After being decimated at the end of the 19th century by phylloxera — a microscopic aphid that eats the roots of grapevines — the vineyards of the Aeolian Islands began making a comeback in the 1950s. Their revival was further boosted by the attribution of a DOC — Malvasia delle Lipari — in 1973, which includes a table wine and two sweet after-dinner wines. The first is made from Malvasia grapes, the second two from Malvasia and Corinto Nero grapes, which are allowed to dehydrate partially on the vines, or alternatively on racks, for two weeks so that the grapes concentrate their sugar and flavor before pressing. The resulting juice is then allowed to slow-ferment in casks. This process is known as the passito method, and it produces a honey-colored sweet wine with varying degrees of residual sugar but a tempering acidity, flavors of dried apricots and figs, and a nose of herbs, broom and eucalyptus.
Some 350 acres of grapes are now being cultivated at 15 wineries, mostly on Lipari and Salina, and several major Sicilian winemakers have made investments in Aeolian vineyards, notably the Tasca d’Almerita family on Salina. Annual wine production across the Aeolians averages between 250,000 and 350,000 bottles annually. The most commonly cultivated white grapes are Malvasia di Lipari — the islands’ signature grape — Catarratto and Inzolia, with reds including Corinto Nero, Nocera, Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio.
It is generally thought that vines were first introduced to the Aeolian Islands by the Greeks during the fourth century B.C., although other wine historians suggest that the first grapes arrived with the Venetians sometime in the late 16th century. It’s also quite possible that grapes were introduced by both the Greeks and the Venetians.
The late Carlo Hauner, an artist and architect from Brescia, in northern Italy, is generally considered the father of modern winemaking in the Aeolians. In the 1980s, Hauner purchased many abandoned vineyards on Salina and brought them back into production. Today, the winery produces white, red and rosé table wines and three Malvasia delle Lipari DOC wines, all of which have a signature elegance and surprising freshness; the Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso described Hauner’s passito as “flaunting nuances of Mediterranean scrubland and delicious echoes of candied citrus.” When traveling in the Aeolians, look for them on local wine lists, or visit the Hauner estate — by reservation only — for a guided tasting.
The Tasca d’Almerita wines are served at the Capofaro on its wine estate and are widely available elsewhere. Other notable producers in Salina include Caravaglio; Fenech, which also offers wine tastings; Marchetta, which is located in Malfa not far from the Hotel Signum; and Virgona, which is also located in Malfa and offers wine tastings by reservation only.