Should your wine tell a story?
I recently helped a friend and some of his colleagues who were stranded in Gran Canaria – their flight to the UK had been cancelled along with several others and complete chaos was breaking out. I managed to book them on a flight with another airline pretty quickly, and fortunately that one actually took off. My friend was very grateful and knowing that I love my wines, he kindly picked up a bottle of white wine at the airport as a “thank you”.
Back in London and in the pub he handed it to me in an almost apologetic manner, explaining that “I would have got red, but I was worried it would break in the suitcase”, and that they didn’t have any Gran Canarian wine so he had plumped for a Malvasia Seco from the volcanic island of Lanzarote.
I’ve been known to make jokes about holiday wines before now – I always think there are good reasons why we don’t see shop shelves lined with wines from the Canary Islands. For one thing, they don’t make very much wine, so it’s really for local consumption. It doesn’t travel particularly well in any case, and however great it tasted on the beach on holiday in beautiful sunshine, it will never taste as good back in our comparatively rubbish climate after a hard day at the office. It just won’t.
Cynical old me. So, imagine my surprise when I tasted the Malvasia from Lanzarote that my pal bought me at the airport, and thought, you know what, that’s rather nice!
I texted him immediately to tell him I was enjoying it. He didn’t believe me. I said I would save him some. I didn’t, of course, I troughed the whole bottle, and he just had to take my word for it.
I have to admit to not knowing much about the wines of Lanzarote so I did some investigating online. It was really interesting – Lanzarote’s landscape is completely unique and each of their vines is grown individually in a fairly deep pit. As it is quite windy on the island, they also build a little protective wall around it. The vines are planted into the soil and then covered up by a black lava stone which protects it. I was in Lanzarote when I was very young, and I remember seeing these plants on the landscape – I wouldn’t have realised they were vines at the time but it was quite a sight to behold.
I like when wine has something to say for itself – I like when it has a story. You can’t assign a story to a boring, mass-produced wine that doesn’t have one, you might as well just say ‘This wine was created in a lab by robots. Really boring robots, not the talking ones from Star Wars.’ Perhaps that’s what’s missing from boring wines – they lack personality, and that personality can sometimes be attributed to a struggle, or an accident of history, or an ingenious idea that revolutionised winemaking.
Look at the accidental second fermentation of the bottle that created Champagne as we know it – or the partial drying of grapes that gives us the concentrated wines of Amarone. Look at the parts of the world where it just shouldn’t even be possible to grow grapes – like the slate soils of Priorat or the steep slopes of the Mosel. Look at the conditions we require to make Eiswein or Botrytised wines. All of these wines have a story. People have worked hard to make them, and it gives each and every one of them a very special kind of allure that once you know about it, you’ll want to come back for more.
My own romanticised view is that products that are made with passion and care and attention to detail will always taste better. I think it’s the same when you eat free range eggs, compared to ordering an egg sandwich from a greasy spoon and realising halfway through it that you can actually taste the pain of the bird that laid it. Call me ridiculous, but I believe it.
The winemaker in Lanzarote must have worked very hard to make something so special in really difficult conditions. I’d choose his wine any day over any of the supermarket shelf-fillers or half price offers. I like the story too, and I’ll definitely be going back for more.