Last week I was in the south of Italy tasting the wines of Ischia, in the Bay of Naples. I imagine that nearly everyone who reads www.thewineplace.es/wineblog has been to Rome or Naples but not to Ischia. Old friends from Australia had suggested that we meet there as they were travelling in Europe and planning a trip there to relax, while at the same time discover a new place.
Less than hour by hydrofoil from Naples, its lush green, volcanic interior, thermal springs and hundreds of small coves, only accessible by sea or down steep, craggy paths, more suited for mountain goats, make it an ideal place to spend a couple of days. Getting around is easy enough as island taxis are plentiful or by using the local island bus service, which has two main routes AC or DC, clockwise around the island or counter clockwise, with a couple of routes through the middle. The highlight and ‘must see’ is the Castello Aragonese.
The first fortress was built around 500 B.C. Over the centuries it has been invaded, destroyed, rebuilt, each time adding something new. Stunning views all around and endless stories and legends; notably the Nuns’ cemetery and how the castle protected the islands inhabitants following volcanoes, earthquakes and invaders attacks. The castle has a small antiquated winery, with views of terraced vineyards grown on the steep south east facing slopes. There is even a very cool boutique hotel, formerly a convent, where I plan to stay on my next visit.
Historically the island survived on agriculture and fishing. Each morning the fishermen come into the small harbours to sell the nights’ catch to waiting locals. At the same time farmers arrive into the town square with their produce. The fresh squid fried in olive oil was superb, I also loved the small tomatoes, local yellow plums and fleshy nectarines, so ripe and sweet.
Grapes have been grown on the island since it was discovered by the Greeks, the ancient Greeks not the ones currently trying to fend of economic Armageddon. During Roman times it was known as ‘Enaria’ meaning land of wine. The mild Mediterranean climate, the volcanic soil and the sea breeze provide for the production of good quality wines. Harvesting is done by hand in the steep, dramatic, vineyards. It is a slow, back breaking, costly process.
Ischia has its own indigenous grapes, Biancolella and Falanghina for white wine and Guarnaccia for reds. I tried several wines from the only six or seven small family owned wineries on the island. In general I was impressed, although you have to be careful when ordering ‘house wine’ in restaurants, they will serve wine from 20L demijohns which is seriously oxidised and undrinkable. It’s a pity.
I found the Casa D’Ambra Biancholella a very decent everyday white (the slightly more expensive white made from Falanghina was also good). Pale yellow, crisp, and fresh, lightly fruity and floral. It is a food wine and perfect with a plate of fresh pasta with cherry tomatoes, baby courgettes and fresh basil or a pasta with mussels and clams. Casa D’Ambra is the oldest winery on the island, since 1888. They are equipped with all the modern equipment needed to make attractive wines. Well worth trying.
Next week I will be in Ireland, where I will do my best to taste some craft beers. I would really like to bring in some craft beers for members. If you think that this is a good idea let me know.