This month’s theme: Mediterranean Islands is rather eclectic. Being islands some have developed a vinous culture – cuisine, grape varieties – at various distances from that of their mainland, and certainly each other. Apart from the warmth of the general latitudes (more or less the same as central Spain’s) is there anything they have in common? Perhaps we’ll find out…

Apart from Malta and Cyprus, the Mediterranean Islands do have a mainland – a main country of which they form a province or region. The Balearics are part of Spain, Corsica part of France, Sicily and Sardinia are parts of Italy, and the Greek Islands are exactly that – Greek.

Let’s start by saying what we aren’t going to look at. We will not taste any of the wines of Malta and Cyprus – mainly because their wines are hard to get in the UK – in the former case because it’s production is tiny.

For the opposite reason we won’t concern ourselves with Sicily. Sicily is an enormous wine region on its own. Italy’s largest region and the biggest producer of wine – it accounts for over 11% of all Italian wine – equal to about half the production of Australia. We have often tried wines from Sicily in the past too, usually in a Southern Italy themed tasting along with Puglia, Campania and Basilicata.
We will pay attention to Sardinia though. By my calculations, Sardinia produces nearly 110m bottles a year, more than any other Island other than Sicily (730m)! Next comes Crete – which produces 15% – 20% of all Greek wine and around 70m bottles. Then Corsica with about 50m bottles – less than 1% of all France’s output.

Apart from Crete, all the other Greek Islands have tiny production – although figures are hard to come by I’d expect no individual Island would produce more than 4m bottles – the rough figure for the best known producer: Santorini. All together the 9 Islands of Greece that commercially produce wine probably turn out 30m bottles. The Greek islands contribute substantially (about ¼) to the wine culture of the whole country.
So I’ve decided to focus on Mallorca, Corsica, Sardinia, Crete and Santorini. Mallorca has a tiny production, although I could find no figures for production, working on the area under vine I imagine it makes under 3m bottles.

As the most complex, let’s look at the Greek Islands first. The Ionian islands (Zante and Cephalonia rather than Corfu) have distinctive grapes. The red Avgoustiatis and the whites Robola and Tsaoussi make (apparently) interesting wines although I’ve never seen them in the UK.

Over in the Aegean several islands have distinctive grapes and styles. Lemnos and Sámos make wines from Muscat – the sweet wine from the latter being the most famous and easily available in England. Páros and Rhodes make reds from Monemvassia and Mandilariá, the latter is found too on Crete. Rhodes also makes a lot of white wine – mainly from Athiri.

The jewel in the Aegean – wine wise – is Santorini with a great white grape: Assyrtiko. The grape is capable of big wines and some great examples are available in this country. One can also get a Vinsanto, made (in the same way as Italian Vinsanto) from a blend of which Assyrtiko must be the majority.

Finally we come to Crete, where several rare varieties are planted in the vineyards, often at some altitude. As well as Mandilariá there are reds from Kotsifali, and distinctive whites from Plyto, Dafni, Vidiano and Vilana. In Crete they also made a sweet wine, from sun-dried grapes of all these four varieties, called Malvasia (no relation to the Italian Grape of that name) which was highly prized in the 13th to the 17th Centuries. Modern “revivals” are now coming to market – we will try the most highly decorated.

Over to the West of the Mediterranean we are looking at the wines of Mallorca. Here there are 3 grapes unique to the island: reds Manto Negro and Callet and the white Moll. In the most significant DO, Binissalem, these grapes have to be in the majority of any wine to earn the DO label, and are accordingly a majority of all the grapes planted.

Corsica grows many of the grapes common in Provence: Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Carignan, plus the white, Vermentino (sometimes called Rolle in France). The Corsican red grapes: Nielluccio and Sciacarello are actually Tuscan, the former is a Sangiovese clone, the latter is actually the Tuscan Mammolo, which is now dying out in its home – there is 6 times as much in Corsica.

Sardinia produces the most famous Vermintino along with Malvasia and Moscato and the little-known white varieties Nasco and Nuragus. On the red side the most prized wine is Cannonau a clone of the Spanish Garnacha, and hence Grenache, plus Girò (a grandparent of Callet) and Monica.

So Mallorca’s grapes are unique, some of Corsica’s come from Italy and some of Sardinia’s from Spain. Hmm… but, do these wines have anything in common? Is there such a thing as Mediterranean-ness?

We’ll see!

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