As the autumnal weather starts to worsen, we often talk to clients who want to exchange the dreary British climate for some tropical sunshine. When I meet fellow oenophiles seeking a winter getaway, I always recommend that they pay a visit to the vibrant Canarian town of Puerto de la Cruz at the end of November, just in time for its annual wine festival.
Puerto de la Cruz, which sits on the north coast of Tenerife, is a charming holiday destination at any time of the year. The Old Town is cobbled, colourful and quaint, while at night the harbourside plazas offer music, dancing and delicious Canarian cuisine. For me, however, the best time of the year to visit the town is at the very end of November, when the town celebrates La Fiesta de San Andrés – the Festival of Saint Andrew.
Saint Andrew the Oenophile
Why, you may be wondering, do the Canarians dedicate a feast day to the patron saint of Scotland? Although the Scots can only lay claim to the holy relics of Saint Andrew which allegedly landed on Scottish soil, legend has it that San Andrés visited Tenerife during his life time.
Local folklore says that, although he had intended to visit the island in order to preach the gospel, his late arrival on 29 November coincided with the wine harvest. Not wanting to offend the locals, San Andrés sampled their delicious vinous produce, soon falling into a contented stupor. Finding the prone saint, the town’s children tied pots and pans to his clothes so that he would be woken up every time he tried to turn over.
Arrastre los Cacharros
To commemorate the saint’s arrival in their city, the residents of Puerto de la Cruz celebrate the Fiesta de San Andrés in a rather intriguing way. On the eve of the festival, children take part in the Arrastre los Cacharros (a ‘run with pots and pans’). Old tin cans, pots, pans – even oil drums, microwaves and exhaust pipes – are pulled along the street in the Plaza del Charco, making the most almighty racket.
This tradition may have its roots in a somewhat less fanciful explanation than that of the drunken San Andrés: that of the wine harvest. The fermented grape juice (known as the ‘must’) was allowed to rest in the wine barrel for ten days. After this, the liquid was decanted into a new barrel and the old barrels were rolled down the streets of the town to be washed in the sea – dousing them in salty water was the most effective way to clean away the acids left behind by the wine. The town would listen out for the loud clanging of the metal barrel rims against the cobbles of the streets, which would signify that the new wine crop was ready and that the feasting could begin.
Visiting the Festival
Of course, the festival is not all pot-clanging. Bodegas from right across the island bring their latest stock to the town, setting up wine tasting stalls at El Muelle (the harbour), which are open for business throughout the whole festival. It’s a great opportunity to taste some vino del país (local wine) that you might not be able to source anywhere else, along with a cone of freshly roasted castañas (chestnuts), which are also harvested at this time of the year.
If you fall in love with one of the little-known local wines and worry that you won’t ever find it again – never fear. I recommend visiting La Vinoteca in the La Paz district of the town. It has an extensive collection of bottles from local bodegas and – in my experience – a very friendly, knowledgeable patron who is more than happy to find you your favourite tipple. Better yet, you can sample it alongside a superb selection of tapas.
On the Wine Trail
If you’re in Puerto de la Cruz for the wine festival, you can’t pass up the opportunity to visit some of the local bodegas for a true insight into Canarian viticulture. I was very impressed by the Casa del Vino, which you can reach in just 20 minutes from the town. The museum in this beautiful seventeenth-century finca gives an excellent overview of the area’s wine heritage, from its terroir to its historic farming techniques and trade routes. Make sure that you take a stroll around the garden, which contains every variety of vine that grows in Tenerife.
The Casa del Vino also boasts a tasting room – allowing you to sample some local wines and cheese for a few Euros – and a restaurant with a fabulous terrace. Of course, it goes without saying the wine list is extensive, offering plenty of varieties by the glass so that you can sample more than one during your dinner.