BEACH CLOSED… so open these wines instead.

In the middle of this unprecedented summer it seems only right to picture ourselves with toes in the sand, celebrating the scents and familiar flavors of a beautiful seaside beach. The geologically unique boot of Italy is spoiled with so much Mediterranean coastline – 4,700 miles of it in total. And just like in the rest of Italy, every coastal region displays its very own unique character and boasts incredible views that makes it pretty tough to choose between them in a travel guide (if we were only to be so lucky right now).

The dramatic Ligurian coast seems to jump straight out of the Med into rugged mountains, and stretching from the Italian Riviera to the fishing villages of Cinque Terre. On the eastern coast, Le Marche is the jewel of the warm, bountiful and downright captivating Adriatic Sea. The volcanic island of Ischia, Campania, is equally as picturesque as its more famous counterparts just south in Amalfi and in Noto, the far southern tip of Sicily, the views and flavors are far more akin to a tropical paradise. 

As is appropriate to the moment, we’re taking the best type of ‘virtual tour’ of these incredible locations by visiting their most expressive inhabitants; the grapevines that overlook these beach vistas, listen to the waves crash, and taste of the sea.

-Kevin Wardell, August 2020







Albanella + Pinot Nero
Colli Pesaresi Roncaglia DOC, Marche, Italy 2018

Albanella, and just to be clear, this is not Sicily’s Albanello (how Italy loves to keep us on our toes). This is a Marchigiani local, but even in this small region it is only grown in Pesaro in the north.  It works hard on these coastal cliffs,  packing in ample acidity without cranking up the sugar accumulation, making it that rare white that is both delicate and zesty, and also totally deep and age-worthy.

In the very northern reaches of the Marche, a few miles from the port town of Pesaro, the spectacular cliffs of Focara hang above the Adriatic in the Monte San Bartolo Natural Park. This stretch of precipitous coastline is carved from calcareous sandstone and whipped by cool breezes from the Adriatic, a dramatic combination for producing bright and mineral-driven rock juice. The family Mancini are the only grape growers in the preserve,  and their roots here reach back to 1861. In the early 1800s, Napoleon’s administration singled out these dramatic cliffs for plantings of Pinot Noir, which remains to this day the prized focus of the estate, and bizarrely, a requisite 25% addition to any DOC Albanella bottling. Mancini has cultivated their own massale selection for 200 years, and they believe their estate has borne its own Pinot clone. In addition, the family grows the local indigneous varieties Albanella and Ancellotta as well as Sangiovese; always working with sustainable viticultural practices to respect the biome of the Natural Park. The Albanella is picked at night and chilled down to 45*F for pressing, then blended with 25% clear Pinot Noir juice and fermented and aged on the lees for 4 months in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation.

A bouquet of white iris drifts on the nose, and yet the palate is as savory as can be, with preserved Morrocan lemons, rosemary olive oil, and even a touch of miso. Served up alongside that miso, picture the perfect sushi roll: the deep green richness of seaweed, the sweet pucker of the rice, a spicy bite of pickled radish and that savory depth of the absolutely perfect fresh fish filet… we may have found the perfect pairing. Le Marche boasts an incredibly long coastline on the Adriatic and the region’s raw seafood crudo creations are dream worthy.

Italian authorities outlawed use of the name Albanella until 2000, believing it was just plain ol’ Tuscan Trebbiano. The family fought for recognition of their native grape and saved it from extinction, and they are the only producer in the DOC Colli Pesaresi Roncaglia.


Ischia, Campania, Italy 2018

While Biancolella is a native darling of the small island of Ischia, it is rumored to have been brought from Greece way way back in the 700s BCE. Whatever odyssey brought Biancolella here, the grape is now truly synonymous with Ischia’s best, (and highest!) vineyards. Complex, aromatic, full-bodied and yet fresh and crisp, Biancolella is not an acid-riptide but more of a saline seaspray. It is often blended with fellow island siren Forastera in quenchingly delicious Ischia biancos.

The Campanian island of Ischia is like a tiny volcanic gemstone steeply poking almost 2,600 ft straight up out of the Tyrrhenian sea. This 18 square mile isle just off the coast of Naples was forged by volcano and tectonic uplift, and while the last eruption here was in 1302, the island is a tuff and ash testament to its pyroclastic origins. The vineyards all over the island are influenced not only by these soils, but also by the proximity to the sea, the steep slopes and the considerable elevation. While the beaches are stunning, the island is also a fortress of steep rugged terrain. As local legend Pasquale Cenatiempo says, Ischia wine is mountain wine. Pasquale inherited the winery his father began in 1945, and today he farms his own vineyards organically with his partner Federica Predoni. The winery sources from neighboring vineyards as well, so that all of Ischia is represented, from sea level all the way up to 2,000 ft.  This bottling of Biancolella comes from sites ranging from 150 to 1,000 ft above sea level, and it is vinified in old school concrete tanks.

