Mediterranean WinesOver the past ten years the wines from these Mediterranean islands have just gotten better and better. Gone are the traditional, more oxidative styles, especially for white wines, and in are styles that are vibrant, fresh and full of bright fruit. These island wines are also perfect partners for our lighter summer dishes and salads.
These wines might not always be our first choice for many reasons. Perhaps unfamiliar grape varieties or place names are a bit daunting? But give them a try. I am sure you won’t be disappointed. Here is a short guide to what you might find. See also my post last year on the wines from the beautiful Greek island of Santorini.
Corsica is a mountainous Mediterranean island that actually belongs to France, even though it is much closer to Italy. A beautiful rugged island, with many diverse meso-climates and terroirs that enable the production of diverse wines. In terms of wine production the most important grape varieties planted are Vermentino for white wine and Nielluccio for red wines.
Vermentino, which is also called Rolle in southern France, is a fairly aromatic variety with bright acidity, light to medium bodied and has flavors of lemony citrus, herbs and a slight nutty note. Typically these wines are unoaked. The variety mutates easily and many sub-varieties/clones exist. Vermentino is also widely grown in Sicily and on mainland Italy.
Nielluccio is a robust tannic variety and indigenous to Corsica. The wines are generally full-bodied with bright acidity, which makes them excellent food wines. As well as being made as a varietal red, it is often made as a rosé wine or blended with other local varieties.
As well as these two key varieties there are significant plantings of the traditional Southern Rhône varieties such as Cinsaut, Carignan and Grenache. While Corsica has nine distinct appellations, a lot of wine is produced and sold under the regional appellation of Vin de Pays de l’Île de Beauté.
Corsican Wines to Try
• 2008 Domaine Maestracci, E Prove Blanc, Vermintino, $20 – A very interesting minerally wine with subtle fruit. Lots of dried wild herbs, hint of balsamic, smoke and salinity. Fresh and crisp on the palate. Would be great with any grilled white fish.
• 2006 Y Leccia, Domaine d'E Croce, AOC Patrimonio Rouge, $26 – Full-bodied, with firm gripping tannins, this wine is packed with flavor. Complex aromas and flavors of baked blackberry and cherry fruit mingling with notes of black olive leather and fine herbs. Earthy and savory on the palate, it has a long lingering finish. While it is a little expensive, it would make a lovely gift or wine for a special summer gathering. It is made from 90% Nielluccio and 10% Grenache and comes from the Patrimonio region of Corsica.
Sardinia – another beautiful Mediterranean island about 125 miles from Italy and this one belongs to Italy. While grape growing and winemaking is important the island is more known for pasture - grazing sheep and cows - so great cheeses to be found.
The most important white variety planted here is also Vermentino for white wines. The Sardinian versions tend to be a little broader and fuller bodied than in Corsica. The key appellation and growing area for Vermentino is in the northern part of the island and has the designation DOCG Vermentino di Gallura.
For red wine the predominant variety is and for red wine it is Cannonau, which is believed to be a clone of Grenache, so has moderate tannins, spicy red fruit flavor and can be fairly high in alcohol. Cannonau is planted all over the island and this is reflected in the key appellation DOC Cannonau di Sardegna.
The wines from Sardinia are more widely available in the United States than those from Corsica.
Sardinian Wines to Try
• 2008 Sella & Mosca “La Cala” Vermentino, $12 - Sella & Mosca, founded in 1899 is Sardinia's most well known winery. Delightfully floral, with subtle citrus notes, this wine is very refreshing, light-bodied and easy to drink. Great summer wine to enjoy with friends.
• 2009 Mancini Vermentino di Gallura, $15 – Fresh, vibrant and delightfully aromatic with delicate citrus flavors of Meyer lemon, tangerine and grapefruit. Would be great to sip on its own or with any seafood dish.
• 2008 Cannonau di Sardegna "Le Bombarde" $15 – Quite full-bodied, flavorful wine with lots of baked red plum, black cherry and prune. Appealing hints of spice and smoke. It has a warm spicy finish. Perfect for grilled meats, spicy sausage and ribs.
Sicily – located at the tip of Italy’s toe, Sicily is the largest of these three islands in terms of wine production.
It is another rugged, hot, mountainous land, with poor infertile soils, perfectly suited for grape growing. Unfortunately for a longtime Sicily had a reputation for low quality, bulk wine production, much of which was exported and ended up beefing up lesser vintages of more the renowned wines across Europe. Tighter quality assurance regulations now ensures that this no longer happens. At the same time Sicily has undergone quite a quality revolution itself and today boasts a significant number of quality conscious producers that are steadily gaining International acclaim.
While, DOCG designated wine production is still quite low, the quality of Sicilian wine has vastly improved and many of the more progressive producers prefer to use the more flexible IGT designation, which you see on many wines from Sicily sold here in the United States.
Sicily has a wealth of indigenous varieties. The most widely planted white variety is Catarratto, followed by Inzolia and Grillo, names that you increasingly see on labels in the US. Catarrato produces crisp wines and has fairly subtle aromatics. Inzolio, which I prefer is a little more racy, making crisp, minerally wines with subtle citrus and tropical fruit flavors. Grillo, another variety that I especially like tends to be more full-bodied, richer in texture with lemony, nutty and stone fruit flavors.
Of the red varieties in Sicily, most people are probably familiar with Nero d’Avola, which has become very popular as a good value varietal wine over the past few years. It makes diverse wines, from easy drinking, juicy, fruity wines, to more full-bodied, structured styles.
A Sicilian red I particularly love is called Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and is made from a blend of another indigenous variety, Frappato (at least 40%) and Nero d’Avola. The name ‘Cerasuolo’ comes from the deep cherry color of the wine. The wines are medium to full-bodied, with attractive cherry aromas, supple tannins and fresh acidity. Some producers age the wine in oak, while other make a more fruity, unoaked style.
Sicilian Wines to Try
• 2008 Feudo Montoni Catarratto, $14 – Floral, herbal and mineral aromas five way to lots of fresh flavors of white peach, melon and red apple.
• 2008 Hauner Salina Bianco, $12 – Another delicious summer gem. This is a blend of Catarratto and Inzolio. More full-bodied, but crisp and lots of ripe yellow fruit, tarragon, sage and honey.
• 2008 Terredigiumara Inzolia, IGT Sicilia, $13 - Crisp and minerally with a slightly luscious texture and flavors of apricot, nectarine and clementines with hints of spice and anise.
• 2008 Grillo "Parlante," Fondo Antico, IGT Sicilia, $14 – Enticing ripe tropical and citrus fruit – pineapple, guava, nectarine and tangy tangerine. Fresh with a nice spicy kick to the finish.
• 2009 Il Frappato, DOC Viottoria Frappato, $17 - Fragrant and quite exuberant tart cherry aromas, wild blueberry and strawberry. Deliciously fresh, juicy and lingering flavors. Medium-bodied and vibrant – perfect for summer.
Enjoy your Mediterranean escape!
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Courtesy of Corsican Tourist Board, Sicily Wine and producer websites. )