Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Gran Canaria Day 10: Wine and Dine are Mighty Fine

Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
Paulo Coelho, Brida

Bodega Las Tirajanas in Gran Canaria near St. Bartholeme
Today started with the alarm clock...but not until 8:30AM. A late start here in Gran Canaria! At 9 am, we met a local tour guide named Mase who specializes in "handmade tours," the name of her private business. It's even on her car!

Mase is a native Gran Canarian who has spent some time out of the island, is vivacious, good humored and loves showing people Gran Canaria. And she will custom make a tour dependent on your interests. Someone in our group who will remain unmentioned has affection for wines, so Mase took us on a gastronomy tour of St. Lucia and St. Bartholeme, two small hamlets, tucked prettily away in the mountains.  We were happy to go, since we have circumnavigated the entire island, but missed a couple of interior locations, and these two towns were new to us.

En route to vineyards. The lower peak at the middle left is called Forteleza. It has a tragic story.
On the way there, Mase took us to the viewpoint to Forteleza which is seen behind this photo of Paul and I and to the immediate left. This is the site where a large number of native Berber Canarians gathered in the 1500s. At that time, Spain had essentially "captured" Gran Canaria. In a maneuver somewhat reminiscent of some of today's religious fervor, the natives were asked to surrender, accept the Spanish crown and convert to Catholicism...or be sold as slaves and exported. A group escaped to the peak seen called Forteleza and opted to throw themselves off rather than submit to the Spaniards.  Not a happy ending. It is considered the "last battle" that Spain "fought" with the Canarians whose only weaponry were sticks and stones.

After that happy little wakeup story, Mase took us to the village of St. Lucia for breakfast.

Pumpkin and sphagetti squash empanadas and the special St. Lucia sugar cookie
The town of St. Lucia is very quaint and apparently it is where local Canarians come on the weekends to get away from the city and the beach. It's set high in the mountains and is near the vineyards of La Tirajana, the winery we were visiting.
The vineyards. Olive trees surround them.

Juan the caretaker of the vineyards and fields of white grape.

The vineyards were reached after a bumpy ride down a road I wasn't even sure anyone should drive on. Interesting things about Gran Canaria wines. 1. There is only one denominacion de origin (D.O.) for all of Gran Canaria. 2. White grapes are grown in the South of the island and red in the North predominantly. 3. The soil is volcanic . 4. Most of the varieties grown, such as bermejo, malvasia volcanica, etc are unique to the islands. 5. The wineries were established in the 1500s. 6. Only Gran Canaria and Chile have actual original root stock with non-grafted vines, because in the 18th century nearly all world wide wine stores were knocked out by the phlox plague obliterating the crops of Europe.  Gran Canaria exported wine at that time (it does almost none of that now), and even William Shakespeare wrote about Canarian wine. 6. Almost none of the Canaries wine is (a) stored in oak barrels for more than 6 months (i.e, no crianzas,etc.), (b) nonorganic (c) exported or (d) drunk more than a day after it is purchased.
The bodega of La Tijaranas built into a local cave

Their "red selections"--a rose, and three malvasia volcanicas, all of which are barreled for different lengths of time.

The whites. They even have a semisweet and a dessert selection

What comes with a wine tasting. Too much food, but it's a gastronomy tour. The olive oil was great too. It is a local product.
From the vineyard, we progressed back out the rocky narrow road to the bodega built into a local cave and a nice 60 degrees or so at most times. Their wine tasting was quite elaborate with many local foods. We did meet the winemaker, Uve, who is German. We were very impressed with their wines and the tastes. Much better overall than we were expecting, since Canarian wines are really not something we can access in the US.

From here, we took a glance at the largest remaining palm forest in Gran Canaria, which admittedly isn't very big. We are not sure what the fate of the other palm forests were.
Gran Canaria's last palm "forest"
Then it was off to a big lunch in a small town--a sampler plate of cheese, fava bean soup, goat, lamb and black footed pig slow roasted in salt.

The appetizers included goat cheese purses in prickly pear jam and tomatoes with oceanic snails.
It was really a nice sampling, but we were getting really full, even though we didn't come close to finishing a single sample.  While we were up high we noticed a haze which Mase told us was sand off the Sahara desert. The satellite photos of this weather process were really amazing.

The haze in the distance is sand from the Sahara desert.
Overall, it was a really nice tour and we enjoyed experiencing the local wines and cuisine...although it was too much food and wine.  If you are in Gran Canaria, we highly recommend touring with Mase and Handmade Tours. She is a local gem who makes the island sparkle.

From there we were off to dinner at a "fancy restaurant" of Castillian cuisine called Ribero de Rio Mino. We believe we crossed this river during our St. James Way hike. The chef is from there and imports many of the ingredients. More food porn ahead...

Canarian gin and tonic. It's a craze here, although they said vodka is becoming the "it" spirit!

Simple and delicious avocado and shrimp salad


Reflections of empty glassware on the table.
I am sure that despite attempts NOT to eat/drink heavily, Paul and I probably both gained a pound today. A special unintended gift, but that shouldn't surprise anyone.

“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.”
John Keats

Paul's Ponderings:  We had a full dance card today, with our trip out to the vineyard, some sightseeing, lunch, and more.   The wines here are quite interesting and in general pretty good.   We've had more reds than whites, but we had a particularly good red with dinner last night called "Crater" from Tenerife.    Since Canarian wine is pretty much unavailable in the US and really even in Europe, we are going to take back a case or so to enjoy at home.   The D.O. of Gran Canaria appears to mainly produce for local consumption.   For sure, you would not see vineyards like this at home...very rough and inaccessible to reach.   The actual barrel room and tasting area was similar to what you would see in the US.   

The haze was pretty weird yesterday....did not realize it was Saharan in origin, it seemed like normal overcast until our guide told us about it.   You won't see that at home as they say, but such is island life I suppose.  

The good news is that with the visit to a more central area on the island, we truly have done Gran Canaria justice as far as seeing the towns, mountains, coasts, etc, all around the entire space in nearly two weeks.   It has been a great experience.   

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