The first group of wines I tasted at the Anteprime di Toscan 2018 edition were wines from the island of Elba. I have sailed around Elba and been to a few of the towns there but haven’t spent much time. When I lived in Florence we often went to the Island of Giglio, a much smaller island in the same archipelago that includes Elba, Giglio, Giannutri, Capraia, Pianosa, Montecristo and Gorgona. Elba is the third largest island in Italy, after Sicily and Sardinia.
Since the 10th century BC, vines have grown on Elba. At that time, a people called the Focesi who were Greek sailors and merchants ran the island. The next people to grow grapes on Elba were the Etruscans and then the Romans. The Romans used Elba as a place to have summer villas as well. Many amphora have been found on the island, some that held 15 hl of wine which were likely used to ship wine back to Rome.
Throughout the middle ages, the vine continued to be important to the island and when Napoleon was Emperor of Elba in 1814 through the beginning of 1815, the fortunes of Elba’s wine trade grew even larger. Napoleon was a big fan of the wines there. In the 1900s and particularly after World War II, the vineyards were not taken care of and much of the production was lost. However in the last decades, interest in the wines has resurfaced and today 300 hectares of vines are planted all throughout the island.
Elba’s geography is very interesting. The island is the remains of what used to be the link between the Italian peninsula and Corsica. Elba can be separated into distinct growing areas with varying soils which is why such a vast array of grapes are grown on the island, each one suited to its distinctive terroir, the West, Central Elba and the Eastern part of the island. The West is the quite mountainous while Central Elba has sandy and clay sedimentary soils. It is here that most of the beaches and flatter plains lie. In the East, there are two mountain chains separated by a plain called the Mola plain.
Elba’s soils are also rich in minerals and the island from the Etruscans on down was a font of iron ore and other mineral extraction. While Iron extraction ended in 1960, Elba is still the richest source in Italy for iron.
I remember when we sailed around the island, the skipper who was manning our boat was also a geologist. It was fascinating to see the layers of different soils in the side of the cliffs which she carefully explained. Apparently, it’s a haven for minerologists.
With it’s Mediterranean climate and sea breezes, vines on Elba have a nice growing season with average temperatures year round in the 63F or 17 Celsius.
I tried a number of wines made from Ansonica which is a traditional grape variety on the island. that I liked specifically . Elba Ansonica 2015 DOC, from a winery called Azienda Agricola Le Sughere
I also tried a couple of white wines made with a blend of the traditional varieties, Trebbiano Toscano, Vermentino and Ansonica in the Elba Bianco 2016 DOC from Azienda Agricola Massarri. I also tried the Elba Bianco DOC 2017 made with Ansonica from Azienda Agricola La Chiusa Azienda Agricola Acquabona Both were lovely, fresh white wines but the Acquabona was fuller bodied.
I tasted an Elba Vermentino 2017 DOC from Azienda Agricola Cecilia which was interesting and which had a lot of sweetness, according to my notes.
Some wineries on the island are making Viognier such as Azienda Agricola Arrighi with their Hermia 2016 IGT Toscana. Arrighi was the first winery I had ever tried from Elba. In the past, I have always had Aleatico from Elba. A friend of mine, Barbara Tamburini, a very talented winemaker was the first to introduce me to Aleatico on Elba. I tasted a passito DOCG 2016 from Le Sughere that I liked a lot and one from Azienda Agricola La Galea from the 2015 vintage.
I tasted for the first time a sparkling wine made with Aleatico from Tenuta delle Ripalte, their Spumante Brut Rosato delle Ripalte 2017. It tasted like berries and candy to me.
Some of the other wines that were offered included an Elba Moscato Passito 2017 DOC from Azienda Agricola Sapereta. It was fruity and florial with a refined palate. I also had my first Elba Ansonica Passito from Azienda Agricola Montefabbrello. That wine was lovely with dried fruit notes and a beautiful supple mouth feel.
I tried all 10 of the wineries that were on offer. Each was interesting and different, great expressions of what the island has to offer – an extensive and vast selection of wines that would pair with each course of a meal from apertif wines to dessert pairings.
I can’t wait to visit and try more of these wines.