The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.1020 Monday, 20 November 2006
Date: Saturday, 18 Nov 2006 23:31:24 -0800
Subject: Canary aka Malmsey--soon to be available for drinking or
FROM: The Independent, 18 November 2006
*Canary Malmsey set for return after 300 years*
By Cahal Milmo
For decades, the words "Lanzarote" and "alcohol" have conjured up images
little more glamorous than British tourists enjoying copious quantities of
Now the government of the Canary Islands is hoping to project a different
image of the sun-kissed Spanish outpost by resurrecting the fortunes of a
wine whose qualities were once lauded by Shakespeare and reputedly drowned
the brother of a medieval English king.
Malmsey (known as "Canary" in Elizabethan England), a sweet fortified wine
made on the islands since the 15th century, was the drink of choice on the
British Isles for aristocrats, writers and merchants for more than 150
years, until the trade suddenly ended in the 1680s.
The name Malmsey is now associated by most people with Madeira, where it
is produced using the same grapes. But a small group of Canary Islands
producers are determined to reverse that trend, and gathered this week in
London to try to persuade retailers and restaurateurs to once more stock
the wine that inspired Shakespeare to write in Henry IV: "You have drunk
too much Canaries, and that's a Marvellous searching wine."
Felix Garcia, international director of Proexca, the state-owned Canary
Islands' export agency, said: "We have more than five million tourists a
year who come here but few leave the islands knowing about Malmsey.
"We have concentrated for a long time as an island on tourism. Now it is
time to expand on some of our other strengths. Britain is one of the
oldest markets for this wine and we want to restore that link.
"The UK is probably the most sophisticated wine market in the world.
Consumers here have a choice of almost every wine and it is very
competitive. But we believe we have a very special product that should
again be available here and prosper."
Malmsey, which is made from the malvasia grape grown on the slopes
surrounding resorts on Lanzarote, La Palma and Tenerife, is thought to
have originated in Ancient Greece. It accounts for just 15 per cent of the
14 million litres of wine currently produced on the islands. Its
production remains largely artisanal, with small co-operatives and
family-owned farms producing 2.7 million bottles a year. By comparison,
the annual production of sherry is 120 million bottles.
The Canaries, which are off north-west Africa, managed to carry on
producing Malmsey because the islands' isolated position protected
vineyards from phylloxera, the lethal fungus which devastated most of
mainland Europe's vines in the 19th century.
The wine is thought to have reached British shores in the late 15th
century. By legend, George of Clarence, brother of Edward IV, was drowned
in a barrel of Malmsey in 1478 after plotting to overthrow the king.
An accident of geography gave towns on Tenerife such as Lanzarote the
perfect micro-climate to produce the wine and then export it via trade
routes to the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries. By 1570, London
was importing 20 million litres of Malmsey each year, making the rich dark
liquor a favourite in drinking houses and the royal court.
The flourishing Anglo-Spanish trade was brought to an abrupt end in 1666
when islanders rebelled against the dominance of the London-based Canary
Island Company, which had a monopoly on exports. When producers expressed
their discontent by smashing barrels so that Malmsey flowed in the
streets, Britain retaliated by banning the wine and swapped to the
Portuguese rival, Madeira.
Clearly the nine Malmsey co-operatives taking part in the scheme are
aiming for a discerning clientele. The average price for a bottle of the
dessert wine is expected to be about 20.
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