This trip to Sicily will bring us not to the main island, but to the archipelago of Isole Eolie, the Aeolian Islands, a group of seven small volcanic islands facing the northwestern part of Sicilia. They are Lipari, Salina, Vulcano, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi, and Panarea and they are a part of Messina province. Our two wines this month are from the islands of Lipari and Salina.
This archipelago is some sort of magical space, a place where mythological creatures inhabit the sea and the surrounding islands. The ancient Greeks who colonized Sicily created this imaginary world that was adopted subsequently by the Romans. The name Eolian comes from the demigod of winds, Eolus, who legend says inhabited these islands. Another god, Vulcan, (Hephaestus to the Greeks, the god of fire and blacksmithing) was also a legendary inhabitant, with one of the islands named after him.
The archipelago was formed about 260,000 years ago and there is evidence of a human presence there since 4,000 BC. Today the local population of the islands reaches about 15,500 residents, but that swells during the summer and can easily be triple that number. The clean sea, the landscape, and its historical unique beauties are a constant call and UNESCO has listed the Aeaolian Islands a World Heritage Site since 2000.
Before tourism became the main source of income, the Aeolian Islands inhabitants survived on small fishing activity and an archaic agriculture. The land available to be farmed is very limited, if not nonexistent, on almost all the islands other than Lipari and Salina. The soil is obviously volcanic but the lots worth cultivating are very sparse. The vines have always been the most successful farming activity. A vineyard can be planted on rocky terrain as long the roots can reach deep down for nutrients, and we know that some stressful conditions can help to generate amazing wines. Between the vineyards’ dry walls, where the caper grows wild, the Malvasia grape ripens slowly in the salty sea air and acquires an intensity that captures the sun, wind, and sea, and the Corinto Nero grape gets the color of the lava and the spiciness of the island herbs.
Originally from the island of Crete, Malvasia owes its name to the ancient port of Monemvasia, in the Peloponnese peninsula, from which Hellenic wines departed to travel the sea routes of the Mediterranean. Corinto Nero is a very ancient vine coming from the lands of the homonymous Greek city, Corinth.
These two varieties were introduced during the period of Hellenic colonization, finding the ideal conditions to express their qualities on the small volcanic islands.
Let your mind wander to search for your own island...
Elio Longobardi, Italian Wine Specialist
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits – Noe Valley
Castellaro Pomice Bianco 2017
Region: Lipari, Sicilia
About the Winery: The Aeolian Islands can fascinate every person at first sight. This is what happened to Stefania Frattolillo and Massimo Lentsch - two young entrepreneurs from Bergamo - when visiting the islands in 2005. They ended up at Piana del Castellaro, a plateau on the island of Lipari that rises 350 meters above sea level and has a dominating view of the other islands in the archipelago. Stefania and Massimo were guided by their love of the amazing island of Lipari and they wanted to create a real work of art. The Tenuta di Castellaro winery is a pure expression of the volcanic territory of the Aeolian Islands, of its magical and uncontaminated places that have hosted a dream transforming it into a unique reality. The 2,000 square meter winery, built on the Lipari Island, is in fact a monument dedicated to landscape, art, architecture, and technology - in full respect of nature, people, and traditions.
About the Winemaking: Malvasia delle Lipari 60%, Carricante 40%. From alberello vineyards (free standing “little tree”) planted on sandy volcanic soil, rich and fertile with microelements. Handpicked harvest. Direct pressing of grapes in pneumatic presses. No grape must clarification, only static settling at 16 °C, fermentation at about 20 °C in steel vats (Malvasia) and barrels (Carricante). Six months in barrels with lees stirring throughout. The wine is decanted repeatedly to obtain natural clarification and then bottled.
Tasting Notes: The pleasure of this wine starts from the sight: in the glass it shows a light, yellow gold with bright green reflections. The nose captures an array of herbaceous scents intertwined with citrus, mineral, and salty notes. The balance is perfect when tasting due to the aromatic structure of the Malvasia and the acidity of the Carricante that goes for a very long finish.
Tenuta di Castellaro
Price per bottle $33
Price per case $356.40
Suggested Food Pairing:
Any seafood dishes especially grilled swordfish steaks with olive oil, lemon juice and capers dressing; pesto all’isolana crudo (see recipe)
Caravaglio Nero du Munti 2020
Region: Salina, Sicilia
About the Winery: The Azienda Agricola Caravaglio Antonino is located on the island of Salina. Nino (Antonino) Caravaglio comes from a historical family of Salina, the central island of the archipelago. Due to the sudden death of his father, it was the determination and sacrifice of his mother that supported Nino through schooling at the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Catania. He inherited 2 hectares of vineyards and began his adventure in 1989 with the goal of developing the quality of the product. Today, the Azienda Agricola Caravaglio has about 20 hectares, divided into many parcels, some of which are on the other islands of the Aeolian archipelago as well. Nino manages the entire supply chain, from production to sale of the bottled wine, with insights that have opened to innovative ways, without ever betraying history and traditions. Caravaglio’s other important production are capers. Those we know as capers are the flower buds of the caper plant. If you let the bud bloom, then it becomes a berry containing the seeds, called "cucuncio", which is also edible. After being harvested, the capers are salted to make them purge the bitterness. After a month from the harvest they are ready to be used. In salt, they can be stored for years.
About the Winemaking: The focus on local grape varieties, organic farming, and the choice not to add yeasts, rather have them fermented naturally are the three crucial components to obtain a territorial wine. That is, a wine that captures the essence of the land from which it comes. Nero du Munti is 100% Corinto Nero harvested form the vineyards on the island of Lipari, and which are located in an old crater called Fossa del Monte (pit of the mountain). These plants survived the phylloxera attack thanks to the composition of the soil in the crater, which contains ash, sand, and pumice. This wine ages partly in oak barrels and partly in steel tanks for about one year.
Tasting Notes: Light red garnet with a slight brick hue in the glass. Pomegranate, eggplant skin, carob chips, and an earthy baked clay note on the nose. The palate gets more mineral richness than fruit mostly due to the sandy volcanic soil where the vines are growing. The finish is clean and the tannins not intrusive. This wine can handle a wide range of food preparations.
Price per bottle: $25
Price per case: $270
Suggested Food Pairing:
Baked eggplants suffed with cheese, breadcrumbs, mortadella and eggs;
spaghetti alla strombolana; grilled meat
Seafood is what mostly you expect when you are here but sometime a simple plate of spaghetti is what you need. Simple but not obvious because the quality of the ingredients is what makes a successful meal.
INGREDIENTS (serving 4)
- 16 oz spaghetti
- 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 10 green pitted Castelvetrano olives
- 4 Tbsp. capers in salt rinsed and squeezed
- 3.5 oz tuna in olive oil
- 1 tsp dry oregano
- 1 tsp crushed chili pepper (optional)
- Bring water to boil in a large pot
- On a cutting board finely chop capers, olives and tuna
- Transfer your “pesto crudo” in a bowl, add the oil to get a creamy sauce
- When the water is boiling add just a pinch of salt and drop in the spaghetti
- When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and transfer into a serving bowl
- Pour the condiment over the spaghetti and toss coating the sauce evenly
- Place the spaghetti in pasta bowls, sprinkling with oregano, chili pepper, if you like, and a drizzle of more olive oil if need it.