Some of Europe’s most interesting wine regions are islands – environments and cultures preserved by a frame of sea. Whether planning a trip or a meal, get to know these five tempting island wine regions.
On the Greek island of Santorini, growers cultivate assyrtiko grape vines into low-to-the-ground basket shapes called koulara, a method designed to shelter the fruit from strong island wind and sun. This distinctive approach is based on the know-how of a region with thousands of years of wine-growing history. Volcanic eruptions are the source of this striking land as well as the vineyard terroir where grapes are moisturized from sea fog which rolls in at night, while a revitalizing wind called meltemia keeps the plants fresh and limits disease. The stunning beauty of Santorini attracts visitors from around the world, many of them unaware of efforts to balance small-scale family winemaking with the economics of a growing tourism environment. Consider visiting Santorini not only for the poolside views and white-glove service, but also to understand the native ways of one of the oldest wine-making civilizations in the world.
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Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, fascinates visitors with vineyards planted in the shadow of one of Earth’s most active volcanoes, Mt. Etna. With 600 coastline miles, Sicily brings the views and a 3,000 year-old island winemaking culture, dating back to the Greeks. Native varieties such as grillo and nero d’avola are flagships. With an eye toward authenticity, many growers are reaching back in time, populating vineyards with ancient grapes such as catarratto, inzolia and frappato rather than international varieties that had previously watered down the fidelity of Sicilian wine. Rich travel experiences, such as UNESCO sites, natural spaces and outdoor adventures round out a wine-tasting trip.
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Corsica, a French island with nine wine-growing appellations, bears a Mediterranean atmosphere with a continental climate – mountain snow in the winter and sultry heat in the summer. The island is earthly in so many ways, comprised of various soils including limestone, clay, volcanic, sandstone and granite. Wind carves the setting as the fabled Mistral blows from the north and the Sirocco builds steam from the south. Vermentinu (also known as vermentino or rolle) and nielluccio are the primary grapes here, with the Phoenicians credited for cultivation of vermentinu in antiquity. Similar to garrigue components found in the south of mainland France, here terroir is peppered with maquis, an herbal mashup that delivers aromatics to the wine. The bottom line on Corsica is that there is no bottom line, rather an undulating wave of influences that makes this island utterly unique.
Hvar is a Croatian island off the Dalmatian Coast and an ancient port in the Adriatic Sea. Hilltop villages anchor the wine-growing region, with vineyards stapled to surrounding hills and valleys. The ancient Greeks led the winemaking way and now the island is stitched with low stone walls and terraces delineating various growing regions. Bogdanusa, which translates to ‘gift from God’, is a grape native to the island, and plavac mali, a Dalmatian relative of Zinfandel, thrives here in some of the variety’s oldest plantings. Popular with tourists seeking sunny beaches and a vibrant boat scene, the island’s vineyards are a peaceful respite and some wineries offer accommodation and restaurants.
Lanzarote is a Canary Island located 80 miles off the west coast of Morocco. After a devastating volcanic eruption in the 1700s caused inhabitants to rethink farming methods, they turned to wine grapes. Volcanic soil doesn’t hold water well and summers on this island are nearly devoid of rainfall. Malvasía volcánica is the hometown variety and black soil vineyards are a series of hollowed out nooks which are horseshoed by a shelter of stone bricks. One after the next, these widely spaced vines look like fish scales systematically sliding along the landscape. Many cultures have influenced this island, and Spanish and South American flavors enrich the simple, fresh dishes that make visiting the Canary Islands a gastronomic wine-pairing treat.