The historical importance of Tenerife wines

In 1573, Felipe II presented a report at Madrid parliament on the abandonment of the sugarcane cultivation as well as on the blooming situation of the wine business in the Canary Islands. A extraordinary demand of canary wine was originated in this epoque, generating important incomes through almost three centuries.

Some sailors, pirates and corsairs who attacked canary ports in order to obtain wine, advertise the virtues of Tenerife malvasías around the world. Returned wines- canary wine that aged and improved thanks to the movements of the ocean in its way back from America- were really appreciated in European markets.

Wine trade during the XVI and XVII century has left luxury furniture, both civil and religious constructions, as well as uncountable literary quotes of authors who praised canary malmsey.  

William Shakespeare’s words on Tenerife malmsey show his appreciation for our wine. He received a barrel of Tenerife Wine as part of his salary as poet of the English court. Some of his characters in “Henry IV of England”, “Twelfth Night” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor” tasted malmsey; “but, i´faith you have drunk too much canaries, and that´s a marvelous searching wine, and it perfumes the blood”.

Others authors such as Walter Scott, Alksander I. Kuprin, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Carlo Goldoni, Luis de Góngora, Maine Red and Joshep Spillman were also inspired by Tenerife’s malmsey.

Although malmsey wine declined, it never disappeared. A new wine was proposed, different to the sweet malvasía: Vidonia, or simply Tenerife Wine.

These new wines were born to compete with Madeira wines, so appreciated by English and Americans. During the middle of the XVIII century canary merchants exported wines not only to London, but to Europe, North America and what was known from the rest of the world.

The quality, durability and medical advantages of these new white wines caught the attention of the British Navy, that bough thousands of Tenerife Wine pipes for two decades. So did the British Army in its campaigns in India as well as the American in the War of Independence.

Wine was then consumed not only by the upper classes, but by marines and soldiers. By the end of the XVIII renowned explorers such as James Cook, William Bligh, George Vancouver, and even First Fleet used Tenerife Wine regularly, the latter in Australia foundational trip.

Around this time, Tenerife lived for wine export, the landscape was modified by the cultivation; some visitors such as Alexander Von Humboldt was impressed by the majestic of Tenerife vineyards while his visit in 1799. He wrote: “The Valley of Tacoronte is the entrance into this charming country, of which travellers of every nation have spoken with rapturous enthusiasm”; “From Tegueste and Tacoronte to the village of St. Juan de la Rambla, which is celebrated for its excellence malmsey, the rising hills are cultivated like a garden”.

But the historic presence of our wines does not end here. On July 25th, 1797, a British squadron, commanded by Sir Horatio Nelson, tried to sack the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. After an epic and fierce combat, he surrendered. Once British and Spanish men of honor signed the peace, Nelson and General Gutiérrez swapped presents: cheese,  beer and Tenerife malmsey.

Nelson attack was only an unfortunate landmark, but in the XIX century, Tenerife Wine kept progressing and evolving, although that story is to be written.

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