Malvasía: The Canarian Wine That Seduced William Shakespeare

J.M. Towers

Fine, balanced, with intense aromas, nutty flavor, and voluptuous palate, the Malvasía wine from the Canary Islands is one the world’s best sweet wines.

 In the early 16th century, the wine we call Malvasía—produced in the Canary Islands, Spain—gained international prestige thanks to its exports to England. Its success relied on three factors: vine was an excellent crop to replace sugar cane; the strategic position of the islands in the maritime routes between Europe, America and Africa, and, of course, the high quality of this sweet wine.Malvasía WineMalvasía already enjoyed great popularity before the rise of the Portuguese wines from Madeira and subsequently Porto. Tan and amber colored, Malvasía boasts delicate and well-balanced aromas, nutty flavor with acidic touches, voluptuous palate and great persistence in the mouth.

Since England was the main importer, it is no surprise that great English writers from the time would mention these wines in their books. William Shakespeare called them sack or canaries. The Bard references Malvasía wines in several of his works. For example, in Henry IV (Part II, Act II, Scene IV), Mistress Quickly says to Doll Tearsheet: “but, i´faith you have drunk too much canaries, and that´s a marvelous searching wine, and it perfumes the blood ere one can say: what’s this?”

Malvasía Wine

Malvasía wines have been favored by other illustrious personalities, such as King Charles III of Spain, writers Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Lord Byron and the composer Giuseppe Verdi.

The Canarian Malvasía grapes come from Madeira, where they were planted by decree from the Portuguese nobleman Henry the Navigator, who originally imported the vines from the island of Crete. The stock reached Portuguese territory around 1427 and the Canary Islands almost a century later. Over the years the cultivation and production of excellent wines evolved. Sailors highly valued the Canary wines since the saltpeter, moisture or continuous swaying of the boats did not affect their quality.

Malvasía Wine

Winemakers in the Canary Islands have recently revived the intensive cultivation of Malvasía grapes. Their commitment and dedication are bringing new levels of quality and prestige to their wines, and regaining their influence as some of the world’s best sweet wines times.

If you are intrigued and want to try this festive sweet wine, the following Malvasías from the Canary Islands are highly recommended: Malvasía Carballo from the island of La Palma; Teneguía Malvasía also from La Palma; and Malvasía Bermejo, produced on the island of Lanzarote. These delicious wines complement the most select cream cheese and foie gras, or can be taken as a digestive after a sumptuous meal.

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