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Drink a part of living history with these island wines

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I have always had a fascination with the island wines of the Mediterranean. From the Balearics, and Pantelleria to Santorini, most have been centre-stage to the rise and fall of the great empires. The wines often show a legacy of past rulers while somehow, in the busy Mediterranean, retaining a unique style all of the their own. Two of the biggest islands are Corsica and Sardinia.

Corsica is closer to the Italian mainland (85km) than to France, which lies 170km away. A mere 11kms separates it from Italian Sardinia, across the notoriously dangerous Strait of Bonifacio. While the two islands both produce wines from the Vermentino grape (known as Vermentinu in Corsica), in general the two countries produce wines that are quite different. 

The two most popular black grapes on Corsica are Nielluccio, a very close relative of the Tuscan Sangiovese grape, and Sciacarellu, known as Mammolo in Tuscany. There are some French varieties too, mostly brought in by immigrants fleeing Algeria in the early 1960s.

For years, I have made a beeline for any Corsican producer at every wine trade fair I attended. The wines were different and wonderful, full of new exciting flavours. Now the excellent wines of Yves Leccia below have arrived in Ireland. 

Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean, 300km west of the Italian mainland. Unlike Corsica, it has no Italian grape varieties. As it was ruled by the kingdom of Aragón for 400 years most of the grapes are of Spanish origin, including Bovale Sardo (possibly  Graciano), Carignano (Cariñena), and Cannonau (Garnacha). You are most likely to come across Cannonau and Vermentino. Sardinia has island-wide DO of Vermentino di Sardegna, as well as other more specific sub-regions. 

Producers love Vermentino because it retains acidity in warmer climates. The best wines have real depth, complexity and an ability to age. In cooler regions the wine are crisp and mineral with lemon peel and dried herbs, and in warmer climates they take on a power and richness with peach fruits. Or sometimes a lovely combination of the two.

Cannonau tends to be soft and gentle, with ripe strawberry fruits, and sometimes a little spice, perfect with stews and roasts. Corsican Nielluccio is distinctive, usually savoury and herbal with piquant fruits. The E Croce red featured here is amongst the finest I have ever tasted. 

The wines here are hardly mainstream, but I would urge you to go out and try them. While they may be expensive, you will be drinking part of a unique living history.

Bantu Cannonau di Sardinia 2017, Poderi Jerzu

13.5%, €20

A very seductive wine with soft sweet ripe strawberry and red cherry fruits, with a nicely rounded herby finish. Try it with grilled lamb with thyme and oregano. 

From: Barnhill Stores, Dalkey, barnhillstores.ie; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; Sweeneys, Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Wineonline.ie

Vermentino di Sardegna 2019 Antonella Corda

14%, €25.99

A very delicious, rich, full-bodied wine with lavish peach and apricot fruits tinged with herbal notes. Drink it with a roast organic chicken.

From: Redmonds, Dublin 6; redmonds.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Clontarf Wines, D3, Clontarfwines.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; elywinebar.ieWineonline.ie 

E Croce Patrimonio Blanc 2018, Yves Leccia, Corsica

13.5%, €38

Sophisticated clean pure elegant stone fruits with a very fine acidity and a lovely hint of honey. Lightly textured and full of flavour. Try it with pan-fried brill. 

From: 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.com; SIYPS.com.

E Croce Patrimonio Rouge 2016, Yves Leccia, Corsica

13.5%, €35

A wine of wonderful elegance, complexity and style; warm, ripe cooked red cherry fruits, so silky and smooth with well-integrated drying tannins on the lengthy finish. Roast duck or pork would be ideal with this.

From: 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.com; SIYPS.com.  


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