Island wines: a tasting exploring some stunning low-intervention bottles from Tenerife, Porto Santo, Sicily, Kefalonia, Santorini and Mallorca

What is it about island wines that sets them apart? I know this is a vague question, because islands differ quite markedly, but it was a nice thread to bring together a tasting – and this was the debut Goode Wine School event at the Sourcing Table shop and bar in Peckham.

There are some very distinctive wines that come from islands, as we discovered. There are the Canary Islands, Madeira, the Açores, the various Greek islands, Sicily – to name just a few. Often trade has been important in their development as wine regions – they are on important shipping routes. And there has been a degree of isolation, that has kept them with their own grape varieties, and in some cases with ungrafted old vines. Being near sea brings climatic influences, moderating what otherwise might be hot climates. It also brings humidity, which can be good and bad. And then many of these islands were formed from volcanic activity, which brings modified soil types and also the potential for using altitude to escape from heat.

Here are my notes on the wines we tasted.   

Envinate Benje Blanco 2021 Ycoden-Daule-Isora, Tenerife, Spain
This is Listán Blanco (Palomino) from NW facing volcanic slopes in Santiage del Teiede, at 1000 m. The climate is Atlantic-influenced with 550 mm of rain, and this is fermented in concrete with 25% skin contact (14-40 days). Ageing is 60% concrete and 40% old barrels, with no sulfites but a bit of bentonite fining. Intense mineral nose, showing stony, smoky citrus fruit with a lovely nerviness. Taut, mineral, focused palate with great precision. High acidity, stony and taut. 94/100

Suertes del Marques Trenzado 2021 Oratova Valley, Tenerife, Spain
Mainly Listán Blanco with a range of other grapes in the blend, such as Marmajuelo, Baboso Blanco, Viajariego Blanco and Verdelho. From 300-700 m, volcanic soils, six plots of 100 year old vines in cordon trenzado. Matured in used 500 litre barrels and foudres. Wild yeast, no fining, no filtration. Some richness here. It’s mineral, spicy and has a touch of matchstick, with good acidity and lovely tension to the ripe pear fruit, with a spicy undercurrent. 94/100

Sarris Winery Robola of Kefalonia 2021 Greece
Panos Sarris makes this wine from 60 year old own-rooted vines on the slopes of Mt Enos at 450-750 m. Kefalonia is one of the Ionian islands west of mainland Greece, and this site has some cooling sea breezes. Stainless steel ferment. Taut and fine with a hint of mint, showing spices and a touch of apricot. Lovely citrus core with real character. Pure, intriguing and expressive. 93/100

Vassaltis Santorini Assyrtiko 2021 Greece
Owner Yannis Valambous left his London career in 2012 and returned to his family property. He built a new winery there in 2016 and works with winemakers Elias Roussakis and Yannis Papaeconomou. Soils are low in organic material, and consist of volcanic ash, pumice stone and basal. Mediterranean climate with dry hot summers, with winds from the north throughout the growing season. Own-rooted vines. Mix of whole bunch and destemmed fruit pressed to stainless steel, and spends 7 months on lees. Textured and lively with lovely berry fruits. There is some pear and ripe apple here with a citrus core. Pure with nice depth, and quite expressive. 93/100

António Macanita Caracol dol Prefetas 2021 Porto Santo, Portugal
Caracol is the grape variety here, grown on Porto Santo island then shipped to next door Madeira for vinification. Clay/limestone soils at 50 m altitude, 40-80 year old vines trained low because of winds, fermented in stainless steel. Taut and saline with lovely precision, showing some mineral notes. Tight citrus fruit on the palate with a touch of apple, showing fine spiciness and good acidity. Some salinity too. Amazing tension here. 95/100

Eduardo Torres Acosta Versante Nord Rosso 2019 Sicily, Italy
From 550-770 m, this is 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% other native varieties, with some white varieties interplanted with the reds, vine age 45-50. Two parcels on the cooler north-facing slopes of Mount Etna. 10% whole bunch with 16 months in 2500 litre botti. Fine, supple and elegant. Textured and silky, this lighter-style red is fresh and mineral with cherry fruit and massive drinkability. Lovely purity here. 95/100

COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2020 Sicily, Italy
This is the only DOCG in Italy, and this wine is a blend of 60 Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato. Biodynamic farming, red sandy soils with some limestone. 25 year old vines, wild ferment in Slavonian botti. Vibrant and focused with spicy fruit and a savoury dimension to the cherry and raspberry fruit, with nice spicy hints. Good grip, with freshness and purpose, firm tannins and good acidity. 94/100

4 Kilos 12 Volts 2020 Mallorca, Spain
From calcareous soils on the north and south of the island, with 450 mm rainfall. Organic farming. A blend of Callet, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Fogoneu and Merlot. Aged in foudres and small oak (new and one year old). Supple but with some stuffing. Has a sense of elegance to the sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit with a bit of grip. Chalky hints, and nice flesh and presence, showing some brightness. 94/100

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