centre of the North. The north of the island has more rainfall than the rest of Tenerife with up to 750mm per year and is generally more humid and cloudy. These clouds are formed by the moisture carrying trade winds blowing in from the north Atlantic, which are forced to rise by the mountain where they then cool and condense in to clouds. Despite this the region is still warm but the additional cloud cover and high altitudes of the vineyards provide the grapes some protection and cooling from the searing heat.
This climate overview pretty much summed up the weather as we pulled into an unmade road towards the bodega. We passed through a concrete arch that signifies your arrival at Suertes Del Marques and our hire car struggled as we navigated up a steep stony driveway while we gazed in awe at the sea of vineyard plots on either side of us.
Suertes Del Marques is a family winery that has been making wines since 2006. All wines are produced focusing on indigenous varieties and with complete respect for the local environment; minimal intervention, indigenous yeasts, processes done by hand, avoidance of racking and minimal use of sulphur.
The winery is made up of 11 hectares of various plots ranging from 300 to 750 metres above sea level, all with different aspects and soil composition. They also work with 17 hectares from local growers at altitudes from 200-800 metres above sea level.
At the top of the driveway, but still barely half way up the sea of vineyards, Jonatan was waiting to great us.
After some quick introductions we were led to the rooftop of a nearby building where we were surrounded by numerous vineyards plots looming down to stunning views towards the coast.
We were quickly sped away in Jonatan’s 4X4 to visit some of the higher altitude plots. Jonatan expertly navigated us through sharp, single lane dirt racks with ease, with inclines that must have been up to 60 degree angles.
The further skyward we travelled the further amazed we were by the encompassing vineyard and the views down to the coast. It looked like a wave of vineyards searing and crashing towards to ocean where single plots have the potential to be both east and west facing as the land jolts and twists in different directions.
To be fair, there’s nothing unique about vineyards with stunning views and beautiful settings, the world is filled with these regions.
What is unique are the century old un-grafted vine stocks of Listan Negro and Listan Blanco that make up the majority of their produce. They also grow varieties such as Vijariego Negro, Baboso Negro, Tintilla, Pedro Ximénez or Albillo Criollo.
What is further unique is the pruning method used known as ‘Cordon Trenzado’ (braided cord). In this method the vines are allowed to grow sideways forming arms, sometimes one arm but often there can be several!
Jonatan took us down to one of the lower plots. He picked up a stick to fend off the numerous spider webs that fill the vineyards and led us towards a set of long horizontal vines almost hugging the ground beneath them. You could already see from the distance a collection of thick, gnarly and twisted vine roots protruding aggressively from the ground. As we got closer we all smiled. When Jonatan informed us these vines were over 200 years old there was only one response we could make, ‘Wow’.
One other important factor in producing Suertes Del Marques’ unique wines is the soil. As already mentioned, the island of Tenerife is formed around the volcanic Mount Tiede. The volcanic soil and rock can be found littered around the vineyards and contribute to some of the fascinating aromas, flavours and minerality in their wines. Volcanic soils account for only 1% of the world’s surface so maximizing their ability to produce epic wines is an important responsibility. This has enabled Suertes Del Marques to create wines that perfectly reflect the land they were produced from. All those subtle smoke flavours, the intense minerality, sharp acidity, the complexity. These are all factors that contribute to producing the unique wines that are perfectly balanced alongside standard wine characteristics such as body and fruit intensity.
They are a winery committed to the use of native varieties and these traditional native training methods in order to preserve the rich wine-making traditions of the island that date back five centuries.
We continued along to the winery to see how the wine was fermented, aged and bottled. Construction was going on all around us as a new larger building was being built to extend the size of the winery and to provide more room for the ever expanding storage vessels.
The smell of fermenting grape juice was wonderful.
There was everything there from stainless steel vats, cement vats, oak barrels and an antique looking manual press which Jonatan told me he used the week before and was still very much working well!
The winery was busy and tight and you could see why the expansion plans were heavily underway.
We were shown the wines fermenting in the concrete vats as well as the bubbling white wines fermenting away in oak barrels while the workers behind us busily boxed up the newly bottled production of Candio wines.
At this point we had reached the perfect juncture to actually taste some of the amazing wines.
We drove up to the highest peak that we had travelled on the tour to an impressive tasting room set amongst stunning gardens with breath taking panoramic views over the vineyards and the ocean.
