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Wine drinkers have gravitated en masse to “island” whites, many of them volcanic island whites from exotic locales like Santorini, the Canaries, and in today’s case, the Aeolian island of Salina. Much of the fascination stems from memories of honeymoons and vacations past, but from a strictly wine-focused perspective, it’s hard to match the level of terroir-for-dollar you get from a wine like Nino Caravaglio’s Malvasia Secco. This bottling, which is a first-ballot SommSelect Hall-of-Famer (this is the fourth consecutive vintage we’ve offered), is irrefutable proof that there is truly special wine to be had at the so-called “low end” of the market. I’ll put it another way: Even on those occasions when you only want to spend $20-ish on a bottle of wine, you do not need to settle. And you should not. That’s why we’re here: To find utterly enchanting, quite-rare Mediterranean whites like this to seriously elevate a Tuesday night pasta dinner. Overused as the word may be, this wine is incredible!
Nino Caravaglio’s wines, grown on the Sicilian satellite island of Salina, are some of the most all-encompassing expressions of terroir one could hope to drink—it’s not just the volcanic soil they grow in, but the seaside locales, that give this wine its unmistakably Mediterranean personality. Beyond that, it’s also an objectively excellent white wine in every regard, delivering texture, tension, citrusy aromatics, and profound minerality. Ultimately, it transcends the “summer white” category but it’s just so perfect for that role.
As familiar as Caravaglio is to SommSelect subscribers, its origin story always bears repeating. Salina is part of an archipelago of seven volcanic islands (others include Lipari and Stromboli) off Sicily’s northeast coast. Steep-sloped and sparsely populated, with whitewashed villages sitting at the base of giant, vine-draped craters, this is where you go for the best seafood of your life; giant caper berries; and grapes from vines never blighted by phylloxera (volcanic/sandy terroirs proved resistant to the louse, which ravaged Europe at the end of the 19th century). The most famous Aeolian wines are sweet, dried-grape nectars from Malvasia, which are labeled “Malvasia delle Lipari” regardless of which island the grapes come from. Delicious, salty dry whites (like this one, labeled “Malvasia Secco”) are also made from Malvasia, along with reds from a trove of different grapes.
Although Antonino “Nino” Caravaglio officially founded his cantina in 1992, his family has cultivated vines and other crops on the island since the 16th century. His vineyards have been certified organic almost since the winery’s creation, with 37 acres on Salina. The island’s arid climate and cleansing breezes make Caravaglio’s commitment to natural farming that much easier; mold and disease resistance are not big issues here, and the exceedingly good health and cleanliness of the fruit enables Caravaglio to keep added sulfur to the barest minimum.
The grapes for this ’22 were hand-harvested and sorted in the vineyard, gently pressed with full clusters intact, then fermented on ambient yeasts in stainless steel tanks. It spent three months resting in tank on its fine lees before bottling, and here we are in the July following the vintage, enjoying the spoils. It is 90% Malvasia supplemented with a few other local varieties, and one of the varietal characteristics that always jumps out at me is an orange-blossom quality to the aromas. Imagine Spanish Albariño or French Muscadet with a more floral, fruity profile and you’ve got a good sense of what to expect here: it combines bright fruit and seaborne salinity beautifully. In the glass, it’s a medium yellow-gold with green and sliver highlights, bursting with aromas of Sicilian citrus, acacia honey, white peach, Meyer lemon, green herbs, and caper brine. Serve it at 45-50 degrees in all-purpose white wine stems and pair it with just about any seafood preparation you can imagine. Pesce spada (swordfish) is a very Sicilian choice, and great for grilling to boot. Much as I associate this wine with summer (and there are plenty of waning days left), I’ll never turn down a glass of this, whenever it’s poured. Enjoy!
Malvasia delle Lipari 90%, Other Native Varieties 10%
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