Wine of Ischia
ISCHIA: THE ISLAND OF WINE
The prestige of Ischian wine, the result of a millennial tradition, received its first official recognition in 1966 when Ischia Bianco and Ischia Rosso were awarded the first Campanian DOC and the second national DOC. At that time, tourism on the island had begun, but had not yet reached its maximum expansion. At least 2,000 hectares of land were cultivated with vines, and wine production was around 120,000 hectoliters. Today, production has halved, while the terraces on which the vineyards grow extend for only 300 hectares!
ISCHIAN WINE: VARIETIES
The grape varieties that have made the fortune of Ischian wine are biancolella, which is practically only grown on the island of Ischia (and to a limited extent on the Sorrentine Peninsula), the forastera (so-called because it was a grape variety introduced late and therefore defined as “foreign”), and the “per ‘e palummo,” the only red wine, so-called because the shape and color of the stem resemble a dove’s paw, and which in Campania is called piedirosso. Later, it was decided to introduce a variation to the DOC regulations, which now refer directly to these three grape varieties, thus enhancing their peculiarities. However, over the centuries of winemaking activity on the island of Ischia, many more grape varieties were cultivated, often with evocative names and partly exclusive to the island itself. For example, here are some varieties from which excellent wine is obtained: uva rilla, coglionara, guarnaccia, san lunardo, levante, tintora, cacamosca… and again, zibibbo, lugliese, catalanesca, lentisco, pane, nocella, san filippo, sorbigno, coda cavallo, etc.
ISCHIAN WINE: THE NEW INTEREST
For some years now, after a long period in which the inhabitants of the island of Ischia preferred to abandon land cultivation in favor of work in the hotel and tourism industry, there has been a progressive and constant return of interest in agriculture, particularly in winemaking and wine production on Ischia. Therefore, the characteristic terraces supported by dry stone walls made of local stone without the use of mortar (called “parracine” in dialect) have returned to host orderly rows of vines along the sides of the hills in many places on the island.
ISCHIA WINE : CRATECA WINERY
On the hills of Fango in the village of Crateca in Lacco Ameno, the Castagna family, entrepreneurs in the hotel industry for generations and owners of the Hotel Terme La Pergola, has breathed new life into an old vineyard through careful restoration. It was planted with Biancolella, Forastera, Per ‘e Palummo, Guarnaccia, combined with Cameroonian grape varieties Aglianico, Fiano and Greco, and is complemented by a beautiful orchard and vegetable garden. An impressive wine cellar in the manor house has also been renovated and can be visited. Local product tastings and the two Ischia wines, Crateca Bianco and Crateca Rosso, are held here.
ISCHIA WINE: QUALITY AND CHARACTERISTICS
Although the quantity of wine produced on the island of Ischia is lower than in the 1950s when the vineyards on the islands were more abundant, the quality of the wine produced is very high. At the end of the 19th century, Ischia wine was mainly known as a blend wine for stronger wines like those from Apulia and spread as white wine in all Tyrrhenian centers and to the north as far as France, where it was transported in approximately 700-liter chestnut barrels called Carrati by sailing ships. Today, Ischia is a recognized reality among producers of excellent wine in the Campania region and its labels receive prestigious awards. Currently, the majority of wine production on the island of Ischia is made from the following grape varieties, which can be vinified either pure or in percentages defined by the DOC protocol with other grape varieties such as white Greco and Fiano and red Aglianico.
Wine made from the Biancolella grape has a straw-yellow color and a scent of white flowers and fruits with a hint of exotic fruits. In taste, it is fresh and spicy and pairs very well with fish dishes like fried cod and spaghetti with seafood.
The Forastera grape, which was introduced when other local grape varieties were affected by the phylloxera epidemic in the mid-19th century, produces a wine with a strong yellow color and golden reflections. It smells like grass, Mediterranean scrub, and minerals and has salty and fresh notes in taste. It is perfect as an aperitif with a seafood appetizer and pairs well with Biancolella.
