The twelfth century saw the rise of city-states in Italy, which were originally outposts of the eastern Roman Empire of Constantinople. These states came into being by need of Crusaders requiring transportation to the Holy Land. At this time, the Mediterranean was a Saracen lake and the first city-states deployed fleets that preyed upon the Saracen traders. As the Crusades captured lands that hitherto had been held by the Saracens, the major city-states evolved into major traders in the Mediterranean, and further afield. As a result, there was a revitalization of trade, access to silks, spices, and also the fine wines, which were in high demand in European courts. The Islands of Cyprus, Rhodes and Crete, upon capture, were resettled and the religious orders planted vines and further developed the local industry.
The city-states of Genoa and Venice built transportation galleys similar in design to the ancient Greek or Roman triremes with a cargo capacity of up to 1,000 tons. These galleys, powered by sail, or if necessary by oar, were able travel from the southern Italian ports to Southampton in 30 days, supplying the English and continental markets with the sweeter wines from the eastern Mediterranean.
The most prized wines were the Muscadels and Malmeys of Cyprus. The islands in the Ionian Sea also produced sweet wines, which were sold by the name Romania. In England, this wine was commonly known as Rumney.
The demand for Muscadel was so great that the Muscat vine was imported into southern France, Spain and Italy. After harvest, the grapes were spread on mats to further intensify their juice. The resulting wine commanded a high price and was only affordable by the nobles. In order of preference, the Muscatel wines were the first and most expensive choice followed by Rhine wines, and finally, the everyday drinking wine, Claret.
Next week we head to Spain.
This week’s salad recipe requires a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc to accommodate the layered flavours. I recommend the 2008 Trumpour’s Mill Riesling from the Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards ($11.75). This dry Riesling is a refreshing compliment with its aromatic nose, delicate pale straw colour and crisp, citrus finish.
Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards is located at 990 Closson Road in Hillier.
Remember, bubbles are great anytime…the Hinterland Wine Company’s 2009 Whitecaps Sparkling ($20), is Jonas Newman’s answer to Prosecco. The fine bubbles, oyster shell minerality and lemon meringue pie on the palate is balanced with a lingering acidity that stands up to the richness of the scallops and aromatics of the vanilla.
Hinterland Wine Company is located at 1258 Closson Road in Hillier.