Sicilian defense Stung by a reputation for rough reds, Sicily is now making wines of real delicacy
They boast some of the oldest vineyards on the planet, yet you’d be hard-pressed to find a bottle from the tiny Spanish isle of Formentera or Greece’s Santorini in your average wine shop, let alone an exciting cuvée from Corsica or Sicily. But after decades of obscurity, lagging quality and image problems — and just as oenophiles are growing increasingly weary of the homogenized bouquets available in the global market — a new generation of Mediterranean island producers has emerged. They are offering wines far removed from the easy-quaffing profiles of many Old and New World crus, and they are breaching the wine world’s most venerated bastions.
On a recent Saturday, the Caves Augé — Paris’ oldest wine cellar — held its first-ever tasting focusing on wines from Mediterranean islands. A full house of curious drinkers discovered the exotic, fruit-redolent bianco gentile from Corsica’s Antoine Arena and the floral, springwater-fresh mavrodaphne from Cephalonia vintner Vlavis Sklavos. “People are happy to try new tastes from local varietals of different lands that don’t have the same way of vinification,” says Sklavos. “We try to not manipulate the wine — no filtering, nothing added, just pure wine.” For Augé owner Marc Sibard, the scene is confirmation of a paradigm shift. “Everything has evolved, the mentalities of consumers and of the winemakers,” he says. “Today, these winemakers have understood survival won’t be achieved through cabernet, chardonnay and overoaked wines for [globally influential wine critic Robert] Parker.” TIME Magazine report.
THE MEDITERRANEAN COAST
This massive area includes much of present day Cataluña; there is a DO by that name as well that encompasses many of the top areas. These vineyard areas, whether near or far from the coast, share exposure to the warm winds of the Mediterranean. Many of the vineyards can be fairly moderate in climate and coastal, as in Alella, or remote and mountainous, as in Priorat. In Cataluña, elevation and proximity to the sea are crucial to understanding what is made there and why.
Alella offers some delicious whites from the Pansa Blanca grape (known as Xarel-lo in Cava country); it can be aromatic and expressive. White wines prosper in a number of sites along the Mediterranean, though not as frequently as the reds. Empordá makes some generous and textured Garnacha Blanca based wines, as do Montsant and Priorat. The Penedés region, home of 95% of the country’s Cava, is awash in white grapes: Parellada, Macabeo (or Viura) and Xarel-lo (or Pansa Blanca).
As throughout most of Spain, the greater number of prized wines are reds. DO’s such as Conca de Barbera, Costers del Segre, Empordá, Pla de Bages and Terra Alta have a dizzying array of wines from both international and indigenous grapes. Garnacha is far more planted than is Tempranillo; heat is a stronger factor in these regions and Garnacha a more forgiving grape. Syrah and the Bordeaux varieties show up in more elevated and protected sites. winesfromspainusa.com