Islands in the sun
A great many Irish people have visited Lanzarote, but how many have tasted the island’s wines? It has a dark volcanic soil, with each vine planted in a scooped out hollow with a little wall of rocks to protect it from the wind. Yields are very low, costs are high, and the distance to the mainland means these wines are never going to be cheap. But there are plenty of tourists to buy the wine locally. And they really are worth trying.
The Benanti vines (see bottles below) are grown on the slopes of Mount Etna on the island of Sicily. The soils here are black too, rich in tufa, volcanic ash and potassium. Historically, the region was famous for its wine, although many vineyards had fallen into disuse until recently.
Pantelleria “the island of wind” is a small volcanic outcrop in the Mediterranean, halfway between Italy and Libya. Occupied by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, French and Spanish, more recently it has become the summer home of celebrities, including Giorgio Armani. The bush-trained Muscat vines, nestling in small hollows dug into the volcanic rock, are used to make a unique dessert wine. The wine is made from a blend of fresh and raisined grapes that have been dried in the sun.
Atlantis 2011, Santorini, Greece, 13%, €14.99The quirky but very attractive Atlantis 2011, made from the Assyrtiko grape, is very dry, with a crisp mineral acidity. The opposite of what you would expect from a sunny Mediterranean island but delicious nonetheless. Stockist: M&S
Bodegas Bermejo Malvasia Seco 2011, Lanzarote, 13%, €19.99This is light, fresh and crisp, with lemon zest, a faintly oily texture and minerals too. It improved as the evening went on; I may have served it too cold initially. Stockist: Black Pig, Donnybrook, blackpig.ie
Benanti Serra della Contessa 2003, Etna Rosso, 14%, €45This wine is now fully mature, with subtle aromas of milk chocolate, coffee and dark fruits that continue into the medium-bodied palate. Stockists: Red Island Wines Skerries; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock.
Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria, Donnafugata, 14.5%, €69.99Harmonious and perfectly balanced, this might be worth a splurge for all those desserts over Christmas. Stockists: thewineshop.ie, Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St; 64 Wine, Glasthule.