Monday 31 December 2012

Salina - Malvasia and so much more

Malvasia delle Lipari. You'd think it was mostly grown on the island of the same name. After all, Lipari is the largest and most densely populated of the Aeolian Islands (population nearly 12,000). You would be wrong. It's all grown on the second largest island, Salina (population 4,000). Why? Because Salina is the green island - the most verdant, fertile and above all, the best irrigated of the group.

So why call Malvasia from Salina Malvasia delle Lipari? Lipari is a generic term for the whole Isole Eoli group but even that is not the reason. After much searching we discovered that the reason Salina doesn't figure in the name of this wonderful and ancient sweet white wine is because historically, Salina was only sparsely populated and sometimes completely de-populated due to the depredations of pirates from the Barbary coast etc. So the grapes were grown on Salina but the wine was either made on or shipped to Lipari. QED.

There may have been vineyards on Lipari and there may still be some but evidence is scarce apart from one very interesting exception; a modern estate of about 8 hectares planted around 2005 called Tenuta di Castellare which we encountered at the 2012 Real Wine Fare in London and from whom we first heard the words Corinto Nero.

No, Salina's the place and to prove it here is a list of producers in the 27 sq. kilometer  island which by the way is composed mainly of 6 extinct volcanos;

Mimmo Paone
La Rosa
Tasca D'Almerita
Barone Villagrande

Even the largest of these, Barone Villagrande and Tasca D'Almerita are only 'critter producers' given the lack of space available but size doesn't preclude excellence. Some of the historic producers such as La Rosa win prizes as much as some others. Moreover, half the wine produced on the island is done by way of Agricoltura Biologico.

The modern era of Malvasia delle Lipari begins in 1973 when the DOC was awarded. Prior to that a leading Milanese designer, artist and architect Carlo Hauner had become enchanted with the relatively unknown island of Salina as so many have since  (including anyone who saw the film "Il Postino"). Starting in the 1960s, his visits became longer and longer until he decided to stay and make wine. He bought up 20 hectares of abandoned land and researched the traditional methods of making the sweet Malvasia delle Lipari. He made innovations too - drying the grapes on the vines and using refrigeration during fermentation.  He designed and built a modern house and winery. Through this mixture of tradition and innovation, he made Azienda Hauner a byword for the production of Passito as well as dry red and white wines.

There are other highly talented growers and winemakers on the island including as far as we can see every one of the producers mentioned above. On a trip to the island just after the harvest we visited Caravaglio, Fenech, Marchetta and Virgona. Expecting only Malvasia, what we found was truly astonishing. Apart from this particular Malvasia (and there are very many), they grow the following varieties on Salina;


Alicante Bouchet
Calabrese/Nero D'Avola
Corinto Nero
Nerello Capuccio
Nerello Mascalese

Malvasia delle Lipari or Malvasia di Lipari is thought to be an ancient variety because it has been found in recent DNA analyses to be the same as Malvasia di Sardegna, Greco Bianco di Gerace, Malvasia de Sitges, Malvasia Candida (Madeira) and Malvasija Dubrovacka and closely related to four others.

The Passito Malvasia di Lipari includes 5% of Corinto Nero, another ancient grape believed to have come from Greece and from whose name apparently we get the word Currant. Ever since hearing about this grape and seeing a bottle of Nero Ossidiano from Tenuta di Castellaro at the Real Wine Fair in London, we had longed to taste an example in purezza. Imagine our joy at finding Caravaglio's Nero Corinto on the hotel's wine list the first night we arrived on Salina. This was heavanly; a major find. It immediately joins the Slotovino Hall of Fame.

Now we are hopefully in the mood, let's take a tour of the island's wineries.


Hauner is on the East side of the island, near the village of Lingua which boasts what is possibly the best place in the world to buy Granata as well as several excellent restaurants, the most famous of which, Alfredo had unfortunately closed for the winter shortly before our arrival.

We were met by the grandson of Carlo Hauner who is obviously a dedicated and capable chip off the old block.

