The Mediterranean diet is hot. Who wouldn’t love a diet that calls for an abundance of fresh fish, tomatoes, olive oil, lemon, garlic, and most importantly, moderate yet regular consumption of wine?! At least 16 countries border the Mediterranean Sea, many of which produce wine, but some of the most exciting are Greece, Spain and the southern Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Greece was one of the world’s first winemaking countries, with evidence of wine production found that dates back 4,000 years. Greek wine is often associated with retsina, an “acquired taste” kind of wine treated with pine-tree resin, but the sophistication of Greek winemaking is growing exponentially and many experts consider this a major up- and-coming wine region. Famous winemakers like the Boutaris are experimenting with classic varieties like Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay, while also working with the native Greek varieties like Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, Malvasia and Xinomavro.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and Italy’s largest wine-producing region, known especially for its famous fortified wine, Marsala. Sicily’s popular varietals include Nero d’Avola, Cataratto Bianco, Inzolia, and Perricone. Sardinia, to the northwest of Sicily, is a region heavily influenced by foreign cultures, particularly Spain, and this influence is apparent in their Spanish-origin wine varietals like Cannonau (a relative of Grenache), Monica and Vermentino.
Spain has the world’s most vineyard acreage, but comes in third behind Italy and France in terms of the volume of wine produced. Low yields are primarily due to the extremely arid land in most of the vineyards which require vines to be planted far apart. Spain’s most well-known wines are riojas, both red and white; the methodé champenoise sparkling wine, cava; and the fortified wine, sherry. The most important Spanish Mediterranean region is Penedes in Catalonia, the center of the country’s cava industry.
Ranging from crisp and citric (like Greek whites) to spicy and bold (Spanish riojas), these are also some of the best summertime wines, pairing beautifully with ripe fresh produce like tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini as well as grilled meats.