Famous for providing gorgeous locations for the 1994 film Il Postino, Isola di Salina has more attractions than just beautiful scenery. The vineyard of Capofaro – also known as Malvasia & Resort – is a chic but relaxed hideaway in which to enjoy this remote, verdant and most unspoilt of the Aeolian Islands, its gastronomy and some great Sicilian wines.
Purchased in 2001 by the Tasca d’Almerita family, Capofaro is a working vineyard that launched its Malvasia wine in 2003 (the same year Alberto Tasca became CEO of the family business) and among the vines nestle 21 rooms available to paying guests. From the poolside terrace there are clear views across to the obligingly active Stromboli, while the vineyard is backed by the extinct volcanos of Monte dei Porri and Monte Fossa delle Felci, which give the island its Ancient Greek name – Didyme, “The Twins”. Didyme is also the name of the attractive dry white produced from the surrounding vineyards: a 100 per cent Malvasia – fresh, herbal, with a twist of fennel fronds and dried flowers, which acts as a nurturing foil for the sun-enriched, powerful flavours of the island’s cuisine.
“We use the indigenous herbs and flowers grown on the ancient volcanic soils,” says Capofaro’s chef, Ludovico De Vivo. “The island is also famous for its wild fennel and capers and, of course, the seafood.” The menu, which during my visit included ravioli with smoked sardines, fennel and caper leaves, and red mullet beccafico (in a sauce of oranges, with breadcrumbs, pine nuts and grapes), amply demonstrated this philosophy in action. Fruit, vegetables and herbs are sourced mostly from the resort’s own gardens, and fresh fish from the surrounding waters. The kitchen waste fertilises the vines, which helps explain why Tasca d’Almerita was the only Italian winery to receive a commendation at The Drinks Business Green Awards last November.
Tasca’s Almerita Contessa Franca, an extra brut 100 per cent metodo classico Chardonnay from the Regaleali estate, which had spent an impressive 60 months on its lees, is a recommended aperitivo, with its balance of ripe fruit, low dosage and extended maturation. Another wine from the family’s cellar that paired particularly well with the robust menu included a youthful Grillo from Mozia, an island off of Sicily’s western coast, with its fleshy nose of nectarine, Golden Delicious and peach, but also a lifted, spicy palate and herbaceous acidity. And Nozze d’Oro (2014), a blend of Sicilian variety Inzolia and Sauvignon Tasca (a rare clone dating back to the first world war), had an intriguing cinnamon, fresh fig and almond scent that was particularly well-matched with a brilliant pesce crudo dish of amberjack, béarnaise and toasted pine nuts.
But one of the most magnificent food and wine pairings you’ll enjoy anywhere is Capofaro’s sweet wine with Ludovico’s anchovy and spinach crisp-topped sweet ricotta. From the 0.8 hectare anfiteatro vineyard, Capofaro makes just 8,000 bottles a year of its eponymous sweet wine, a 100 per cent Malvasia, harvested mid-September and dried to achieve the perfect level of sweetness through dehydration. Capofaro shuns using the Corinto Nero grape with which Malvasia is traditionally blended to produce the Aeolian islands’ famous dessert wine and it seems none the worse for it, with its richly exotic fermented apple, preserved lemon, mandarin, potpourri and white petal aromas moving through a ripe apricot palate to a fresh light sherbet lemon finish with a touch of salinity.
There is another gem over on Salina’s western side, near the shorefront of the village of Pollara. Locanda del Postino, named by owner Mauro Leva for the aforementioned film – its achingly gorgeous sunset scenes were shot here – attracts discreet international gastronomes and has simple, spartan rooms. And you’ll need one after the protracted affair that dinner inevitably becomes, involving a succession of generous plates of unapologetically rich, rustic dishes such as involtini di spigola su patate schiacciate, pomodori secchi, capperi and the restaurant’s speciality, olive e olio al prezzemolo. A robust and exciting accompaniment to this earthy cuisine, Nero du Munti is a local red from the Caravaglio family on neighbouring Lipari, who have been cultivating wines on the island for generations. Made, unusually, from 100 per cent Corinto Nero, and from 150-year-old vines, Nero du Munti is rich with red berry and spiced plums, a twist of pepper and the waft of a passing incense burner.