and not only because we’re in the thick of the dog days of summer, when the heat finally slows us down and vacations are in our horizons. It’s a shame that the concept of island time is often said with a disparaging tone—of being slow, late or lackadaisical—the antonym of a New York minute. Yet we can all learn a thing or two about how to live on island time, as I believe it acknowledges that moving slow and steady is often better than fast and furious.
Gran Canaria is the second-largest island in the Canary Islands archipelago. They are technically part of Spain, though they’re geographically closer to Morocco in Atlantic Ocean. Their isolation from the mainland blessed their wine culture with absence of phylloxera, the plague that almost decimated European winemaking. Gran Canaria, in particular, enjoys a rich variety of microclimates due to altitude, which results in warm days and cool nights.
Frontón de Oro is one of those lucky producers smack in the center of Gran Canaria, in the hills of La Lechuza, with vineyards above 1,000 ft. Though in operation since the late 70’s, Frontón de Oro has only been commercially making wine since 1999 by second-generation winemakers Pedro and Antonio Ramírez. THE FRONTÓN DE ORO TINTO TRADICIONAL is a blend of Listan Negro and native varietal Tintilla. Grapes are de-stemmed and cold-soaked for 24 hours. Vinification is in stainless steel followed by 3 months in used American oak barrels. The result is a wine that is woody, despite its light and lean body, with lots of white pepper, and a wonderful bit of rich old lady perfume.
Eastward, through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea is another Spanish archipelago—the Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera—just off the coast of Catalonia.
Sistema Vinari in Mallorca has a whimsical story—born out of a bet and sheer luck—it was wine meant for exchange, not sale, and to be drunk in joy and in company with winemaker Eloi Cedó Perelló. Chateau Paquita, a blend of indigenous varietals Callet, Manto Negro and heavyhitter Monastrell, saw its first commercial vintage in 2012. THE 2013 CHATEAU PAQUITA has the Manto Negro and Callet macerate together in stainless steel, while the Monastrell undergoes carbonic maceration. Together, they see six months in small French oak barrels, plus an additional 3 months in stainless and 5 months in the bottle before release. It is a delight of stewed fruit—cassis, blackberries —with an intense perfume of ginestra flowers and jasmines. It exudes romance and introspection, and I highly recommend it on a cool summer night.
And then there is Sardinia, the Italian island that has been at the crossroads of Greek, Roman, Spanish, French and North African influences across millennia. Sardinia is to me a living example of how islands can retain the mark long left by their occupants; how these marks hold steadfast to become traditions, and how precisely their geographically isolated nature helps preserve them. One should only taste across Sardinia to taste wines that echo the nutty wines of Jerez, or the sweet Moscatels de Setúbal.
Tenute Dettori is on a natural amphitheater called Badde Nigolosu on the hills of Sennori on the north-east point of Sardinia. They are a biodynamic estate whose philosophy is of no-fuss: no mechanization, no added yeasts, no enzymes, nor any other adulteration in the winemaking process. Rogue winemaker Alessandro Dettori releases the wine when he deemes it ready, following the dictates of instinct and intuition, not of the market. They also do not subscribe to the Italian model of DOCGs, because for them terroir is about a focused understanding of here and now, of how across one province or estate there are myriads of microclimates and specificities, that blanket rules could not and cannot homogenize.
The TENUTE DETTORI OTTOMARZO is made from 100% Pascale, an indigenous grape to the island. At first sip, it sent a ripple up and down my spine: it’s layered with a sharp, peppy acid, and followed by lush, salted berries. I loved its umami note of anchovy, its sherry-like acidity, and the tannins of dried herbs and green coffee.
So, here at Slope Cellars, we love island time and island wines. Though seeming disparate at first, these wines share in having fierce independent identities and an incisive understanding of their terroir. They also represent the spirit of slow, steady—and delicious. So, New York City, which is also an island, let's take a cue from these guys and take the rest of this hot August nice and slow. ¡Salud! -Alejandra