Head to the Med
Author: Demetri Walters MW
Following the inevitable post-Christmas blues, I suspect that many of you are now researching where you might book for your summer holiday. If the Mediterranean features on that wish-list, why not consider the following sun-drenched spots which also just so happen to be home to some truly exciting wines.
For those of you who fancy a few days abroad, and favour proximity both to the seaside and a quality wine region, Spain is the answer – whether Alicante, the Balearics or Barcelona. That latter, cultured city is very conveniently situated for easy access to the vinous pleasures of Priorat, Tarragona, Conca de Barberá and Penedès. Not so very far away you will find the French vineyards of Roussillon, Languedoc and Provence. The playgrounds of the rich have become heavily built-up in recent years and, not being as monied as I would like, I have not kept pace with the rate of change. However, the immediate Mediterranean hinterland of the south of France remains remarkably picture-postcard, unspoiled and accessible to those in search of the delights presented by this patchwork of historical communes, characterful wines and supremely Gallic charm.
Where does one begin when describing the Mediterranean wine genes of Italy and Greece? I associate southern Italy with the feature word of this piece: Mediterranean. The ancestors of today’s vines were planted by Greek colonists from the eighth century BC, resulting in a shared heritage that led the Romans to refer to much of the coastal south of the country as ‘Grecia-Magna’. The Italians and Greeks are culturally linked, as the saying goes: ‘Una Faccia Una Razza/Μια Φάτσα Μια Ράτσα’, and so are the respective characters of their wines. Whether you enjoy the Moscato of the tiny island of Pantelleria or the multiplicity of the wines of Etna, Calabria, Puglia and Campania, the key is diversity. Greece and its islands are host to some of the oldest and rarest vine material in existence. Whether one considers the gnarled old Assyrtiko vines on wind-swept Santorini, or the black cherry notes of Mavro Kalavritino from the mountain vineyards beneath the ski slopes of Patras, Greece is all about celebrating a diversity as numerous as the islands of the Aegean.
Onwards across Homer’s ‘wine-dark sea’ and the Cypriot wine revolution is gaining momentum with compelling reds and whites fashioned from native varieties, alongside the authentic, unfortified Commandaria. You no longer need fear for your stomach being demolished by Kokinelli poured from a lime cordial bottle. On the Levantine shore, Lebanon produces some highly convincing wines; we recently said goodbye to Serge Hochar, the man who put Château Musar and the Bekaa Valley on the map amidst occasional shellfire sailing over his vineyards. Perhaps a more likely holiday destination, Israel also now makes some extremely good wines from Galilee and the Judean Hills, not least the Recanati Winery in the Hefer Valley.
Savour the delights of the Med closer to home at Decanter’s inaugural Mediterranean Fine Wine Encounter on 7th March, at the Landmark Hotel, London, where Demetri will be holding a masterclass.