I wanna take you to the island
by Lorna Rouse, United Wines Business Development Manager (ROI)
If you are in search of your next wine adventure, islands are where it’s at! Head off-shore for some slightly off-beat wines that are very much on-the-money. There is something about island living that lends itself to independent thinking and a gentler pace of life that is in true harmony with nature. Lofty as they may sound, these elements combined with the unique terroir of certain islands are the perfect recipe for wines of great quality, individuality and intrigue.
There are some stand-out examples of island territories amongst the New World nations producing superb wines – the Chardonnay, Pinot and sparkling wines of Tasmania, Pinot Noir from Canada’s Vancouver Island and the Bordeaux blends and Northern Rhône-style Syrah of New Zealand’s Waiheke Island. A look to the islands of the traditional Old World countries leads us to some of the most exciting and innovative areas in Europe. Also worth seeking out are wines from the islands where Portuguese and Spanish explorers made pit-stops en route to the New World such as Madeira and The Azores as well as the volcanic Canarian islands of Tenerife and Lanzarote.
Speaking of volcanoes, vineyards located in volcanic areas are amongst the hottest (ouch!) properties in today’s wine world. Volcanic soils are very porous and so the roots of the vines are forced to dig deep to seek out the great minerality that characterises these unique soils. The volcano’s slopes provide exposure to the sun, which is key for ripening, as well as altitude which keeps the grapes cool thereby maintaining their natural acidity.
The isolated nature of island life may be viewed as one its downsides; however when it comes to the health of the vineyards, geographic remoteness has enabled many island vineyards to avoid the devastating effects of diseases like phylloxera. Islands have an exemplary record in preserving indigenous grape varieties and old vines and for the most part, they have not jumped on the bandwagon with their cousins on the mainland in their rush to embrace the international varieties.
Sicily and the wines from the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in particular, are making serious waves in international wine circles, with Jancis Robinson pondering Etna’s status as ‘The Burgundy of the Mediterranean’. The picturesque island of Sardinia is nipping at Sicily’s heels as its wine industry begins to focus on making high quality wines from indigenous varieties including the lively, mineral-driven whites from the Vermentino grape and the gutsy and rustic reds from the Cannonau (a.k.a. Garnacha/Grenache) and Carignano (a.k.a. Cariñena/Carignan) varieties. Sardinia’s winemaking influences are rooted in these key red grapes which were said to have been left behind by the Spanish settlers that occupied the island from the end of the 13th century to the early 18th century.
While the Sardinian wine scene is prospering, its residents are living long. The island boasts the greatest concentration of centenarians in the world. Many of the islanders are said to attribute their longevity to the beneficial effects for the heart of Cannonau’s high levels of antioxidants. If you would like to test this theory for yourself, I would recommend you try Passo Sardo Cannonau di Sardegna from Vecchie Vigne (old vines). Some of the fruit is allowed to hang on the vine a little later than usual until it becomes slightly raisined. When these dried grapes are harvested, their sugars are concentrated which adds an extra sweetness to the wine. With its dense cherry fruit flavours, hints of wild herbs and luscious mouthfeel, Passo Sardo is the perfect accompaniment to chargrilled meats and summer barbecues.