Recent Wine Experiences – Mediterranean (and nearby) Island Wines
Sweetpea and I enjoy (gentle) hiking vacations, and we share this fondness with a small group of other likeminded hiker friends. I attempt to steer our selected destinations to places where grapes grow, and this has brought us, so far, to Sicily and the Greek islands. So when the theme for the latest gathering of Jim’s Disciples were wines of the Mediterranean and nearby islands, I was excited by the opportunity to explore some wines not heretofore tasted, and whose origins might provide the basis for future hiking destinations.
The group was also meeting at a new French BYOB restaurant, and we were not to be disappointed. While French food per se is not one of my favorites, it does provide a good palate for wine tasting. While we were all perusing the menu and catching up on Holiday Season news and gossip, I passed along two of the three white wines brought to the dinner and set to chill upon our arrival.
The 2005 Anthilia of Donna Fugata ($12) is a crisp, dry, white wine from Sicily. It had a hint of creaminess to accompany the mild fruit (peaches?) and herbal aromas. Two grapes indigenous to Sicily, ansonica and catarrato, go into its vinification. Other tasting notes described it as “bright”, “fresh”, “light” and “very pleasant”. A summertime quaffing wine, and priced right.
The second white was a 2006 Boutari ($17, but I’ve seen it advertised for less) from the Greek island of Santorini. Made from assyrtiko grapes, the wine was a bit more acidic and lemony than the first, but also more aromatic with some unidentified fruitiness (white peaches?), and someone also described it as “mineraly”. Of these two wines, the general immediate impression around the table was in favor of the Boutari, in contrast to the eventual vote taken, but I found them both to be pleasant and worthwhile in their stated price range.
The third white wine was a 2006 Baglio del Sole ($13) from Sicily made entirely from the local grape, inzolia. The nose was particularly pleasant, and this intensified as the wine warmed in the glass. But this wine bored me. Insipid is the word I had written on my tasting sheet. On another’s tasting sheet I saw the word “flat”. Yes, it was dry and clean and had a touch of gentle fruit, but compared to the first two wines it was taking up valuable docking space with my liver enzymes. Retasting each of the whites when my chicken dumplings arrived only confirmed my opinions. And I heard many of the same sentiments echoed around the table as the wines were paired with wild mushroom risotto or Caesar salad.
On to the red wines while we waited for our entrees to arrive. Wine number 4, our first red, was Triente Cannonau from 2005 produced by the Agricola PALA ($18) of Sardinia. It was made from cannonau grapes, which is said to be a Sardinian version of Grenache. The nose was essentially closed, and what few molecules escaped weren’t all that pleasing (gamey?). Taste-wise it had a pleasant combination of soft tannins and spicy fruit and was rather mouth filling. It certainly tasted better than it smelled. But it wasn’t a wine I was going to go out and buy, and I wouldn’t travel to Sardinia just to drink more at the winery.
Wine number 5 was another Sardinian entry. This was one of the most unusual smelling and tasting wines I’ve ever had, a 2003 REI Capo Ferrato ($18). From the southernmost region of that island, this wine too was made from the cannonau grape. On the nose the wine had a medicinal odor. I was reminded of Pertussin. Others at the table were reminded of camphor (but I think Vicks Vapor Rub is more pleasing) or mint. The taste wasn’t nearly as bad as the smell, but I couldn’t get past the odor which wafted up as I attempted to taste the wine. This may have been the worst wine I ever tasted that hadn’t turned. Thank goodness for the decanting vessel placed nearby. If we ever go to Sardinia I hope to find better wines than these two.
And as soon as I had concluded that thought along came wine number 6 from the isola Nuraghi off the Sardinian coast. The 2006 Argiolas Perdera ($13, but I’ve seen it advertised for less) is made from mainly (90%) local monica grapes and a bit of carignano and bovale sardo. It had a complicated nose and a pretty dark cherry color. The taste was thick, jammy, with assertive tannins and an overall nice flavor. One associates wines like this with the phrase “age worthy”. Considering that I’ve seen this wine advertised for about $10, its definitely worth trying some again.
Wine number 7 was the one I contributed to the mix. The 2004 Zlatan Plavac ($28) is from Hvar, an island in the Adriatic off the coast of Croatia. Had this been a smelling contest, rather than a wine tasting, this Dalmatian coast entry would surely win. It had a wonderful perfumed, aromatic nose. Made from the plavac mali grape, believed to be related to zinfandel, I found the wine to be full bodied but a touch too acidic. I’d like to think cellaring would help, since I’ve two more in that location, but I suspect the acid level is there to stay. Still, many found this wine to be pleasing. One tasting note described it as “sophisticated while still rustic”.
The remaining three red wines were all from Sicily. And they arrived just in time to share with my squab. Wine number 8 was a 2004 Cusumano Sagana ($28) made from nero d’avola grapes. A mild nose and a gentle taste with only a hint of sharpness. Dark berry fruit was the major taste sensation. But at least one other found the wine to be tight and constrained and a bit too tart. I liked this wine but I didn’t like its price.
Wine number 9 was a 2002 Planeta Syrah ($34). Like the previous wine, this one tasted heavily of dark berry fruit, even plums or raisins, with a hint of spiciness. It had a lively nose but the overall taste just wasn’t to my liking….just too baked. Other sentiments around the table included that it was a “big wine”, “very smooth” with “good flavor”.
Wine number 10 was a 2001 CUESO IGT ($34) for which I could not find any listing in the US. Too bad, because it was the number one wine of the evening, garnering 9 of 10 first place votes. It had a mild nose, with good complexity on the palate, and was just a well crafted wine. Tasting notes from the group characterized this wine as “chocolatey”, “dense”, “delicious”, and “rich”. The grapes used in its making were nero d’avola (50%), cabernet sauvignon (30%) and merlot (20%).
As mentioned, wine number 10 was the favorite of the evening, the second place winner was wine number 8, and occasional top three vote getters included wines 6, 9 and 1. For those on a limited budget, wine number 6 deserves your attention.
We finished up the evening with a dessert wine from Pantelleria, an island off the coast of Sicily, a 2002 Colosi Passito ($22, but perhaps more readily seen at about $32, for 500 ml). Made from the muscat or muscato grape, which is not typically the source of pleasing wines in my experience; I was intrigued by this wine. It’s a different kind of dessert wine from the usual I’ve come upon. It had a strange quality to the nose, perhaps it was a whiff of celery, and overall taste was pleasing due to a good balance of sweetness and acidity.
The evening accomplished its goal of introducing us to wines we’d never had before nor would likely have tried unless visiting the island in question. As one of our Disciples said, perhaps these wines would all have scored better had they been consumed while sitting in an outdoor café on a balmy day on their particular island of origin. Something to try.