Like a tantalising mirage, the vision drew us closer; a sturdy old Roman wine press (lagar) sitting on dark volcanic lands. There were people standing beside it, laughing and chatting: scenes of gaiety under a blindingly blue sky. The signs were promising.
It hadn’t been a seriously long walk, about eight and a half kilometres from the Volcán San Antonio to Las Salinas, but it had been shadeless. What felt like gallons of precious liquid had been lost through my pores and needed to be replaced lest I dry out and crumble into the rich earth. By this point water wasn’t enough to sate my thirst. The hike was over, I needed a reward; something alcoholic and cool.
As we covered the last few steps, a couple of people shouted ‘hola’ and a smiling angel stepped forward and uttered the immortal words.
“Would you like to try some wine?”
It was our second sitting at La Casa del Volcán in Fuencaliente. The first had been more conventional when we met journalist Daniel Martín Gómez, our guide for the following two days, for lunch before heading off to walk on land that was less than half a century old.
Since 1919, La Casa del Volcán has stood on the edge of the San Antonio Volcano, an almost perfect crater that’s been quiet since 1678 and whose interior holds a mini pine forest. The building’s dry stone walls match the blackness of a surrounding terrain whose obscurity is broken up by legions of vines.
Inside is a cool, welcoming shrine to traditional food and wine from La Palma, the Canary Island also known affectionately as La Isla Bonita. Here local really means local; everything on the wine list is from La Palma and even the salt that seasons the food comes from salt flats a few kilometres away on the coast.
As preparation for our walk we opted for a light lunch: Andy chose fillet of abadejo (pollack) cooked in papillote and served with papas arrugadas (small salty, wrinkled potatoes) and salad. Daniel and I had the bonito tuna and potatoes in a sweet, home-made tomato sauce accompanied by a generous glass of the house red to see the food on its way.
To round off lunch we tried a local speciality called bienmesabe, an addictive sweet concoction of egg yolks combined with almonds, sugar, lemon and cinnamon.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t such a light lunch after all, but it fuelled us until we returned a few hours later.
This time the scene at La Casa del Volcán had moved from the restaurant to the adjacent wine press where the whole family from abuela (granny) to the newest additions crowded the chunky old lagar.
September is the month of the vendimia, the harvesting of the grapes; a perfect time to arrive at a working lagar if ever there was one. Despite having spotted these intriguing wooden constructions all over the Canary Islands, Andy and I had never actually seen one in action, so this was a real treat.
As bodega and restaurant manager, David Lana Garcia-Verdugo oversaw operations – involving turning a rod to lift a huge wooden arm up a giant screw that, in turn, put pressure on a column of grapes held in place by coils of rope in a large wooden trough – the rest of the family plied us with glasses of white wine from 2011’s bujariego grape harvest.
The wine was cool, dry and fresh as a mountain spring. The Canarian bujariego grape was a complete revelation to me.
As soon as one glass was finished another was offered. I downed them with guilty pleasure, watching, entranced, as other folk did all the hard work whilst the matriarch of the family told us how the children were indoctrinated into the tradition of wine-making in a fun way. Traipsing around in what was ostensibly a wooden swimming pool filled with sweet goodness did seem like a lot of fun. Added to that, the unfermented juices that flowed seductively from the lagar into a plastic bucket looked delicious.
As though reading my mind, the angel girl asked if we’d like to try some.
Maybe it was the setting; maybe it was the ambient and generous company; maybe it was the romanticism of tasting juice straight from an ancient press that had witnessed who knows how many scenes of merry wine harvesting. But under the hot September La Palma sun, the unfermented wine tasted as naturally sweet a drink as has ever passed my lips.
It was one of those perfect moments and I raised my unfermented drink to the wine god that had allowed us to experience it.
La Casa del Volcán; Volcán San Antonio, Fuencaliente; +34 922 444 427; open daily from 12.30 to 10pm (later at weekends) except for Monday; average menu prices are starters €4, main courses €9 and desserts €3.
Buzz Trips lunched at La Casa del Volcán as guests of La Palma’s Patronato de Turismo. The wine tasting was unplanned. Thanks to Daniel we just happened to be in the right place at the right time.