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Island Wine and Escapes

Home to twisty vines growing under brilliant blue skies, the islands here produce stellar wines and travel fantasies.

Additional research by Chelsea Morse.


Islands: Santorini | Canary Islands | Madeira

Island Wine: Santorini

This Greek island's volcanic soils and gnarled vines, some more than 80 years old, produce bright, citrusy whites, mostly from the Assyrtiko grape. They're spectacular with the incredibly fresh local seafood.

Island Wine: Santorini Wines to Try

2009 Argyros Estate Atlantis White ($17) Third-generation winemaker Yiannis Argyros blends indigenous Assyrtiko with two other "A" grapes, Athiri and Aidini, for this sunny, inviting white.

US sommeliers worship Sigalas's lively Assyrtiko.
US sommeliers worship Sigalas's lively Assyrtiko. Photo © Theo Morrison.

2010 Sigalas Santorini ($21) Sigalas, a leader in organic farming here, ages this minerally white in stainless steel, giving even more crispness to the Assyrtiko grape.

2008 Gavalas Katsano ($22) Giorgos Gavalas makes this fruity white with the rare Katsano and Gaidouria grapes. The wine's aroma subtly evokes a flower garden, with notes of gardenia.


2007 Boutari Kallisti Reserve ($29) Nutty and honey-scented, this white is from one of Greece's big producers (Boutari owns six wineries throughout the country). The wine spends seven months in French barrels, proving Assyrtiko can improve with oak aging.

2010 Gai'a Wild Ferment Assyrtiko ($35) Winemaker Yiannis Paraskevopoulos does produce some more traditional versions of Assyrtiko, but his most intriguing bottling is this experiment with wild yeasts and extended aging on lees (the spent yeasts from fermentation). The result is a creamy texture that's a nice change of pace from Assyrtiko's usual citrusy acidity.

Island Wine: Santorini Hotel

Grace This whitewashed hotel has three new rooms. Guests can try locally caught seafood prepared by chef Spiros Agious at the restaurant overlooking the Aegean sea.

Island Wine: Santorini Cruise

Windstar Cruises Windstar is now sending its largest ship, the Wind Surf, on seven-day excursions to the Greek Isles, with a stop in Santorini and a Greek-inspired evening barbecue on deck.

Island Wine: Santorini Ancient History

Akrotiri After a six-year hiatus, this enormous archaeological site has finally reopened to the public. Excavators continue to uncover ruins from the Minoan city dating back to 3,000 BC.

Video: Greek Food

Island Wine: Canary Islands

So far, only a small amount of wine from Spain's seven volcanic Canary Islands is imported into the US, but the gorgeous, minerally reds and whites are definitely worth seeking out.

Island Wine: Canary Islands Wines to Try

2007 Bodegas Carballo Listán Blanco ($18) Eliseo Carballo's organic white has nutty flavors that recall fino sherry, plus a distinct saltiness that he attributes to the vines' proximity to the ocean.

2008 Monje Tradicional ($20) Felipe Monje's family has been making wine on Tenerife since the 1750s. This smoky red blend of obscure local varieties is aged in large, old American oak barrels.

2009 Los Bermejos Malvasia Seco ($22) Malvasia, the most widely grown white grape on Lanzarote, is made in both sweet and dry styles. Los Bermejos's dry (seco) version has bright tangerine flavors and comes in a bottle with a convenient spout.

2009 Frontón de Oro Tintilla ($28) This vibrant, berry-rich red from Gran Canaria is made with the indigenous Tintilla grape and recalls juicy, light-bodied Beaujolais.

Island Wine: Canary Islands Otherworldly Terroir

The brutal winds on the island of Lanzarote, the most easterly of the Canary Islands, don't exactly make it a practical place to grow grapes. Local growers solve that problem by planting in crater-like pits, called hoyos, surrounded by rock walls. This shields the vines, though it also limits the vineyards' productivity.

Island Wine: Madeira

Portugal's island of Madeira produces one of the world's most under-appreciated wines. The misconception is that Madeiras are syrupy sweet; in reality, their vivid acidity makes them brilliant with food.

Island Wine: Madeira Wines to Try

1989 D'Oliveira Malvasia ($95) D'Oliveira's cellars hold one of the largest collection of old Madeiras, from vintages as far back as 1850; the winery releases them little by little. The 1989 Malvasia, a current release, shows the earthiness, spice and complexity that these wines can develop with age.

Cossart Gordon Bual 10-Years-Old ($38).
Cossart Gordon is an English-owned Madeira House. Photo © Theo Morrison.

Cossart Gordon Bual 10-Years-Old ($38) This orange peel–scented bottling, created by one of Madeira's oldest producers, is made from the Bual grape. The wine's excellent acidity could convince any doubter that not all Madeiras are sugary.


Broadbent Reserve 5-Years-Old ($24) Bartholomew Broadbent started buying old stocks of Madeira in 1996, some dating back as far as the 1930s. That gives him the components for blends like this silky, golden raisin–scented one.

The Rare Wine Co. Charleston Sercial ($47) US importer Mannie Berk, together with the Madeira house Barbeito, focuses on the brisk Sercial grape variety for this vibrant, maple-inflected wine.

Blandy's 1994 Colheita Malmsey ($48) Blandy's celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. The 1994 vintage (colheita) was a great one, as shown by this buttery Malmsey.

Island Wine: Madeira's New Hotels

The Vine Hotel. This wine-inspired hotel is notable for its restaurant, Uva. Its cellar holds a deep selection of Portuguese wines to go with Michelin-starred consulting chef Antoine Westermann's modern French cuisine.
Courtesy of the Vine Hotel.

The Vine Hotel This wine-inspired hotel (left) is notable for its restaurant, Uva. Its cellar holds a deep selection of Portuguese wines to go with Michelin-starred consulting chef Antoine Westermann's modern French cuisine.

Hotel da Vila Not only does this hip, year-old hotel sit right on the beach, but guests have access to the pools at its tony sister hotel, Ponta do Sol, just up the mountain.

Island Wine: Surprise Madeira Pairings

Hard Cheeses Instead of pairing Madeira with soft or blue cheeses (a traditional match, but a very rich one), try a hard cheese like Piave.

Shellfish Lighter, drier Madeiras made from Sercial or Verdelho grapes often have an orange- or lemon-rind flavor that is fantastic with seafood.

Meat Dishes Darker, richer styles of Madeira have enough acidity to go with hearty meat dishes, even roast lamb. And they're superb with foie gras.

Plus: More Wine Country Travel

Published May 2011
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