“The Per ‘e Palummo (or Piedirosso) is a widespread and very ancient grape variety in Campania. Some believe it to be the Colombina grape variety (whose name always refers to the similarity between the plant’s stems and the feet of doves), which was already mentioned by Pliny the Elder. The Per ‘e Palummo produces a ruby red wine that smells of flowers and red fruits and is dry and salty in taste. It goes very well with typical dishes of the island of Ischia, both towards the sea such as fish soup and towards the inland such as rabbit Ischitan style, Cacciatore, the official dish of the island. It should also be tried with other dishes from Campania such as Scarola pizza and Eggplant Parmigiana.
It’s also worth mentioning the Passito and Late Harvest wines made from Biancolella grapes, which pair well with desserts such as Pastiera and dried fruits.”
WINE OF ISCHIA: HISTORY (SAVING IN SULPHUR – THE STORY OF THE SANFILIPPO BROTHERS)
In 1855, salvation arrived for the thousands of hectares of Ischian vineyards that were mortally threatened by white rot and phylloxera, respectively a fungus and an insect that had been destroying them for years, bringing to its knees an economy based solely on vine cultivation and wine production, as was the case for the island. From Salina, another volcanic island like Ischia, came the three Sanfilippo brothers Gaetano, Giuseppe and Antonio, with a boat loaded with sulfur, which they intended to sell to the Ischians against the two terrible diseases of the vine. In exchange, they would share the proceeds of the sale of the grapes that had happily matured. The following spring and summer arrived: the farmers anxiously observed the buds, then the leaves and fruits, and the small clusters that grew on the sulfur-irrigated vines. They were intact, perfect: the Sanfilippo brothers had saved the island of Ischia from poverty. However, the behavior of the islanders towards the three brothers was ungrateful: it seems, in fact, that they did not respect the agreement and the Sicilians left the island without money and only two of the brothers because one of them died there.
Ten years later, however, a group of Ischians wanted to offer a modest thanksgiving in memory of the Sanfilippo brothers and placed a votive shrine dedicated to the Madonna del Terzito, much revered in Lipari, recalling the name of Gaetano Sanfilippo “grape sulfurizer,” the brother who never returned to his land. Today, you can still see the shrine and plaque at the intersection of via Quercia and via Nuova dei Conti, in Ischia, and in 2013 the municipality wanted to celebrate with a twinning with the Aeolian Islands the great “gift” that it received over 150 years ago.
Wine production on the island of Ischia has a long history. The ancient Greeks introduced the cultivation of grapes to Ischia, as evidenced by an exceptional find: the Cup of Nestor, dated 757 BC and discovered by archaeologist Giorgio Buchner in the mid-twentieth century, now housed in the Archaeological Museum of Pithecausae.
The unique viticulture of Ischia is due to the terrain, altitude, and the numerous and often tiny terraces, making it a “heroic viticulture” due to the difficulty of working the land, which even today is difficult to mechanize.
This is a thankless job that the Ischian farmer has always done with passion, often far removed from economic norms.
A peculiar feature of the vineyards are the “parracine”, kilometers of dry stone walls made of local tuff to support the terraces.
Numerous country paths reveal “parracine” throughout the Ischian mountain, clear evidence of land once used for vineyards that have now been abandoned, leaving the Mediterranean brush to flourish in all its glory.
In the mid-twentieth century, wine production reached 250,000 hectoliters, but has since declined.
The unique terrain and warm-dry climate have favored the cultivation of native grape varieties such as Biancolella, Forastera, and Piedirosso, as well as a form of low-growing vines called “a carraturu” created to take advantage of the warmth of the soil.
Most of the wines produced fall under the “Ischia” designation, one of the first DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) recognized in Italy.
Biancolella grapes, locally called “ianculillo” due to their clusters of golden-yellow straw-colored grapes, are used to produce Ischia white wine either as a pure varietal or blended with Forastera.
Another important grape variety used in the production of the red Ischia wine, along with Guarnaccia, is Piedirosso, locally known as “per e palumme” due to the extreme resemblance of its stems to the color and shape of doves’ feet.
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