The second part of a three-part series on Italy, this month we're going to the beach to explore Italy's islands and coastlines. Above: Irene Carfagna of Altura harvesting grapes on the island of Giglio off the Tuscan coast. (Illustration by Jonathan Kemp, from a photo by Emiko Davies)

It's that time of year when we all want to get out of the sweltering city and go to the islands, beaches, and coastlines. We can strip away the layers of clothing and responsibilities and reset our stressed-out brains for a brief moment. Though most of us aren't going to be visiting Sicily, Liguria, or Sardinia this summer, we can still absorb some of the hedonistic primal energy of those places through the wines. And almost as exclusive as an Italian beach vacation, we've got some wines this month that are near-exclusives to the Vanderbilt Ave Direct Press club.

Some of you will surely be familiar with the first one, Mortellito, from southern Sicily. We sent an email offer last summer about the wines from Dario Serrentino. Dario's viticulture practices were at a level that Sicilian natural-wine celebrity Frank Cornelissen was purchasing his grapes until a few years ago, when Dario started making his own wines. He has about 25 hectares, 15 of which are under vine, the rest are planted to olive and almond trees. The vines are a mix of the local Moscato di Noto, Grillo, Catarratto, Frappato, and Nero d'Avola. Though the vines are at roughly the same latitude as North Africa, there are cooling influences from the Mediterranean Sea and  a strong mineral influence imparted by the chalky, white limestone soils. There is apparently a local phrase about the grapes 'taking in the sun and then taking a bath' that sounds pretty great for these dog days of summer. The Mortellito wines were a huge hit in the second half of last year; we could barely keep them in stock. This vintage, the bulk will end up with our Direct Press members. Lucky you! The CALA Dario Rosso will go to the Press 4 Mix and 4 Red, while the 4 Red gets the Calaniuru Rosso and the 4 White gets the Calaiancu Bianco.

Also in southern Sicily is COS, named for the initials of its three founders: Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano. Where Dario Serrentino is of the younger generation, COS was started in 1980 and were hugely influential in advancing natural farming and winemaking at a time when Sicily was being modernized and leaving behind important traditions. It's pretty safe to say that without COS, the wine world still wouldn't be taking Sicily very seriously. Their Nero di Lupo (4 Red), fully ripe at only 10.5% alcohol, is a great example of their thrillingly direct and lively wines that are in quite a contrast to the overly-processed slick, dark, sappy reds being made elsewhere in Sicily.

Besides Sicliy, we've more islands to explore. One is 60-some miles from Sicily, and is actually closer to North Africa, only 37 miles from Tunisia. This is Pantellaria, the so-called "Black Pearl of the Mediterranean," due to its dark, volcanic soils. Mostly known for sweet wines made from Zibibbo, a local Muscat variant, we are featuring nearly the opposite: a dark, dry rosé from Abbazia San Giorgio called Cloé made from Nerello Mascalese with no sulfur added (Press 2). It's from a local named Battista Bevisi. Battista was the winemaker for 11 years with Gabrio Bini at Seragghia, the first wines I ever tried from Pantellaria. Where Bini's wines are expensive and limited, Battista's wines are accessible and yet still full of the thrilling qualities of this unique island.

Sardinia is the other big Italian island, but it's far more stuck in the past than Sicily. That's a good thing in some ways, as producers like Sergio Loi of Cardedu have vines that have never been treated with chemicals and a family winery dating to the 900s. Sardinia is pretty well-known for their burly wines made from Cannonau, a variant of Grenache that has developed it's own special character on Sardinia over several centuries. The Cardedu Astili Rosso we're featuring (4 Mix, 4 Red) is a field blend that also includes the more obscure Bovale Sardo, Monica, and Pascale grapes found on Sardinia. It's got some meat on its bones but it is made to be chilled down.

Off the coast of Tuscany is the island of Giglio. Probably not a good time of year to visit Giglio, since it's packed with tourists in July and August. But looking at the pictures like the one above make me want to go whenever I can get there. Altura is run by Francesco Carfagna and his family, who have been working doggedly for the past 40 years to restore vineyards on Giglio, and the local variety Ansonaco (Press 2). The vines are so steep and rugged that the cost and labor involved had left most of them fallow by the 1980s, when Francesco left his job as a mathematics professor in Rome and opened a restaurant on Giglio. Apparently it wasn't hard to buy the vines since nobody wanted them, but that was the only easy part for Francesco.

And speaking of popular tourist destinations, we can end our journey on the coast of Liguria with a trio of crowd-pleasing, complex whites from Bruna (4 Mix, 4 White), Dringenberg (4 Mix, 4 White), and Punta Crena (4 White). This is picturesque, coastal Italy at its finest. Both of these will go perfect with pesto or some fritto misto. The temperatures are cooler here compared to the hotter islands, but they still have the seaside salinity. This makes for white wines with a delcious combination of complexity and refreshment, and as soon as you crack one of these on a hot day you'll quickly know why wanted to feature this lineup in August. Bruna is another near-exclusive, as our Direct Press members will be getting about a fifth of the entire amount that Bruna exports to the U.S. It's not a first class ticket to Genoa, but it's a nice perk.

Next month we trade flip flops for hiking boots: get ready to climb Mount Etna!


Jonathan & Kirk



Image of Bruna
Bruna "Maje" Pigato Riviera Ligure di Ponente 2020


Image of Maccario Dringenberg
Maccario Dringenberg "L'Amiral" Vino Bianco 2019


Image of Fuso
Fuso "CALA Dario Sarrentino" Rosso Terre Siciliane 2020


Image of Cardedu
Cardedu "Astili" Rosso Sardegna 2019


Image of COS
COS "Nero di Lupo" Terre di Sicliane 2019


Image of Mortellito
Mortellito "Cala Niuru" Rosso Sicilia 2020


Image of Mortellito
Mortellito "Cala Iancu" Bianco 2020


Image of Punta Crena
Punta Crena "Lumassina" Bianco Colline Savonesi 2019



Image of Abbazia San Giorgio
Abbazia San Giorgio "Cloe" Pantelleria 2019


Image of Altura Ansonaco Isola del Giglio 2018
Altura Ansonaco Isola del Giglio 2018



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