There’s a sun-kissed golden tinge to this beauty, and tastes (and feels) just like hiking on a coastal bluff- breathe deep that salty air on wet rocks over the dizzying heights. That sea breeze has just a hint of orange blossoms and a whole fistful of fresh cut oregano and tarragon. There is a serving of grapefruit alongside all that salty zest, and a richness like honeycomb without any of the sweet. Even though the beach may be closed, this wine is that perfect day at the ocean, a message in a bottle.

Limoncello is a Campanian staple, originating on the Amalfi Coast and its islands; a summer yellow celebration of the sun and the copious citrus harvest in this Mediterranean climate.


Liguria, Italy 2018

A pale and rosy red, Rossese di Dolceacqua is bright, aromatic and lively with acidity as steep as the hillsides it hails from. All that acid gushes with red fruit juiciness like cranberries, sour cherries, and pomegranate pith. There are other rosseses out there, including grillos and biancos, but they only share their name with R di D. But- the Rossese from the Riviera was recently discovered to be identical to the obscure (but well loved) Tibouren grape from Saint Tropez in Provence, proving it as one grape that just loves dramatic Mediterranean coastlines. 

Liguria is the coast with the most… hills that is. The Alps meet the Apennine mountain range here, and then they plummet into the sea. 65% of the region is mountainous, and many of the vineyards are accessible only by rail, or by boat. Just a few miles from the coast in the steep Nervia valley (many vineyards here cling to 60% grades) is the town of sweetwater, Dolceacqua, whose native red grape takes its name. The Maccario winery here were considered pioneers in the 1970s when they were among the first to actually bottle Rossese di Dolceacqua, up til then it was only consumed locally in tavernas in bulk barrels.  Giovanna Maccario took over her family’s tiny estate 20 years ago, farming the 10 acres entirely by hand because the hills are too steep for tractor machinery to access. She care-takes several parcels, some with vines over 120 years old, (some of the oldest in all of Italy,) and trains them in the ancient “albarello” bush system in order to protect the vines from the extreme conditions of the area. Her “Classico” is a blend of several different sites that reflect the property. The wine is vinified and aged in stainless steel to preserve the nerve and energy that this Rossese has possessed for over a century.

The aromatics are a wild ride of red fruit; homemade cherry preserves with star anise and black licorice, a jumbled flat of farmer’s market figs sprinkled with rossese rosewater, along with a topping of rhubarb compote. The breezy palate takes you right to the coast, you can practically feel the sea spray that splashes from this glass. There’s a rich earthiness like the smell of an old leather-bound book, or maybe that’s a Ligurian pirate’s salty bootstraps?!

Liguria is of course home to fabulous seafood dishes, including their decadent shellfish stew Buridda, but they also claim to be the home of focaccia bread, that dense olive oil delight; so tear up a loaf alongside a glass of Dolceacqua and picture yourself in the Cinqueterre.


Noto, Sicily, Italy 2016

Italy loves to mix things up, so our friend the “black grape from Avola” also goes by the moniker Calabrese throughout all of Southern Italy, and it may have hundreds of forms or clones, and it’s probably not from Calabria at all. So, what we do know is that Nero is the second most popular grape in Sicily’s vast viticultural oasis, and it, like the locals, is not soft spoken. Dark in color with deep saturated fruit like preserved cherries, Nero is also jalapeno spicy, aromatic and herbal but never lean. 

The Marabino estate ranges over 80 acres in the southeast corner of Sicily, in the Buonivini (good wines!) district in the heart of the Noto valley. The vineyards roll along low hills in perhaps the warmest and sunniest summer weather on the whole island, making it a contender for one of the warmest climes in all of Europe. The latitude is south even of Tunis, and while the climate is arid and hot, the vines are just 4 miles from the ocean and enjoy the cooling effect of Mediterranean breezes. Their soils are mostly calcareous clay, which helps to retain precious water in the soil, while also imbuing that classic limestone chalky minerality. Marabino also uses biodynamic agriculture to cultivate its vines, as well as their (requisite) fruit orchards and olive groves, this is Sicilia after all. All that sun, the mineral-packed soils, and the Mediterranean mistral make for some of the best ag land anyone could ask for,  and the Marabinos balance this bounty with grace. The winery also focuses mainly on the native vines of the region – Moscato di Noto and Nero d’Avola, continuing the legacy of these vines in this place of good wine, Buonivini

This wine is hard to pin down, it’s a balance of opposites; both dense and supple, pretty like a violet and hard edged like basalt. The core is all meaty black olive, ever so lightly brined, garnished with a green pepper pop like a summer serrano; it’s rich and juicy but finishes with a velvety kiss like licking a kiwi. There is a gush of just ripe plum but at its core is all roasted rocks. A Nero with a true sense of place, it delivers all the flavor and character you might expect from Italy’s southernmost appellation. This Sicilian summer lovin’ wants to pair with anything you can toss on your grill. 

Noto is a breathtakingly beautiful city, replete with elegantly ornate Baroque palaces, cathedrals, and theaters. They hold an annual flower festival in which artists fill the streets with flower mosaic creations, definitely look up the Infiorata di Noto and feast your eyes.