It is a stunningly beautiful volcanic island that rose out of the sea and offers views across the Mediterranean Sea to Mount Vesuvius on the mainland. Small but mighty, it has a number of vineyards that produce excellent quality wines, mostly from native grape varieties. With a wine culture dating back thousands of years to the Greek era, the island was known in Roman times as Aenaria – the land of wines.
Ischia is only 10km by 7km, yet the mineral-rich volcanic soils combine with an idyllic climate to create an ideal environment for growing wine grapes, with no winter frosts and a gentle sea breeze that keeps pests and diseases to a minimum. In the last century there was about 1500 hectares of vineyards, which has currently eroded to about 400 hectares as development for tourism takes its toll. However, steps are being taken to plant more vineyards and increase production, with the only limiting factor being the lack of staff.
The two standout native grape varieties are Biancolella for whites and Per’E Palummo for reds, both perfectly adapted to the island’s volcanic soils. Due to the high quality of the wines produced, the DOC Ischia was recognized in 1966 as the second DOC region in Italy. Today there are 6 main wineries of varying sizes on the island, producing mainly white and red wines with touches of sparkling, rosé and sweet wine.
Casa d’Ambra is the oldest winery on the island, founded in 1888 and now run by the fourth generation of the D’Ambra family. The wines, which produce an impressive 500,000 bottles annually, made primarily from local grapes Biancolella, Forastera and Per’E Plummo, have won many awards over the years. Casa d’Ambra’s top-of-the-line white wine is called Frassitelli and is made from 100% Biancolella in a 4-acre single vineyard site at 1500 feet. A very difficult to work vineyard with steep terraces, rocks and dry stone walls. The company has installed an ingenious rail system on the mountainside to bring the cases of wine to the winery during harvest time.
Speaking to winemaker Sara d’Ambra, the passion, dedication and tenacity that produces wines full of character and expression is evident. The balance of fruit and acidity is exquisite, with appealing aromas and good length on the palate. Using traditions combined with modern technology, the family continues their quest for excellence through generations.
More heroic winemakers can be found at the Tommasone family winery, which overlooks the small port of Lacco Ameno. With around 110,000 bottles a year, they are the only sparkling wine producer on the island producing around 3000 bottles using the classic method. The quality of their wine range is equally high and is produced on 17 hectares of windswept vineyards.
Finding Ischia wines in the UK is challenging but not impossible, especially for Casa d’Ambra. The best way to experience them is to travel to Ischia and stay at the fabulous 5-star Botania Relais Hotel and Spa – more of a village set in tropical gardens (with excellent service) than a hotel. Many of Ischia’s wines are served in their three restaurants. Book through top tour operator Tastes of Italy who can make all the arrangements for you.