Our Picks: Freshness from the South and Islands
In the final week of our Italy Summer Tour, we travel to southern Italy and the islands. Despite the hot and dry Mediterranean climate, winemakers can produce wines with great freshness and finesse thanks to the moderating influence of the altitude and proximity to the sea. Here we select seven refreshing wines from Campania, Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia that make for perfect summer drinking.
Lying inland from Naples and known as the ‘Switzerland of the South’, the Irpinian hills of Campania are now one of Italy’s most exciting wine producing areas. The vineyards are situated between 450 and 700 metres above sea level and benefit from a constant cool breeze that blows off the Bay of Naples. Over the centuries, this same breeze has blown volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius inland, giving poor, volcanic soils rich in minerals and trace elements. In turn, the wines are fresh, mineral and perfumed with great depth of flavour. ‘Vesevo’ is the historic name for Vesuvius and the Vesevo range from Farnese is a homage to this volcanic land.
Vesevo, Beneventano Falanghina 2020
Vesevo’s Falanghina (an ancient local white grape variety) is sourced from cooler sites in Benevento. Low temperature fermentation has retained the pure, crisp and aromatic quality of this elegant wine while lees stirring enhances its body and intense fruit flavours. Delicate perfumes of white flowers and white melon with mineral notes complement the full, ripe palate and lift the finish.
Winemaker Mark Shannon and his partner Elvezia Sbalchiero fell in love with Puglia when they visited to see the region’s very old Primitivo vines, making it their home when they established their own label A Mano (‘by hand’). Over more than 18 vintages they have succeeded in making Primitivo one of Italy’s most talked about grape varieties. They pay high prices for Salento’s best grapes, sourced from 70-to 100-year-old vines, and focus solely on quality and a modern style. Primitivo may be associated with generous and full-bodied reds, but in talented Mark Shannon’s hands, it also produces a characterful rosé.
A Mano, Primitivo Rosato 2020
This moreish Primitivo Rosato is sourced from the Lizzano area of Puglia, where the sandy vineyards are high up on the hillside, dry-farmed and over 30 years old. These vineyards are ideally suited to rosato production as they yield colour and full flavour at lower ripeness and crisp acidity, which is not typical of Puglia. The winemaking is meticulous: skin contact after crushing is measured in seconds, not hours, and fermentation is carried out at low temperatures to maintain freshness and the delicate perfume of the variety. The result is a perfectly balanced rosé with lively, youthful aromas of ripe strawberries and a touch of fresh mint, surprisingly full-bodied on the palate, with a zesty, lightly spiced finish.
From the white Grillo to the red Nerello Mascalese and Frappato, and from the volcanic slopes of Etna to the fortified Marsala, the island of Sicily offers a rich diversity of indigenous varieties, distinctive sites and wine styles to discover, which is second to none in Italy.
Terrazze dell'Etna, `Carusu` Etna Rosso 2015
The volcanic slopes of Etna are among the most unique sites in Italy and home to some of the highest vineyards in Europe, up to 1,000 metres above sea level. The warm days and cool nights combined with the low vigour soils give wines of great intensity and elegance from low-yielding vines. Terrazze dell’Etna takes its name from the ‘terrazze’, or terraces, on which the vines are grown, lying at 600-900 metres on the northern slopes of Etna in the municipality of Randazzo.
Their Etna Rosso `Carusu` (‘boy’ in Sicilian dialect), a blend of the indigenous Nerello Mascalese (80%) and Nerello Cappuccio (20%), is sourced from the younger vineyards and spends six months in used 500 litre barrels and two years in bottle prior to release. Elegant on the nose, with aromas of ripe red fruit and spice, the wine is vibrant and mineral with soft tannins and a lifted refreshing acidity.
Donnafugata, ‘Floramundi’ Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2018
Sicily’s only DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, is located near the town of the same name towards the south-eastern point of the island. Frappato – one of the most ancient Sicilian grape varieties – thrives in the warm and dry climate, mitigated by sea breezes, that is found here. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a classic blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, the latter lending fragrance and floral notes to the former’s structure and fine tannins.
The Rallo family has made wine in Marsala since 1851 and were one of the first families to begin making high-quality table wine. They launched their Donnafugata label in 1983, championing the potential of the region’s native varieties, and fusing Sicilian tradition with a modern approach. Sourced from 36 hectares of vineyard in Acate, their unoaked `Floramundi` Cerasuolo di Vittoria is elegant and intensely fruity, with notes of black cherry, blueberry, violet and characteristic black pepper spice, supported by a refreshing acidity and fine, well-integrated tannins.
Curatolo Arini, Marsala Vergine Riserva 1995
Marsala, a historical site for wine production in Sicily, is home to Curatolo Arini. Established in 1875 by Vito Curatolo Arini, the winery is now run by the fifth generation of the Curatolo family, making it the oldest family-owned Marsala producer. Their Marsalas are still made in the traditional way and make a great alternative to Sherry.
The dry Marsala Vergine Riserva is made from 100% Grillo from the coastal area of Marsala and is produced only in the best vintages. The special microclimate created by the cooling maritime breezes allows grapes to reach full ripeness with high levels of sugar but with balancing acidity, which gives the wine its typical elegance and richness. Aged in small oak barrels for almost 25 years, this must-try wine is extraordinarily complex, with aromas of tobacco, coconut, toast, preserved apricot, vanilla, honey and liquorice and a subtle salinity on the long finish.
We finish our tour on the island of Sardinia. Vermentino is the most widely grown white grape variety here, producing wines that range from young and fresh to the more complex in style. Cannonau, which is the Sardinian name for Grenache, is the most planted red variety and can produce elegant wines as well as full-bodied and concentrated examples.
Antonella Corda, Cannonau di Sardegna 2019
Antonella Corda, the granddaughter of the famed viticulturalist Antonio Argiolas, founded her winery in 2010. Antonella’s approach blends a proud, century-old family tradition of winemaking with ambition and innovation. She follows a sustainable approach and her two prized vineyards, located around the village of Serdiana, a few kilometres north of Cagliari, are farmed organically.
The Cannonau comes from the Mitza S‘Ollastu vineyard where the soils (a mix of clay, loam, sand and pebbles) and the mild climate ensure the perfect balance that gives the wine its decisive character. Thanks to the very light use of oak, Antonella has created an elegant wine with typical Cannonau characters, very delicate tannins and a spicy hint of white pepper on the finish.
Antichi Poderi Jerzu, `Telavè` Vermentino di Sardegna 2019
Antichi Poderi Jerzu is a co-operative founded in 1950 with the aim of making premium quality wines from Sardinia and based in the remote and untouched village of Jerzu in the historical Ogliastra region on the east coast of the island. Their 650 hectares of vineyards lie on prime hillside areas stretching from the Gennargentu mountains in the heart of the island to the coast. The grapes grown here are renowned for their flavour intensity.
The `Telavè` Vermentino is a young and fresh expression of this classic Sardinian variety, which thrives on the granite soils at 50-100 metres above sea level. The moderating effect of the sea creates the ideal conditions for slowing the grape ripening process, resulting in higher acidity levels and flavour concentration at harvest. The wine is perfumed and lifted, with aromas of fresh citrus fruit and hints of fennel, complemented by a refreshing acidity.