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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Chaplin

Bali Wine: Who knew Italian wine has gone island hopping!

On the first night of a long awaited trip to the magical island of Bali, I sat at a beachside table with my husband and daughters, relishing the sultry air, drifting on the music of the waves rolling and crashing on the silvery sand, ready to order the first dinner of the first vacation we'd had in along time. And then it happened. The waiter handed me the wine list. My entire family groaned. Wine lists are my happy place and I take them seriously. I read all five entries. Twice. The waiter smiled encouragingly and I asked, "What is this Bali wine at the top of the list?" More groaning as the family realised this could take awhile. "White wine, madam." Ah, this will be fun. "Do you know what grape it is made from?" "White grape, madam." Family is in despair, smirking. Since it was vacation and I was not working and I should be chilled out, I smiled and said, "Fine, I'll have a bottle of that."

The bottle arrived, with a lovely label showing a delicate drawing of a female Balinese dancer in traditional costume. One sniff, one sip and I was transported to Sicily on a cloud of aromatic, floral, green apple, crunchy pear and white apricot, a sea breezy salty kick and a touch of flinty minerality. So inspired was I that I quickly posted on Instagram, a cute vay-cay photo of me, glass in hand, and words to the effect, "Wine in Bali! Who knew! Tastes just like a dry Sicilian Moscato." And very soon, there was a comment from my friend, Pietro Russo, enologist for Donnafugata in Sicily. "That IS a Sicilian in Bali! The winemaker is my friend Giacomo Anselmi!" Who is smirking now, family???

Turns out that Isola Wines are owned by Cantine Balita, a nice little combo name of Bali plus Italy. Founder and CEO Agung Bagus Pratiksa Linggih, Marketing and Strategy Director Giotto Castiglioni and Enologist /Agronomist Giacomo Anselmi started in 2012 on the north side of the island, where there happen to be three volcanoes, and there it is, that hint of Sicily again! The northern Buleleng coast is cooled by the winds from the Bali Sea and has a more moderate climate than the rest of tropical Bali, similar to southern Europe. Bringing cuttings and seeds from Europe, the winery now cultivates 8 hectares of vines, including Belgia grapes from the Moscato family, along with Malvasia Nera from Puglia in Italy, and Syrah. They produce 7 wines: 3 whites, a rosé and 3 reds.

Thanks to the camaraderie of wine people (especially Italians) all around the world, I was soon in touch with Giacomo, who kindly organised a tasting for me with their local sales manager. Sorry family, wine work waits for no vacation! What a great evening it was, sitting outside with frangipani scenting the air, candles on the table, discussing problems of fruit set, volume of harvest, and best training systems for grapes on Bali -- which turns out to be pergola, keeping grapes away from ground level humidity, providing air flow and a canopy to protect from sunburn. Isola Wines are organic and vegan, using all natural gravity filtration and no egg whites, as well as selected yeasts and natural yeasts from the bloom. Vinified mostly in stainless steel, all imported from Sicily, the winery is just starting to test a variety of Slovenian, French and American oak. We dreamt about making sparkling wine in Bali and came up with names like "Balisecco" and "Balibrusco" throughout the very animated and joyful tasting.

Bali and Italy share so many similarities beyond their volcanic soil, gorgeous beaches and sunny climates. Both have a long tradition of culture and history, poetry, art and music. Cantine Balita's Isola Wines have added wine making to the mix. From the gorgeous, elegantly simply labels created by a local artist, to the passionate winery team, it's easy to see why these unexpected and delicious wines blew me away. The winery's philosophy sums it up this way: "By merging Italian viticulture knowledge with traditional Balinese agriculture, we made it possible to produce high-quality wines in Bali that match famous international wine labels." Now all they have to do is export!

Tasting Notes:

Isola Bianco 2020

100% Belgia: lemon green, dry, with a resounding floral nose that shouts Moscato, follows up with white peach, lime zest, lemon curd, tiny hints of wet stone and dried unripe pineapple, engaging note of ginger, a whack of acidity and good balance. The finish is long, briny, a whizz of anchovy and lemon peel and a touch of yellow apple. This wine tastes, smells and drinks like Sicily.

Isola Bianco Raw 2020

100% Belgia: no intervention, spontaneous fermentation, no added yeast. Pale gold, with a sour tamarind nose and notes of yuzu, ylang-ylang and resin. On the palate the resin evolved into a cedarwood tone with the addition of just a little pickled Moroccan lemon. Smooth and subtle with a medium body and a phenolic grip, slightly bitter almond finish, this is almost an "orange wine" style.

Isola Rosato 2020

100% Malvasia Nera: seductive salmon pink coppery colour. All the hallmarks of a dry, succulent southern Italian rosé. The nose somersaults out of the glass, with punchy whiffs of strawberry, raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate. Sales Manager Ngurah Purnawan and I agreed it’s hard to explain wines to Balinese islanders who have never tasted any of these fruits! I need more time in the wet markets of Asia and Indonesia, looking for fruits and flowers to adapt my vocabulary. The wine is exquisite: sweet and sour, pink Himalayan sea-salted berries, with an attractive, slightly bitter geranium and nori seaweed wrap finish. 10 star drinkability!

Isola Rosso 2020

30% Malvasia Nera and 70% Syrah: so enticing. A delectable bright ruby, cherry forward, sweet almond, spicy wine with notes of cinnamon, pepper, clove, star anise, a lilting waft of fresh dates and figs, and a subtle sweet almond and jaffa-cake chocolate orange in the finish. Medium acidity and very well integrated alcohol, lovely balance and appealing grainy tannins.

Isola Rosso Raw 2020

Same blend as the Rosso, this wine is made all in steel, pale garnet, with a beautiful, complex, hot mineral nose full of graphite, iron, blood orange, ripe red cherry jam and crushed pomegranate seeds. Powdery fine tannins and good acidity make this a wine that could be served chilled, which is useful in Bali!

Isola Moscato Dolce 2020

A blend of natural unfermented juice with Isola's own grape juice, this wine has an intense nose of apple, sweet jasmine, white peach, white pear, pineapple, passion fruit and elderflower (or sambuca flower if we nod to Sicily once again). Slightly sparkling and off dry, this wine has the potential to pair well with sushi, Asian dishes and spicy food, as well as sweet desserts.

Isola Rubino Dolce 2020

Malvasia Nera again, the is an elegant, off-dry, slightly sparkling red with a gentle tannic grip on the palate and a long cassis centered finish. The wine that inspired "Balibrusco" as a marketing name, but actually similar to some of the better Brachettos from Piemonte (apologies, Sicily).

Thanks to Le Jardins Villas in Seminyak for a heavenly four nights in paradise.

Photographs Will Chaplin Photography

seven bottles of Isola Wines from Cantine Balita in Bali

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