The native Canary pine-tree lends unique nuances to a wine from La Palma
The researchers Eva Parga Dans and Pablo Alonso González study the properties of 'Vino de Tea' – pine heartwood wine, fermented in barrels built from the resinous core of Pinus canariensis.
The exceptional character of the Canary pine trees that abound in our upper forests is responsible for giving the wines from the northwest of La Palma a unique resinous taste and unmistakable menthol aroma. Pine heartwood wine receives its unique features from the barrels in which it ferments, made from the resinous core of Pinus canariensis, known as ‘tea’ (pronounced phonetically 'téa', not like tea the hot drink). Most of these barrels, called ‘pipas’, are over a hundred years old, since the absence of artisanal coopers and the protected status of the Canary pine make it practically impossible to produce a similar barrel today. Nonetheless, today more than ever, keeping this historic wine-making technique alive is a sustainable response to the need to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, and thus to meet Sustainable Development Goal 12.
The Canary Islands have a long and varied winemaking tradition, aided by their exceptional climatic, geographical and natural characteristics, and also their strategic location on historical sea routes. This special wine stands out amongst all the varieties produced here.
This wine have attracted the attention of a group of researchers from the Institute of Natural Products and Agrobiology (IPNA-CSIC) led by Eva Parga and Pablo Alonso, who have studied its physicochemical characteristics. Their aim? To provide it with a scientific framework that will help preserve it, protecting its traditional production, and promote it as the sustainable product it already is.
After studying it, scientists have concluded that part of its uniqueness is related to its high α-terpineol content. The biological properties of this volatile alcoholic compound are not trivial, as previous research has shown it to have anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, antioxidant and even cardio-protective potential, which also happens to be found naturally in pine resin.
Pine heartwood wine is not the only one fortunate enough to contain this substance, many others from elsewhere do so, but at lower concentrations than such a local 'zero-kilometre' local product of La Palma, - at least if you take the ferry there to drink it! "The results of our study show a clear correlation between the increase in α-terpineol content and longer ageing time in pine barrels", explain Parga and Alonso. Although this relationship has been found, the exact mechanism by which the barrels release it remains undescribed.
However, advancing winemaking technology could lead to the loss of the properties of these wines, and with it their hallmark identity. The advent of stainless steel tanks, which are easier to use and clean, has become a real enemy to Canary pine barrels, which are costlier and more time-consuming to store and clean.
The traditional spirit of pine heartwood wine has been preserved thanks to these small wine-cellars in the northwest of La Palma. They have preserved this traditional production process, despite substantially improving the conditions of production and conservation. This firm commitment to quality and prestige could bring them international renown in a few years' time, especially after the wine has matured in bottles for a year or two before being put on the market. "Time will tell", say the researchers, at least one of whom is also an expert wine connoisseur.