Lanzarote wines are among the most unique in the world, with an exclusive Malvasia Volcanica grape, traditional artisan farming methods that have been passed through generations.
The island only started producing wine after a freak of nature – the Timanfaya eruptions. Six years (1730-1736) of eruptions destroyed several villages and covered La Geria in ash, essentially destroying what was previously the island’s most fertile wheat-growing region.
New farming methods for a new reality
Farmers dug down into the ash in search of the fertile soil underneath, forming conical ditches in the process. Soon they discovered that volcanic ash was fertile and retained humidity. They started planting vines in the ditches and built zocos (semi-circular lava stone walls) around them for wind protection. Volcanic ash (or rofe) is dry and porous, meaning that the grapes don’t rot on the ground.
This created a distinctly beautiful landscape which is now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Lanzarote winemakers benefit from subsidies that ensure that tradition is upheld, quality is maintained and that the landscape is preserved.
Small-scale, organic methods
Production in Lanzarote is on a much smaller scale than its international counterparts. Just to give you an idea, land cultivated with zocos contains around 300 vines/ha whereas large producers in California, for example, grow 10,000 vines/ha.
Only natural fungicides are used on 95% of Lanzarote’s grapes, and some wineries even produce ecological wine. Obtaining ecological certification is an expensive business, meaning that many small producers who make ecological wine are unable to make that claim. Having said that, a handful of the larger Lanzarote wineries have invested in this certification and do commercialise ecological wines.
The main types of grape grown in Lanzarote are the Malvasia Volcanica, Listán Blanco and Negro, Diego and Muscatel.
The Malvasia Volcanica grown in Lanzarote is globally unique. The Malvasía grapes found in other countries had to be modified after a 19th-century plague but Lanzarote’s isolated geographical location meant its vines were unaffected.
El Tablero: generations of artisan winemaking
I joined Wine Tours Lanzarote and their knowledgeable guide, Anita, to discover some of the island’s lesser-known wineries.
Wine Tours Lanzarote takes only small groups to wineries you probably wouldn’t discover alone. It’s an authentic and personalised experience where strangers soon become friends and you can ask as many questions as you like.
The picturesque El Tablero winery is over 100 years old and belongs to Juan Antonio Suarez. Juan’s father was a traditional La Geria farmer and cultivated onions and grapes, producing his own wine. His father died around ten years ago, and Juan left his job as a taxi driver to continue in his footsteps.
He never looked back and now produces around 6,000 litres of wine per year on his finca.
Our group of six arrived to find a beautifully laid table with wine glasses, local goat’s cheese and homemade jams (fig and Malvasía grape) with crackers. We tasted a glass of crisp white Malvasía Volcánica followed by a fruitier red Listán Negro which were perfect for opening the palette.
Bodegas Rubicón: La Geria´s oldest estate
Bodegas Rubicon, a winery holding Lanzarote Denomination of Origen status, is set in an old manor house that goes back to 1570. The estate was one of the largest cereal-producing areas in Lanzarote before the Timanfaya eruptions. The house and the small chapel (Hermita de la Caridad) were both completely covered by ashes and were later restored.
Anita leads us down into the old aljibe (underground water vault). The space has now been turned into a meeting room, with and has a quirky wine bottle collage on the aljibe floor.
We wander in across the beautiful courtyard and take a look inside the house. You’re instantly taken back in time with its smooth varnished wooden floors, old paintings, photographs, ornaments and traditional utensils.
The original winemaking room has been kept intact with its original machinery: the wooden wine press used for making the must was still used up until 2001. Grape-growing methods haven’t changed much, but tools have become more efficient.
The underground barrel room is pleasantly cool and is full of 200-litre French oak barrels. They are used for around three years and are then sold on to whiskey producers in Scotland.
A tough choice
Bodegas Rubicon annually produce around 250,000 litres of seven different wines, so tasting them all was a bit much to ask! We were free to choose two, so I opted for Amalia: This is a stronger (14%), sweeter wine with pineapple tones and oak-aged for six months, and an ideal accompaniment for seafood. My second wine was a glass of their red Rubicon Tinto - a fruity, cherry red Listán Negro with Lanzarote’s distinctive mineral nuances.
Bodega Vega Volcán: Ecological and artisanal winemaking and farming
Begonia and Alfredo bought this two-hectare property in 1980 and it’s been their family home ever since. Alfredo is a lawyer, so winemaking is a hobby. Apart from the vines, they also grow their own ecological fruits and vegetables in the back garden.
Ecological and vegan wine
Winemaking may only be a hobby, but the couple still manage to produce 2,000 litres of ecological, vegan wine a year. There is no current legislation for vegan wine in Spain, Begonia tells me, so you won’t find this on the label. Most wines are clarified using egg whites before being bottled, but at Bodega Vega Volcán, they use natural clay as a fining agent instead.
Their production is small, but their motto is “quality, not quantity.”
The couple also rear their own goats and chickens, as well as three cats and a dog that absolutely love visitors.
Ecological wine and cheese with homegrown tomatoes at Bodega Vega Volcán, Lanzarote
After showing us around the beautiful property and winemaking facilities, Begonia served us some of her own goat’s cheese with ripe and fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden. They were absolutely delicious.
This was paired with a crisp glass of Arena, a Malvasía white with fruity tones, similar to a French white. That was followed by a nice glass of their own Listán Negro, a slightly fruity and medium-bodied wine. Both these wines were young and aged in oak barrels for a maximum of three months.
Eating with the locals
To round off the day – and as a welcome surprise – Anita took us just up the road to La Asomada Teleclub (popular name for the traditional village social clubs is Lanzarote). This particular one is rumoured to have some of the best local food on the island, but I had never tried it.
Typical local dishes and “no label” wine
We were served a selection of typical dishes including goat’s cheese salad, garlic bread, chickpea stew, braised local goat’s meat, locally reared pork and Canarian potatoes. All of this was prepared by the family who run the Teleclub and washed down with a glass of their own ‘no label’ white wine (very common in Lanzarote, as many families make their own).
You don’t need to go far to find good wine in Lanzarote, with 14 Denomination of Origin wineries on the island. But by scratching beneath the surface you’ll find some lovely local people who make wine with great passion and follow hundreds of years of tradition. Nothing added, nothing taken away.