by Manos Angelakis
Sardinia (Sardegna, in Italian) is an island at the center of the Mediterranean, where Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Francs, Spaniards (from the Iberian kingdom of Aragon), Moors and all the other groups that fought for domination of the Mediterranean nautical trade, sometimes conquered or sometimes only used as a trading base. They all left their cultural, as well as viticultural, stamp on the island. One only needs to look at some of the Sardinian wines, to discover the actual history of this land.
It was the middle of the grape harvest (vendemia) when we visited some of Sardinia’s wineries and, because most are family operations or small cooperatives, we were only able to visit two. But both made some of the better wines on the island.
Argiolas, is a family owned and operated winery in Serdiana, near the southern regional capital of Cagliari. They make a number of different types of wine plus olive oil, and we were lucky enough to be offered five different styles of wine to taste. Looking at the grape content on the labels, it struck me how some of the blends showed the influence of the ancient conquerors of the Island of the Nuraghi; Nuraghi being the name of the original inhabitants. For example, there is a wine called Turriga, a single vineyard blend made of Cannonau – the Sardinian name for Grenache or Garnacha as the Aragonese call it, Carignano (Carignan, a grape also imported by the Aragonese), Bovale Sardo (related to Mouvèdre from France), and Malvasia Nera (brought by the Phoenicians, a grape with roots in the Near East). It was an interesting 2007 wine, young, but compelling when offered with a typical Sardinian dinner. The fruit and herby aromas, with myrtle predominating, frame a faint but mouthwatering brininess. Though a bit austere, the wine was full-bodied and very crisp.
The wine from this winery I found most interesting was the 2007 Costera, a blend of Cannonau, Carignano and Bovale Sardo. Again very young (I will give my bottle at least 2 years in cellar before uncorking it); it has an intense ruby red color with garnet highlights, a fruity and jammy nose reminiscent of a young Beaujolais, and a palate that is warm and well balanced. It is especially good with some of Sardinia’s roasted pork and lamb dishes.
Is Argiolas is a soft, straw colored wine made from 100% Vermentino, a crisp, acidic grape with herbal hints that grows particularly well in coastal areas such as the Tuscan Maremma or the rocky Gallura in Sardinia.
Another interesting wine from the same winery was the 2007 Serra Lori, a lively pink blend of Cannonau, Monica, Carignano and Bovale Sardo. Delicate and fruity, it worked well with appetizers and antipasti.
Finally, Angialis is a dessert wine made from a blend of Nasco (an indigenous grape that is grown in the Cagliari area) and Malvasia (the Phoenician grape). Intensely colored a pale gold hue, it was very sweet on the palate, aromatic, apricot scented (Malvasia), though it presented a slightly resiny nose, typical of Nasco. It lacked some of the acidity necessary to make it truly food-friendly. I tried a Nasco berry, while the grapes were waiting in 10 kilo bins to go to the destemmer, and they reminded me a little of very ripe, sweet, small sultana grapes.
The Argiolas wines are imported in the US by Winebow.
The other vineyard we visited was Cantina Oliena, a small cooperative located on the North East coast of the island, in the town of Oliena. The wine was the 2007 Nepente di Oliena (a reference to classic Greek mythology), and is a wine celebrated by the poet and novelist Gabriele d'Annunzio. This was 100% Cannonau di Sardegna, a lovely red wine, opaque in color; it exhibits concentrated ripe red forest fruit, tobacco, spices and cigar box on the nose. It offers medium tart cherries on the attack and forest berry fruit with chewy tannins on the finish. We had first tasted it the previous evening at Sa Festa di Casa Atzeri in Maracalagonis; Vincenzo Atzeri’s very traditional garden restaurant that offers antipasti, hand-made pasta, and roasted piglets on the spit as well as roast lamb and fat little sparrows. At the end of the evening, all waiters and waitresses – dressed in traditional costumes – dance folk dances while Vincenzo sings.
There is a third winery whose wines I liked, Tenute Sella & Mosca S.P.A that celebrated its centennial in 1999 and is part of Gruppo Campari. I was unable to visit them, because they were in the middle of harvest and, in addition, we were staying in Costa Smeralda, the northeastern area of Sardinia while the winery is on the west coast. But during the trip, I tasted some of the Sella & Mosca wines in Sardinian restaurants with typical Sardinian dishes and, on my return, I found that they were imported in the U.S. by Palm Bay International, which made me very happy, as I really liked them.
The three Sella & Mosca wines that I liked very much, and was glad to find in wine stores near me, are: the 2005 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva, 100% Cannonau (the Sardinian Garnacha clone that was imported from Aragon); 2003 Tanca Farrá, a blend of 50% Cannonau and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; and 2006 Thìlion, a 50/50 blend of Torbato (another varietal imported by settlers from Aragon) and Sauvignon Blanc. Both the last two wines come from vines growing in the Alghero DOC along the northwest coast, in the Sassari Province. All the varietals, no mater what their derivation, have perfectly adapted to the Sardinian landscape and climate, and produce excellent wines. Considering the quality these wines represent, their suggested list prices are, indeed, very modest. 2003 Tanca Farra: $28.99; 2005 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva: $14.50; 2006 Thilion: $31.50.
The 2005 Cannonau is still very young. It is opaque, very dark red, almost black, and exhibits concentrated ripe red forest fruit, tobacco, spices, and cigar box on the nose. The 2001 bottle I had in Sardinia was an excellent meat eater’s wine that matched very well the charcoal grilled piglet, sausage, and lamb dishes. I do not remember the vintage date of the Tanca Farrá I had as, after looking for more than three hours for a restaurant that was not reserved by large weddings to have lunch (all six restaurant we tried were similarly reserved), we ended up at a village far from the beaten path and I did not have my notebook with me. To make a long story short, our guide and I finished a bottle of the Tanca Farrá with our antipasto, grilled veal chops, and grilled vegetables. The wine was fat and chewy, rich and dark from the Cannonau but with a nose dominated by the late harvested Cabernet. Matured for 2 years in barriques and medium capacity oak casks and then 6 months in bottle before release; this was another of those Sardinian wines that the general public knows very little, but are known and respected by the aficionados. Thìlion, named after a chalk and sandstone promontory on the west coast where the vineyard is located, is a straw/gold colored charmer, with intense aromas of acacia honey against a hint of vanilla.
To your health!
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