El Hierro Wine
E l Hierro is the westernmost and southernmost island of the Canary Islands. It is also the smallest wine region in the archipelago, and obtained its Protected Designation of Origin or PDO in 1994 when only two wineries were in production. This number has increased steadily and El Hierro is now producing some excellent wines of different styles, mostly sold in local bars and restaurants. The designation of origin covers the whole island.
The island is also a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Its diverse landscapes framed by the imposing mountains that extend almost across the island. Cliffs and mountains abound, as do rocky coasts and terraces carved into the hillsides. The gnarled juniper trees that have bent to the strong winds over the years have become a symbol of El Hierro. Pines and nopales can also be found in various parts, along with moss-covered bay trees.
It is believed that the vineyards were planted in the 17th century by English settlers or merchants. The wines produced were distilled into liqueurs and exported to Latin America, or turned into sweet wines. The demand for these liqueurs has steadily decreased and El Hierro Wines are no longer used for this purpose, but are produced in fresh and light styles, which are consumed mainly locally.
The island’s extinct volcanoes define the perfect locations for the vineyards. Most vines are planted on steep terraces and slopes where the soil is poor, but with good water retention. The vineyards are located at altitudes of between 125 and 700 metres and cover three sub-regions: Valle del Golfo, Echedo and El Pinar.
El Hierro has a temperate climate with long hours of sunshine (an average of 3,000 hours per year). This, together with the Trade Winds from the Atlantic Ocean, define the conditions for the vine cultivation of the vine. The summer winds that blow in the northwest of the island are responsible for bringing large amounts of moisture. As a result, summer temperatures rarely exceed 28 degrees.
This combination of conditions means that El Hierro is mainly a white wine producing area, with native grape varieties. Because phylloxera never reached the Canary Islands, some vines are hundreds of years old, which increases the richness and complexity of the wines.
The styles of El Hierro range from light, dry and fresh white wines, often young, to sweet and strong traditional wines, made here over several centuries, although the driest wines certainly outweigh the sweetest ones.
The vineyards are dominated by grape types such as the “vijariego blanco” and “listán blanco”, which are quite neutral, but other native varieties can also be found, such as “bremajuelo”, “gual”, “listán negro”, “tinta negra” and “vijariego negro”.
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