Here’s what Jonatan opened for us:
Trenzado (2017) – A white wine, mostly from Listán Blanco, but also including other native varieties such as Pedro Ximenez, Albillo Criollo, Gual, Marmajuelo or Malvasia. Composed of different vineyards in the Valle de La Orotava ranging from 10 to 150 years old grown mostly in the traditional system of cordón trenzado. Slightly funky on the nose, which I love. Aromas of citrus fruits and pineapple with a nutty twist. Fruits are very subtle but the wine is intensely mineral and smoky creating a unique experience
Vidonia (2017) – A White wine of 100% Listan Blanco from three parcels, El Barranco, La Solana and El Ciruelo, located between 350 meters and 520 meters above sea level, with volcanic soils, and ungrafted vines of more than a century old. An extremely elegant wine with lots of structure, almost Burgundian in texture. Slightly closed on the nose but the mouthfeel is thick and luxurious with subtle citrus, ripe peach and apricot, a beautiful wine.
7 Fuentes (2016) – A red wine composed of 35 plots from area winegrowers and from the property with vines ranging from 10 to approximately 180 years old. The vineyards range from 250 to 800 meters above sea level. This wine is made with two varietals: Listán Negro, cultivated mainly in Cordón Trenzado; and Tintilla, from Bocanegra plot which is grown in a telegraph system. Each plot is vinified separately and assembled just before bottling. One of my favourite wines and this 2016 vintage is the best I have tasted. Extremely light purple colour, with an almost pinky tinge to it. Smooth tannins with ripe red fruits and smoky minerals; it’s Tenerife in a bottle.
El Chibirique (2016) – A red wine from 0.40 Hectares vineyard facing east and located between 380 and 430 meters above the sea. Vineyards of Listén Negro under traditional training system of Cordón Trenzado with age between 60 to 80 years old. The soil is composed of clay layer over volcanic rock. The nose and mouth are like two different wines. Slightly reductive on the nose, crisp cherry, mineral and rustic. On the palate the wine is extremely elegant with crunchy tannins and a very long finish.
La Solana (2017) – A red wine from a 1.5 hectares vineyard facing east and located at an altitude between 350 and 450 meters above sea level. Made from Listán negro whose ages vary from eighty to one hundred and fifty years old, grown in the unique system of Cordón Trenzado. The soil is composed of a clay layer over volcanic rock. Lots of red fruit, aromatics and perfume with subtle lavender and balanced perfectly along with lots of minerality
Candio (2017) – A red wine from the plot El Barranco, located between 350 and 450 meters above sea level and facing west. Made from Listán Negro ungrafted vines between 80 and 150 years old, cultivated in the unique system of Cordón Trenzado. This plot is characterized by a soil dominated by volcanic rock covered by a clay layer. This wine was literally bottle 5 days prior to our arrival. Lots of spicy dark fruit and very vibrant, subtle herbs and a good finish
El Ciruelo (2017) – Red wine made from a plot of only 0.75 ha., located between 480 and 520 meters above sea level facing north. Under the unique system of Cordón Trenzado they grow un-grafted Listán Negro vines with an age over 90 years. This plot is characterized by soils dominated by volcanic rock with a sandy loam layer under native vegetation cover. This is a very elegant and fresh wine with a luxurious texture. The wine is filled with ripe raspberry, blueberry, cherry, black pepper and spice.
Los Pasitos (2017) – Red wine made from a plot of 0.25 hectares located between 390 and 450 meters above sea level facing northeast. With a plant yield of 6,500 plants per hectare the plot has un-grafted Baboso Negro vines in simple Cordon Royat system with a north-south orientation. The soil is composed of a clay layer set on volcanic rock where we work with native vegetation covering. A stunning and elegant wine that is fresh and crisp with ripe red cherry and plum. It’s smoky and peppery with a touch of balsamic and salt. Complex and unique.
The tasting experience cemented my opinion that Suertes Del Marques are producing some of the most exciting and unique wines in Spain at the moment. I adore the village wines Trenzado and 7 Fuentes but at the tasting it was Vidonia and Los Pasitos that blew me away.
Jonatan emphasized during the tasting that their aim was to produce wines that reflected the land they were cultivated on and he has achieved that wholeheartedly
A remarkable day with a wonderful host and I can’t wait to go back