Jonantan vineyard

The elegant, electric whites from Suertes del Marqués often hog the limelight, but they have been making some distinctive new single vineyard reds in recent years. We caught up with owner and winemaker Jonatan García on Zoom to taste them and find out more about their unique characters and ageing potential.

Jonatan’s been fully at the winemaking helm of  Suertes del Marqués since 2018.

Despite the hype around the Canary Islands his aim isn’t to be known for volcanic wines, but  ‘classic’ wines that can be appreciated in the context of the best wines in the world.

The Suertes wines are classified in two levels: Village wines, like 7 Fuentes and Trenzado, made from their own vineyards and bought grapes, vinified separately and blended before bottling; and Single Vineyards from specific sites on the estate which include La Solana, Los Pasitos and Vidonia. As he has got to know, buy and work with new vineyard sites, work in the cellar has become more hands off, to better reflect the unique microclimate, terroir and traditions you find in La Orotava Valley on the north side of Tenerife. 

Old cordon trenzado vines and cover crops at Suertes

We started with La Solana. The vineyard is located at the base of the property, at 380-420 metres. It’s east facing and gets the softer morning sun, which means you don’t get super ripe wine from here, and often find a little more of a fresher green character.

Jonatan says La Solana reminds him: “Of a red from the Loire, like a Cabernet Franc”, but with higher tannins.

He’s starting to use more whole bunch in his single vineyard wines to increase the ageing potential, structure and finish. This 100% Listán Negro has a reductive, flinty style, but is also elegant and balanced, with good freshness and acidity.

Reduction in volcanic wines

Reductive notes can be typical to volcanic soils, particularly as Jonatan works with indigenous yeasts. For him it’s part of the character of wines, and is more prominent in some years. In 2019 and 2020, although he isn’t doing anything different in the cellar, the wines seem less reductive. He thinks it is related with balance within the soil. In the past the pH in his vineyards was around 4, low soil pH decreases the availability of some nutrients, and a lack of nitrogen accentuates reduction in the final wines. It’s something Jonatan has been correcting slowly, adding lime to the soils since 2016, which is what growers in the area used to do, and has managed to raise the pH to 4.5. He thinks it needs to be closer to 5-5.5, but it’s a battle, when you use powdered sulphur (against mildew) that combines with the soil and reduces the pH.

Standing in El Esquilón vineyard looking towards El Ciruelo

The next wine we tasted was  El Esquilón 2016. This was the year they started to change the winemaking. They started to harvest earlier to get lower potential alcohol and higher acidity. They now work with more whole bunches, but with less extraction. Stems aren’t just about freshness, Jonatan explained, they add structure as well. They work softly, foot-treading the grapes with long macerations (for Listán Negro)  of 20-30 days.

“This is a fantastic wine, in a blind tasting I could confuse it with a Nebbiolo. We joke that El Esquilón is a volcanic Nebbiolo!  When you don’t know the origin, it has an earthier nose and the structure. For me it’s a great wine. On the one hand it’s light and on the other it has structure”.

Jonathan
Importance of orientation

El Esquilón vineyard is higher up the slope than La Solana, at 450-550 metres, and planted with 80 year-old Listán Negro vines, plus younger Tintilla. The soils are dominated by volcanic rock, with a combination of clay and sandy loam, depending on the altitude. The plot faces north, and his father planted the rows east-west, Jonatan’s not sure why he did this, most of their vineyards are orientated north-south to get the morning sun. Vineyard orientation is important as it influences ripeness. El Esquilón has the same soil as El Ciruelo, and he uses the same winemaking for both cuvees, but the wines are quite different. El Ciruelo (the wine is labelled Las Suertes from 2019) is more fruity and elegant than El Esquilón. Jonathan says  after two-three years it starts to be more like Pinot whereas El Esquilón is more like Nebbiolo. 

Looking for balance

Suertes are one of the few organic producers in the north of Tenerife, they aren’t certified.  The vineyards have spontaneous cover crops, but after this harvest Jonatan hopes to have time to experiment and plant different things, ideally plants which will add nitrogen to the soils. They can’t do mechanical work on the steep vineyards, so the organic matter from the cover crops helps to aerate the soil. It also helps to preserve water, but it’s a balance because they compete with the vines. Some vintages this has more impact than in others. It isn’t normally necessary to green harvest, they lose bunches due to disease pressure during the long growing cycle on Tenerife. Also they balance the vines when they prune, normally if your yields are too high you’re not pruning properly.

Cover crops in spring in Hacienda las Canas.

Next we tasted Los Pasitos 2019. It’s made with Baboso Negro planted in 2008, there are only around 20ha on Tenerife, but more growers are planting it. The grape has high acidity, which means most Tenerife growers harvest later when there is higher alcohol and more colour.  He works differently, harvesting at 2-3 degrees lower potential alcohol than others. Jonatan likes fresh reds, and he’s not worried about making lighter coloured wines. The final wine is very fresh, with a floral character, great acidity. It has structure, without excess tannins, and should age for decades.

“If you harvest later Baboso Negro can be like an Amarone”!

Jonathan

Cruz Santa 2019. This is a relaively new wine, 2016 was the first vintage. Vijariego Negro is related to Sumoll from Catalunya, but has mutated after centuries in another terroir.  It has a medium growing cycle, big bunches of oval berries and high acidity. Like with Baboso he harvest at lower potential alcohol than most growers. The 2019 is fresh, floral, a bit like a Galician red.

Vidueño 2019. This is one of Jonatan’s favourites, it’s fresh and elegant, with low alcohol. Vidueño means field blend or a mix of different grapes in Spanish. They co-ferment of more than 20 different grapes including around 10% white (Malvasia Rosada, Negramoll, Vijariego Negro, Baboso Negro, Listán Negro, Tintilla, Castellana Negra, Albillo Criollo, Gual, Verdello…) from 2 experimental plots, plus some grapes from the second harvest at the Malvasía Rosada vineyard.

And how about the 2019 vintage?

It was a small compared with 2018, they had 60% of normal production for the whites. This wasn’t due to disease, normally Listán Blanco is productive, but the vines were tired in 2019. We  They had better yields from the reds, a little less acidity than 2018, but the wines are developing well in the cellar. And from what he’s seen the 19s are more open and you can drink them earlier than the 2018s.

For more about Suertes del Marqués read Indigo on Tour: A history lesson and a great party at Suertes del Marqués and Future classics: Suertes del Marqués doesn’t just want to be labelled as volcanic wine