Aleatico – A Grape Worth Exploring

While many think of Elba first and foremost as the island of Napoleon’s exile or for its fantastic beaches, I am here to say the first thing that should come to mind is Aleatico and other wines produced there. Also, Elba has zero cases of the horrible COVID-19 virus. I was wondering if I could move there for a while. The only problem would be how to get there.  Elba is the third largest island in Italy, after Sicily and Sardinia and is part of the Tuscan archipelago.

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 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 I sailed around the island in the early 2000s and 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 what they were made from. Apparently, it’s a haven for those who love minerals.

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.

Aleatico is one of the most famous grapes grown on the island. It even has it’s own Elba Aleatico DOCG. It must be made from 100% Aleatico grapes and it is a dessert and meditation wine. The grapes dry on the vine for 10 days.

Aleatico grows in a number of different Italian regions as I mentioned last night on Instagram, including Tuscany, Apulia and Lazio. I have tried a number of these wines and find them quite interesting. Aleatico can be made into a dry wine or a passito (dessert wine). I much prefer the dessert versions.

Barbara Tamburini

A friend of mine, Barbara Tamburini, a very talented winemaker was the first to introduce me to Aleatico on Elba. Some years ago I also tasted a sparkling version from Tenuta delle Ripalte, their Spumante Brut Rosato delle Ripalte 2017.  It tasted like berries and candy to me. See if you can find an Aleatico in your wine world and led me know what you think about the wine. Salute!


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