Monday, October 13, 2014

Looking For a Few Good Men—Sardinia’s New Winemakers

Sardinia is Italy’s second largest island and lies about 150 miles off the western coast. Interestingly, the island not only is isolated in terms of geography, but also regarding grape varietals. Instead of finding typical Italian red grapes like Sangiovese,  Nebbiolo, or Negroamaro, we find those commonly associated with France and Spain—Grenache, Carignan, and Bobal.  The whites have a little more Italian feel, with Malvasia and Vermentino being dominant, as well as the ubiquitous Muscato Bianco. There are as well some indigenous grapes, like Monica, Torbato, and Nasco, and a host of others.

The Italians’ love of complex bureaucracy is evident in the fact that there are more D.O.C. and I.G.T designations than in nearby Calabria and Basilicata combined despite there being fewer vines per overall hectare than any other wine region in Italy.

Unfortunately, despite the climate and soil being ideal for grape growing, this is a rare part of Italy where the growing of wine grapes is not a priority.

In the sixteenth century, Sardinia was abundant with vineyards, to the point that it was called the “Wine Island,” but then the number of vineyards declined until the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time, several cooperatives arose and bought grapes on a guaranteed price per volume.  As a result, high yields were prized far above quality, and Sardinia became known for producing cheap low quality “plonk” wines.

In the early 1990’s a few serious winemakers decided to change the face of Sardinian wines. They improved vineyard management, and soon yields were low and qualities were high. They brought in new winemaking techniques and combined the best of these with the best of traditional methods to ensure that the “terroir” would be preserved in the wines.

While few Sardinian wines actually get to the U.S., three estates send enough wine across the ocean to be found at very good prices. First is Sella and Mosca’s Canonnau di Sardegna Riserva. Cannonau is the Sardinian word for Grenache, and this is one of the finest wines made from that varietal that you’ll ever find. Aromas of violets, bright red berries, and jam. On the medium bodied palate, there are spices and herbs beneath the ample red fruit. Medium bodied with supple tannins, this wine was once called the world’s best wine under $25.00 by Robert Parker. It is considerably less than that—a steal at $16.99.

Argiolas makes a bevy of wonderful wines. They make a Cannonau as well, called Costera, that is of similar flavor profile and quality as the Sella and Mosca—and a similar price as well. The Perdera is made from the indigenous Monica grape, and shows more blue and black fruit on the palate than Grenache and is delicious.

Finally, there is a wonderful Vermentino called Costamolino. Full of bright citrus and tropical fruit with a nice underlying mineralty, this is an outstanding food wine.

Last and certainly not least is the Santadi Carignano del Sulcis Grotto Rosso. This wine bursts with savory dark fruit, leather, and earth and is an awesome wine to have with your next beef stew. I love this wine, and at $14.99, it is an awesome value.

Italy is one of the greatest wine regions on earth. There are hundreds upon hundreds of different varietals made into wine. Each of the many regions has its own expression of its wines, and Sardinia is no different. Try them, and you’ll be very happy that you did. Cheers!

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