Gentilini Robola of Cephalonia 2006
While the island of Corfu off the northwest coast of Greece is undoubtedly the best known of
the Ionian islands, at least for tourists, the largest Ionian island, Cephalonia, leads the way in
the production of the region's distinctive wines. The white Robola of Cephalonia thrives on
the mountain highlands in the center of the island. Robola of Cephalonia is one of just twenty
Greek varieties (red or white) that qualifies for the prestigious Appellation of Origin of
Superior Quality (Οίνοι
Ποιότητος). Pure, somewhat sharp
and very dry, the wine is considered one of the best white wines in all Greece.
Gentilini has been producing wines on the island since the mid-1980s. The present day winery is run by Marianna Cosmetatos, daughter of founder Spiro Cosmetatos, and her husband Petros Markantonatos. The winery is named after an Italian ancestor, Marino Gentilini, who settled on the island in the 16th century. Gentilini's philosophy appears to be a combination of ancient care and modern technique. The Robola grapes are grown on the slopes of Mount Ainos on soils of limestone and gravel. Gentilini cold ferments the grapes in whole bunches, cold stabilizes and filters a single pass before bottling; no wood contact or aging is involved.
The wine is a clear, light straw color, with a nose of medium intensity showing notes of white flowers, grapefruit, almond and honey.
The $14 wine is decidedly dry, and this is a good thing. Even a dollop of sweet would obscure the bracing acidity and, worse, cloud the somewhat delicate but flavorful fruit: grapefruit, peach, and hints of a number of tropical notes like pineapple and mango. The wine also shows minerality. Cephalonia was under British control during the 19th century, during which time the British Governor, Charles Napier (1782-1853), referred to drinking a “wine of stone.”* I have to imagine Napier was referring to a Robola made without the modern cold fermentation equipment Gentilini has available. The minerality in this wine is chalky and yet crisp, with an element of sea spray. The white flowers—same as on the nose—act as a chaperone.
None of these notes scream in this sophisticated wine, but there is one aspect that does shout: “Have me with seafood for heaven's sake!” This is wine perfectly balanced to complement seafood, preferably shellfish. I am having mine with Pacific salmon, not the ideal fish (you could even had a red wine with this one), but at least it comes from the ocean.
Even though all the elements of this wine are fairly basic and straightforward, even though nothing about this Robola of Cephalonia comes out and hits you in the face, it is difficult to sufficiently stress how individual this wine is. It has, for want of a better word, terroir. I love certain Spanish whites, which are also ideal with seafood, but I cannot bridge the gap to make a true family analogy. All other whites, seafood friendly though they be, position themselves even further away. This Gentilini is a fine wine, worth the purchase of a second bottle, and this time I am going to serve it to considered guests with a delicate shrimp and lobster soufflé.
*Thanks to the book Greek Salad, by Miles Lambert-Gócs, p. 257 for this tidbit. Napier, by the way, is responsible for what is perhaps history's most unusual bi-lingual pun. In 1843, years after his residence on Cephalonia, he was responsible for subjugating the then-Indian province of Sind. After a victory in this campaign he is said to have written his brother a message containing the single Latin word peccavi, literally “I have sinned.” Get the joke? (Napier certainly did not sin on Cephalonia, where he carried out many major public works projects with characteristic care and efficiency.)
Verdict: Brings an exotic place to you
Cephalonia. No question I am headed there in the near future. I want to stand on the land and drink the wine it produces.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
The Greek Ionian island of Cephalonia.