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What our expert thought of Suertes del Marqués, 7 Fuentes




about this wine About this wine
 
Vines and volcanoes seem to be a good match.  Vines, or at least the grapes from them, benefit from altitude, steep slopes, and well-drained, mineral-laden soils poor in organic nutrients.  All these factors are found in abundance on the sides of volcanoes, and wines from fiery mountains like Etna and Vesuvius have become very hot in the wine world lately.
 
Mount Teide, the active volcano at the centre of Tenerife, is another whose wines have been creating a stir.  Although politically part of Spain, Tenerife and the other Canary Islands are 2000 kilometres southwest of the Spanish mainland making them geographically African: they lie off the Atlantic coast of Morocco.
 
This would normally be too close to the equator for quality wine production, but the moderating effect of the cold Atlantic and, especially, the altitude afforded by the volcano keeps temperatures down.  Altitude also increases seasonal and diurnal temperature range, allowing the vines to go dormant in winter and allowing their grapes to preserve acidity and aromas in the cold nights while ripening fully during the hot days.
 
Most of Tenerife’s vineyards lie on the cooler and wetter north side.  Only one of the island’s five DOs, Abona, lies on the south side – but it compensates for this by having the highest vineyards in Europe, at up to 1800 metres.  This wine comes from the DO Valle de La Orotava, directly to the north of Mount Teide.  Here the vineyards need not be so high; those for this wine lie on steep north and north-east facing slopes at altitudes between 300 and 720 metres.
 
At this level they benefit from cooling sea mists but are often exposed to damaging storms.  To resist wind damage the older vines are trained in a system unique to the island called cordon trenzano.  Each vine’s branches are braided tightly together and then staked out horizontally close to the ground.  Some of them are over a century old and over ten metres long, giving the impression from a distance of a hillside that has sprouted dreadlocks.
 
Suertes del Marqués is regarded by many as the island’s best producer, despite having been founded only a decade ago.  This red is part of their “village wine” range, made for relatively early drinking.  Its name means Seven Springs, referring to the seven separate organically-farmed plots that source the grapes, whose ages range from a decade to over a century.  All these vines are ungrafted: phylloxera has never reached Tenerife. This is why some of them are so old – in mainland Europe all the vineyards had to be replanted on American rootstocks to resist the disease.
 
The blend is 90% Listán Negro and 10% Tintilla, both local varieties.  The grapes from each plot are fermented separately because their differing altitudes mean they ripen at different times.  Fermentation is entirely with natural wild yeasts, with gentle use of skin contact to limit the extraction of tannins.  Sixty percent of the resulting wine is then matured for eight months in concrete tanks, with the remainder being aged in fairly large (500 litre) used French oak barrels, to mellow the wine without imparting obvious oak flavours.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
A vivid medium ruby, the colour is a bit lighter than expected for a 13.5% red as a consequence of that short and gentle skin contact.
 
On first opening each new pour is quite reductive, with the farmyardy smells often associated with natural wine.  These blow off after five minutes or so in the glass.  Our decanting process will probably have fixed this for your pouch but if you do notice it, pour your glassful back and forth into another glass a few times then leave it to air for five minutes.  If you buy some of this then you should decant each bottle several hours before drinking.
 
The real nose is still pretty pungent and wild, with an inky/spicy/herby thing going on high in the sinuses that reminds me of young northern Rhône Syrah.  Spices dominate, with lots of cracked black pepper and a little star anise overlaying red cherry fruit.  There’s no detectable oak, but fascinatingly feral hints of sticking plaster (even Germolene) and a touch of VA (volatile acidity, basically vinegar) add character and complexity.
 
The inky, dusty flavours are quite northern Rhône Syrah too, with red cherry, bramble and blood orange fruit underpinned by earth and iron.  Dry, with very fresh acidity, the palate belies its 13.5% alcohol by being only medium-bodied.
 
The finish is peppery and slightly smoky, with a touch of warmth finally revealing the alcohol.  Stealthy tannins give it good structure without drawing attention to themselves, and the length is impressive.
 
Assessment
 
I may have overplayed the wildness of this volcanic red, based on its undoubted funkiness when first opened.  Aeration tames its wild side, though it retains an engagingly rustic quality.  In its red-fruited, medium-bodied, very aromatic style it rather resembles a good cru Beaujolais like a Morgon, while its scents and flavours are more akin to an unoaked cool-climate Syrah like a Saint-Joseph or a Crozes-Hemitage.
 
But these comparisons may be doing it a disservice.  This is a wine with a real sense of place: a natural product of its land rather than of by-the-numbers winemaking designed to yield whatever the marketing men say will sell.  Different, bold and exciting, it’s a great argument for old vines, local varieties, and the producers that strive to bring out the best in them.


Tasting notes

Appearance
clear vivid medium ruby
Nose

Intensity medium+

Aromas pungent spices (black pepper, star anise), red fruit (cherry), hint of Band-Aid, touch of VA. Before aeration, farmyardy reductive smell.

Development developing
Palate

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium++

Body medium, despite 13.5%

Tannins medium-, subtle and fine

Intensity medium+

Flavours red fruits (cherry, bramble), citrus (blood orange), mineral (earth, iron)
Finish

Length medium+

Flavours as palate, black pepper, smoke, touch of warmth
Other notes
Needs decanting to alllow reductive aromas to blow off (they do). Styled like a Morgon but scent & flavour like northern Rhône Syrah. No detectable oak.


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