Five go to caper island: Celebrating Malvasia in the Aeolian Islands, off the coast of Sicily
Five go to Caper Island! We fly into Catania (Sicily) and drive past Mount Etna to the port of Melazza. A €20 Euro high speed ferry (Liberty Lines https://eng.libertylines.it/) takes us to the island of Salina. The only seat left for me is next to a couple with a dog: they think this is an inconvenience to me, but the dog is welcome company for the 90 minute ride.
Salina is one of the Aeolian islands, and it is famous for its Capers. We’re here for something different, though: Malvasia.
We are staying at Capofaro, the estate owned by the Tasca d’Almerita family, which has 27 luxury rooms, amid 4.5 hectares of vines. This is a spectacular place to stay. My room is under the lighthouse, so it’s easy to find at night. It’s understated, elegant luxury. Beautifully done.
Aperitivo time. We head to the pool and restaurant area, where we sip Malvasia watching the sun begin its decline. In the distance, we can see Stromboli, a small island with an active volcano. Two weeks after this trip, it erupts, killing a tourist and scaring the residents.
The next day I walk through the vines. One of the blocks here is known as the ‘Anfiteatro’ vineyard, and it’s beautiful.
Malvasia’s glory years were in the early 19th century when the strait of Messina became a frontier. British soldiers were stationed there, prepared to face down Napoleon, and started developing an appreciation for the Malvasia wines from the Aeolian islands, particularly Lipari and Salina. Soon, this wine was being exported to England by sea. The families in Salina built bigger boats and planted more vineyards. Its economy flourished and more vineyards were planted.
Malvasia was also important in Las Canarias (the Canary Islands, not far from the coast of West Africa). Here, from the 16th century onwards it was the key component in sweet, and potentially fortified wines that were shipped widely. These were referred to in Shakespeare, even.
But then the fortunes of the Aeolian Islands’ wine industry were shattered with the arrival of phylloxera, which destroyed 90% of the vineyards and causing half the population to leave. Production resumed on a much smaller scale in the 1930s. The new wines made were called Mavasia di Lipari, with the island names of Lipari, Salina and Vulcano added.
Malvasia is still a small story. There are just 120 hectares of vines in the Aeolian islands, most planted in tiny vineyards. Salina has 70 hectares, but the whole island used to be covered in terraced vineyards, most of which have been abandoned.
Hence Malvasia Day. This was a chance to gather to discuss, and taste – looking at examples of Malvasia from around the Aeolian islands. We also managed a few producer visits, including D’Amico, Fenech and Virgonia. We took a boat tour round the island, and swam in the sea. And then we came and tasted.
These are my Malvasia notes:
Tenuta Capofaro Didyme Malvasia 2018 Salina, Italy
Didyme is the old name of the island. This is a bright, fruit-driven wine with nice grape and citrus aromatics with nice depth on the palate. Quite fruity but with a distinct salinity. Lovely texture and balance here, with a hint of olive and herb. 91/100
Tenuta Capofaro Malvasia delle Lipari Passito 2018 Salina
Rich, vivid and intense with pure sweet grape and spice notes with some subtle raisiny richness. Aromatic and fruity with great intensity. Lovely depth with real purity and sweetness. 92/100
Caravaglio Intratata 2018 Malvasia Salina, Italy
Stainless steel. Very pure with saline hints and rounded pear and white peach fruit, with a briney freshness. Such lovely fruit intensity here: really pure, compact, dry and fresh. 92/100
Tenute di Castellero 2018 Sicily, Italy
This is 60% Malvasia and 40% Catarrato. Nutty, intense and savoury with some stony notes. Very expressive with wax and herbs. Nicely savoury with some salty hints. Nice precision. 92/100
D’Amico Léne Malvasia Salina 2018 Sicily, Italy
This is a collaboration between owner Antonio D’Amico and Salvo Foti, who helps make the wine. 100% Malvasia. Fermented in stainless steel then goes to Acacia barrels. Complex, textural and nutty. Distinctive, with lovely richness and some smoky minerality. Very fine and saline with lovely richness. 94/100
D’Amico Léne Malvasia Salina 2017 Sicily, Italy
Two days skin contact. Smoky, mineral nose with nice texture and weight. Smoky and grapey with some reduction and a mineral streak. Very rich and intense. 93/100
Hauner Iancura 2018 Sicily, Italy
90% Malvasia and 10% Inzolia. This is bold and rich with sweetly textured grape, citrus, pear and peach. Rounded texture with nice smokiness. Floral and grapey with a twist of fennel. 90/100
Hauner Malvasia delle Lipari Passito 2017 Salina
95% Malvasia and 5% Corinto Nero. Powerful with nice density to the grape, herb, raisin and honey notes on the palate. Great concentration with a lovely spicy finish. 92/100
Hauner Seleccione Malvasia delle Lipari Passito 2015 Salina
Harvested at the end of September and dried for four weeks, vinified in oak. Very rich with lovely bold, mellow, raisiny fruit. Concentrated spicy pear and peach and apricot fruit, with some nutty complexity. 94/100
Fenech Madelena Malvasia Salini 2018 Sicily, Italy
Floral and aromatic with grapes, herbs and some hoppy notes. The palate is fresh and linear with herb-tinged citrus fruit. A lovely fruity style. 89/100
San Bartolo Isola Malvasia Bianco Secco 2016 IGT Terre Siciliane
This is an unorthodox but lovely wine from a vineyard in a volcanic crater. Wild yeast ferment and unfiltered, with no temperature control. 2 days on skins. Very aromatic with apples, pears and spice. Nutty with a touch of wax and herb. Very textural and distinctive. 93/100
Colosi Salina Bianco 2018 IGT Terre Siciliane
This is a blend. Fruity and expressive with sweet fruit and nice lemon, grape and spice notes. 88/100
Colosi Secca del Cappo 2018 IGT Terre Siciliane
This is 100% Malvasia. Very rich and grapey with nice spiciness. Has lovely texture and a sweet fruit profile. Nice depth here. 89/100
Caravaglio Occhio di Terra 2018 IGT Salina
This spends 10 days on skins, and is 100% Malvasia. Powerful with nice spicy citrus, pear and melon notes as well as a structured palate. Real finesse and depth here. 91/100
Caravaglio Non Dos Vigna in Alto 2017 Salina
3 months on skins in amphora. Malvasia. Yellow/orange colour. Powerful with tangy marmalade and spicy notes. Very expressive with a grainy structure and nice intensity and depth. Amazing wine. 92/100
Caravaglio Ancestrale Vino I 2016 Salina
This is a collaboration with another producer, and it is a natural wine that spends 2 months on skins in amphorae. Deep yellow colour with a hint of brown. Powerful, spicy and grippy with nice depth and notes of honey and spice. Has rich pear skin and white peach notes. Good depth and structure. 93/100
Caravaglio Malvasia delle Lipari Passito 2018 Salina
Very aromatic. Grapey, with lovely richness and a spicy framing to the grape and peach fruit. Crisp finish: a lovely sweet wine. 92/100
Virgona Salina Bianco 2018 Salina
90% Malvasia. Has a nutty, appley edge to the nose with some citrus and pear fruit, and a hint of fennel. 86/100
Punta Aria Malvasia 2018 Salina
Dry with a nice line of acidity, and a spicy edge to the pear and citrus fruit. Lovely freshness. Quite taut. 90/100
Punta Aria Malvasia delle Lipari Passito 2014 Salina
Concentrated, rich and honeyed with a strong marmalade edge to the fruit. Nice savoury framing here. 92/100
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