From Lebanon to Spain, around the Med in wine

<span>A view from the south of France of the Med, ‘ a vast region in which wine is entwined with history and tradition’.</span><span>Photograph: Dalibor Brlek/Alamy</span>
A view from the south of France of the Med, ‘ a vast region in which wine is entwined with history and tradition’.Photograph: Dalibor Brlek/Alamy

If you asked drinkers which wine best encapsulates the Mediterranean, I have a feeling Provençal rosé would get the most votes. After all, it’s produced in vineyards which, in many cases, have views over the Med and would ideally be drunk in a restaurant in a similar location, the gorgeous, watercolour wash of pale pink inside a beaded carafe contrasting with azure sea and sky.

It’s a holiday wine, or one to drink in lieu of a trip abroad, and for that reason alone, among the most successful of the past 20 years. For me, it’s only the starting point for any cruise around a vast region in which wine is entwined with history and tradition, and where, even as globalisation has altered habits and aspirations, it retains its dual status as everyday staple and cultural symbol.

It would be a little fanciful to talk of a single “Mediterranean style” when the area takes in such a range of grape varieties and approaches to winemaking. But many of my favourites do share an ability to capture something of the terrain and its flora, to evoke “stone, vine and sun”, to borrow the name of one of the UK’s best importers from Mediterranean France, as well as its aromatic plants – rosemary, thyme, oregano, fennel, chamomile.

You can find these whispers of the warm south – of the garrigue or the macchia – in grape varieties planted throughout the Mediterranean basin. They’re present in the meaty, rich reds made from monastrell in Levantine Spain and mourvèdre in Provence’s Bandol; in the generous, berry-filled reds made from garnacha/grenache around north-eastern Spain, southern France and on Sardinia (where it becomes cannonau). Whites? Seek out the citrussy, breezy dry wines made from vermentino – aka pigato and rolle – in Tuscany, Liguria and southern France.

But you can find similarly resonant wines in places where key grape varieties have largely remained native: the bay-scented dafni dry whites of Crete, the strawberry-juicy, tomato-tart frappato of Sicily, the lemon-grove and blossom-honeyed obaideh whites of Lebanon. Naturally, these chime with Mediterranean cuisines, those diverse variations on a theme of fresh fish, ripe fruit and vegetables, and bountiful herbs and spices that are this wine-and-food lover’s platonic ideal of summer sustenance, whether I’m dreaming at home or I’m dreamily, happily on holiday.

Six of the best Mediterranean wines

Asda Coteaux Varois Rosé
Provence, France 2022 (£8, Asda)
Provence rosé can be pricey, with the top names, in their assortment of odd-sized, perfumier-style bottles, often coming in over £20. This gently creamy, soft, watermelon-and-strawberry-scented pink is excellent value for money.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Sicilian Nero d’Avola
Sicily, Italy 2022 (£8.75, Sainsbury’s)
The Med’s largest island is home to a fascinating wine culture filled, like its cuisine, with intriguing flavours and influences. This ample, ripe-plum and cherry-filled, subtly spiced red is a fine expression of the local nero d’avola variety.

Chateau Oumsiyat Mijana
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon 2019 (£9.49, Waitrose)
Lebanon’s resilient vignerons have a long winemaking tradition, and the country’s modern scene transcends often impossible odds to produce wines of real character, filled, in the case of this red, with ripe berries and peppery spices.

Lyrarakis Dafni Psarades
Crete, Greece 2022 (from £11.99, thewinesociety.com; cambridgewine.com; henningswine.co.uk)
Made from dafni, a Cretan grape variety that was all but extinct until Domaie Lyrarakis got to work on its revival, this is a classic modern Greek white that sings with hillside herbs and racy lemon.

Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Tinto
Alicante, Spain 2021 (from £16.75, bushvines.co.uk; nywines.co.uk)
A key figure in the emergence of Alicante as a producer of quality wines, Pepe Mendoza here uses plots of old monastrell vines to make a rich red that combines fully sun-ripened dark berries with a keen, sappy quality that is intensely drinkable.

Mora & Memo Vermentino di Sardegna
Sardinia, Italy 2022 (from £19.50, vinneuf.co.uk; hennngswine.co.uk; reservewines.co.uk)
Vermentino is a quintessential Mediterranean white grape that thrives in coastal and island sites. This Sardinian wine captures its origins with a waft of dill and rosemary, a ripple of pithy grapefruit, and mouthwatering saltiness.