Island Cooking

Island Time, Island Wines

• by Carri Wroblewski | BRIX Wine Shop

The other day Mike, the “wine guy” from Nantucket Vineyards, got me thinking. He popped by with a selection of wines. It’s been years since I’ve tasted them. Not knowing what to expect or not expecting much, he poured me a glass. His hand covered the label – “I have a surprise wine for you to try,” he said. Before he came to see me that afternoon I told him I would be happy to try the wines under one condition—no fruit wines.

I took my first sip of his “mysterious” pour.

The wine danced on my tongue with a hint of effervescence. The perfect amount of fruit gave way to a tart, dry finish. It was delicious. I looked up from my glass of almost rosé-like wine and he could tell that I liked it. He removed his hand from the front of the bottle and the first word that jumped from the label was…Cranberry. Yes, a fruit wine, sort of. The Nantucket Vineyards Cranberry is made with a base of Pinot Gris grapes from Washington State. The grape bunches arrive on island whole cluster and the winemaking process begins. After fermentation is underway, 1,000 pounds of local, hand-harvested Nantucket cranberries are added to the mix. And the result is a tasty one. Its fun, bright pink label and crown cap closure make it a great beach beverage or the perfect porch pour for the summer. Preconceived notions of wine made on Nantucket? Toss them overboard. They deserve a second sip.

Mike’s tasting got me thinking about other islands that produce wine. One of my favorite island winemaking destinations is Sicily. Formerly known for unmemorable, over-produced, cheap wines, Sicily has taken center stage as a winemaking region to watch. The reds now lean to the lighter side while the whites have become fresh and energetic, thanks to the Carricante grape. Some of the most notable producers include Planeta, Tenuta della Terre Nere, and Arianna Occhipinti, but it’s Azienda Agricola COS who we can thank for the Sicilian wine renaissance.

In 1980 while waiting for their next university term to begin, three friends, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino Strano (COS), came up with a plan to pass their summer vacation. Little did they know that their “summer project” would change the face of the Sicilian wine industry.

Cilia’s father owned a small vineyard and a deserted cellar. While most young people were leaving the rural winemaking areas of Italy for work in factories, the trio set out to resurrect the local wine of Vittoria, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, which is made from two indigenous grape varieties, Nero d’Avola and Frappato. At that time there was only one other producer making the wine. After their first vintage people started to take note and encouraged them to continue with the project while they finished university. By the middle of 90’s there were 40 producers making Cerasuolo di Vittoria. The growth and success of the region are due in part to the entrepreneurial efforts of the three friends who founded COS. Though they make several wines now, my go-to is still the wine that changed everything. The 2011 COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG is a blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato. It’s got vibrant red fruit aromatics that spill from the glass and is soft, fruity and medium-bodied on the palate. I love this wine with a slight chill; so don’t be afraid to put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving. It makes a great summer red!

I don’t think I can write an article about island wines and not include the drinkable gifts Greece gives us. One of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, there is evidence of Greek wine dating back 6,500 years. A favorite of mine is the 2012 Domaine Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko. Hailing from the island of Santorini, the Assyrtiko grape is an indigenous variety and has been grown since ancient times. Coming from vines that are over 50 years old, it has citrus aromatics and loads of mineral flavors that dominate the palate. This white would befriend almost anything from the sea, making it a natural match with local Nantucket fish.

The jet set who line the beaches of Sardinia are no stranger to the Vermentino grape. Gaining the nickname of “insula vini” (wine island) in the 16th century, Sardinia has the quintessential Mediterranean environment. Soaked with warm temperatures, a hilly landscape, and maritime breezes, it’s the perfect setting to grow grapes.

I’ve had the good fortune to taste various expressions of the Vermentino grape, but there is always one that I come back to. It is not the most expensive one, it’s probably not the most complex one, but it’s the one that I want to drink after a day at the beach, sand still between my toes, on a late sunny summer afternoon.

The 2012 Sella & Mosca ‘La Cala’ Vermentino is the hip sip at chic resorts that pepper Sardinia’s beaches. Named for a small cove covered by violet-colored thistles on the edge of the Sella & Mosca estate, this 100% Vermentino (also known as Rolle in other parts of the world) will quench any summertime thirst. Light, refreshing, and dry it has a hint of salinity due to the vineyard’s close proximity to the sea. Easy drinking this is an ideal wine to kick off any cocktail party, but once again, it goes hand in hand with seafood and other treats from the raw bar.

So when you’re on island time this summer, grab a glass of island wine, whether it is from near or far.

Articles by Date from 2012