He reminded us that Salina is at least as famous for Capers as for wine and showed us an ancient caper sorting machine

 which graded the capers by size. The brightly-shining winemaking equipment looked up to date and the entire operation was modern and clean.

The posters on the wall of the tasting room included works by Carlo Hauner.

 His grandson's favourite Hauner Red is 'Hiera' which includes Nero D'Avola, Alicante and Nocera in the blend.

Hauner is by far the best known and most widely distributed wine from Salina. As well a the Capers, they produce Grappa.


Close on Hauner's heels in terms of credits and foreign distribution is Caravaglio who like Hauner make a range of Whites and Reds. The Caravaglio Salina dry Malvasia has been noted in this Blog since we discovered it is a very posh London Restaurant.

As with the other producers we visited we had called ahead and kindly been given appointments to visit the wineries. This was one of the busiest times of the year with all the grapes harvested and in various stages of processing and fermentation. Sr. Caravaglio was as charming as if he had been waiting all year on the off-chance we might drop by.

His various helpers were busy under the lean-to and porches of the house which clearly served as Winery, Chaix and living quarters as in most of the other outfits we visited.

He was busy standing over what appeared to be a de-stemming machine from which a pulp of Malvasia grapes was being piped along a huge red snake of a tube, he showed us a sample

 and then poured is a taste of the Malvasia juice.

This was followed by the juice of his Corinto Nero - both rather delicious.

After shooting the breeze with this extraordinarily patient person we left but not without making many excuses for not tasting his wines (on the grounds that we were travelling hand luggage only and so could not possibly buy anything. On the way out a massive refrigeration plant caught our eye. It had been manufactured by Flli. Furiosi of Milano.


Not quite as prominent but equally fine was Virgona, a family affair par excellence with old man Virgona on hand to represent tradition

and his son and son's partner to show the future which no doubt will be vigorous.

Virgona has no shortage of awards

and again we were struck by the modern equipment and cleanliness of the operation.

The family were again charming and delightful no doubt as their wines. Their Red is a blend of Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Capuccio and Corinto Nero.


Sr. Fenech had gone fishing but a lady representative kindly showed us around. Again, cleanliness and modernity were in evidence.

 Everything was as we had already seen at the other wineries from the improvised spaces for the annual harvest influx to tasting room, cellar, living quarters office etc.

Fenech's vineyards surrounded the property as at Virgona and we saw later other parcels around Malfa on the North of the Island where most of the wineries are.

 These are planted hugga-mugga with houses which comprise the small town.


Perhaps a bit smaller and more rustic then the others Marchetta is nonetheless obviously also a serious producer.

The Winery is almost in the town of Malfa itself, overlooking the sea. Sr. Marchetta was on hand to show us around and yet again we were treated to a Royal Tour with complete understanding that we could sadly not actually buy any wine due to those damn security rules for air travelers.

Never mind, Sr. Marchetta seemed to bask in our interest almost as if his ship had come in. Amazing seeing as how he probably receives an endless stream of people as anxious as we to waste his time in the busy tourist season.

The local Coop Supermarket acted almost as a Consortium for the promotion of the wines of Salina. This was something we have rarely encountered and no praise is too much for their display of the above and almost everyone else producing wine on the island. When you think about it, that supermarket was offering local wines whose diversity outstrips a country such as South Africa (population 50,586,757) for example.

There we found bottles from D'Amico and Colosi as well as the above.

as well as shelves of the golden Malvasia delle Lipari (senz'altro)

And that's not all, dear Winelovers and Slotovino readers. You can actually stay at a Vineyard in a 1st class hotel during the summer season if you like.

Capofaro Malvasia Resort belongs to Tasca D'Almerita, the prominent Sicilian concern whose Malvasia vineyards surround the property. It was closed when we were there but we are sure it is a great place to stay, not that Salina lacks others even if they are not in the middle of a vineyard. Just above the little lighthouse tower by the way, you can make out the conical shape of Stromboli on the horizon. Fantastic.