If you can’t go to an island, you might as well drink from an island. Whether it’s a blender full of Margaritas or a tall glass of assyrtiko from Santorini, this is the line of thinking we’ve become accustomed to out here in the belly of Brooklyn. There’s also that oft-quoted adage about “what grows together goes together”—why not extend it to cover wines perpetually bathed in the blaze of the Mediterranean sun, always merely a bike ride away from the nearest patch of coastline? These are wines born of sunshine, meant to be consumed with sunshine.
From the limestone slopes of Mount Aenos on the Greek island of Cephalonia to the black volcanic soils of Santorini to the granite plateau of Reginu on Corsica, there are boatloads of island wines that are among the wine world’s most unique and compelling. These are also places where value is as abundant as sun.
So for this month’s installment of “House Wine,” we selected a mix of wines in varying styles from islands in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian, Aegean and Ionian Seas. We brought in 12 bottles under $25 to taste blind, all chosen because they represented well on paper (more about our process via our inaugural column). In what was our most successful tasting to date, we ended up with a varied range of eight wines we’d be thrilled to throw back any day of the week.
For the tasting we were joined by Jon Bonné, PUNCH’s senior contributing editor and the author of The New California Wine; Ashley Santoro, wine director at Narcissa; and PUNCH’s New York wine columnist, Zachary Sussman. To the wines, which are roughly arranged lightest to fullest:
Maestracci ‘E Prove’ 2013 | $20
When we think of white wines from the Mediterranean, this is precisely the kind of wine we think of. Born from 25-year-old vermentino vines—vermentinu, in local dialect—on the granite plateau of Reginu in northwestern Corsica, this is all orange blossoms, minerals and high acid with that lightly bitter bite characteristic of the grape. Maestracci is the standard bearer of great wine from this part of the universe, and this is exactly why. [Buy] Importer: Kermit Lynch
Hatzidakis Assyrtiko 2014 | $22
Hatzidakis makes some of the most recognizable wines in Santorini. A tad richer thanks to prolonged lees aging and more rustic than many of his counterparts, the wines have become a beloved fixture on U.S. wine lists over the past few years. This entry-level assyrtiko, sourced from organic vineyards, is a great intro to the Hatzidakis style, balancing a creaminess with the trademark ashy minerality that tastes like the incarnation of Santorini’s black volcanic soils. [Buy] Importer: Frederick Wildman & Sons
Sklavos Tsaousi 2013 | $21
One of the most surprising wines in the tasting, this 100-percent tsaousi tasted like a Jura white that parachuted onto a Ionian cliffside. Clearly having undergone a period of time aging under flor, it showed a yeasty, savory slightly oxidized note combined with crisp acidity. One of our favorites of the tasting. [Buy] Importer: Dionysi Grevenitis | T. Elenteny
Frank Cornelissen “Susucaru” Rosato 2014 | $24
Etna naturalist Frank Cornelissen’s Susucaru rosato has found its way onto more wine lists this summer than ever before, and rightfully so. The perfect balance of savory and fruity (with plenty of grip courtesy of the addition of Etna’s most hardcore red grape, nerello mascalese), it repackages all of the seriousness and intensity of Etna’s volcanic wines into a light, eminently drinkable package. [Buy] Importer: Rovine/Chearno Selections
Tami Frappato 2013 | $21
The side project (along with a few friends) from the queen of Sicilian wine, Arianna Occhipinti, this frappato from organically farmed vineyards in Sicily’s Vittoria region has become so popular among sommeliers and retailers that it now sells in allocations. Herbal and fruity without sacrificing structure, this is about everything you could want in a house wine. It’s also great with a slight chill. [Buy] Importer: Louis/Dressner Selections
Romeo del Castello Etna Rosso “Allegracore” 2013 | $24
Sourced from a vineyard that lost half of its vines in the 1981 eruption of Etna and fermented in open-top wood vats using native yeasts and minimal sulfur, this bottling offers a slightly more nuanced and subtle take than the Benanti. Savory with an ashy edge and plenty of lean cherry fruit, this just about the best introduction to traditional Etna reds you can find at this price. [Buy] Importer: Loouis/Dressner Selections
Benanti Etna Rosso “Rossodiverzella” 2013 | $20
Another great introduction to the red wines of Etna from one of the pioneers of winemaking on this very active volcano. A blend of Etna’s two red grapes, nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio, sourced from 40-year-old vines on Etna’s north side, this shows the notes of black cherry and tar that often evoke comparisons between the reds of Etna and Barolo. [Buy] Importer: Tradizione Imports
Sigalas Santorini Mavrotragano-Mandilaria 2012 | $24
While the whites of Santorini get exponentially more love than the reds, they are not to be overlooked. One of the best producers on the island, Sigalas, shows just how lovable the combination of the islands two main red grapes, mavrotragano and mandilaria, can be. Full-bodied and generously fruity with a brambly, licorice-tinged edge, balanced out by generous acidity. Perfect with a slight chill, this is big enough to go toe-to-toe with BBQ, but brisk enough to consume on its own. [Buy] Importer: Diamond Importers