Monday, June 30, 2008

Cannonau: Proving "Rustic Wine" Isn't a Bad Thing

I'm wrapping up my month of Sardinian wines today with a wine that exemplifies the wine description "rustic."

What is a rustic wine? It's a topic of debate, and some people use it as a put-down to describe wines they find simple, unsophisticated, and lacking in the fruitiness that might make a wine "quaffable" (that's a subject for another day). Like my esteemed colleague Tyler Colman of Dr. Vino, however, I think it's a good thing. In a post made way back in February 2007, he entered into a spirited discussion with some readers about the definition of a rustic wine. Dr. Vino described rustic wines as "off-the-beaten-path varieties or regions that maybe have some quirks or rough edges but also have a certain undeniable charm, particularly in the face of a pasteurized, homogenized wine in an “international” style."

This definition certainly fits the Sardinian red wine that I tried. I was made from Cannonau grapes--which is what Grenache is called on the island of Sardinia. Turns out there is a bit of controversy these days about the origins of Cannonau. We used to say the Spanish brought it to Sardinia, but now experts wonder if it isn't indigenous to Sardinia ,and the Spanish took it back with them after they invaded the island in the 13th century. Whatever you call it, Cannonau from Sardinia has retained the idiosyncratic rusticity that can make you feel that you are drinking wine from a different age. Craig Camp had a Cannonau a few weeks ago, and likened it to an old-fashioned Chateauneuf du Pape from the Rhone.

The 2003 Santa Maria La Palma Le Bombarde was one of those wines that reminded you that rusticity is something that you happen upon all too infrequently these days when drinking wine. ($18, Bion Divino) Upon first sip, it smalled and tasted like iron--overwhelmingly so--with some gamey notes that made me think I had made a serious mistake with this wine. I left it alone in the glass for 15 or so, then sipped it and the iron tang had gone, replaced by flavors of meat and leather. Another 15 minutes and the meat and leather had melded with a strong, cherry liqueur flavor. In the end it was very much like an older Chateauneuf du Pape, with all the rusticity and funkiness left in and none of its opulence of plushness. This wine had great varietal typicity, but it may not appeal to New World Grenache fans. Good QPR for a wine that has oodles of character, but may cost more than you want to spend on a wine with lots of rough edges.

Like most rustic wines, the Cannonau was much better with food than without. Our favorite pairing was with a BLT and some sweet potato fries. The sandwiches were made on some toasted sourdough made by our friends at the Twofish Baking Company, and the sourdough tang was perfect with the any remaining iron notes. The smokey bacon was terrific with the meat and leather tastes, and the tomato and the cherry flavors sparked off each other without clashing.

Listening to Lynne Rossetto Kasper's The Splendid Table podcast for June 21, I discovered a new reason to love this rustic wine: Dan Buettner discovered that is has 3 times the antioxidants of any other grape on earth. It's one reason why Sardinians (who love their Cannonau) are one of the five groups highlighted in his book Blue Zones, which studied communities with exceptionally long-lived members to learn about life habits that could contribute to health and wellness.

Sardinian Cannonau will be one of the reds that stands out from my Italian regional tour. Like one of the centenarian Sardinian sheep-herders interviewed in Dan Buettner's book, it proves that rusticity is not such a bad thing, after all.


Anonymous said...

This sounds great. I'll have to track it down as I've never tasted this producer. My type of wine!

helen said...

Ill second that Craig. It certainly does sound like a wine good to try. If you find any online drink sites that do this wine or an eqivalent please do leave a link. Thank you.

Stu said...

I've tried a few of these wines recently from $13-$50 and liked them all. The two under $15 I've tried were both great drinkers. understand cannonau is grenache, but I think they are very different than chateauneuf-de-pape, which I love, but always find a bit cloying. If this is rustic, I like it. Simple, earthy, full bodied and not too much fruit.

Anonymous said...

It's great to hear and talk about the fabulous health benefits from Sardinian wines made from Cannonau grapes but if they are not available to purchase what's the good?!

I live in the Los Angeles area and have called virtually every wine outlet I can find and no one carries (nor do they know of anyone who carries) an "organic, red Sardinian wine for under $20" If anyone knows where I can find one in the Los Angeles area will you please post the location here and I will check back. Thank you.

Dr. Debs said...

I live in LA, too, Anonymous--and though this bottle came from San Francisco, you CAN find Cannonau for under $20 here, too. Wine Expo often carries wine from Sardinia (also called Sardegna), and they currently list several bottles for under $20 ( Call first to make sure it's still in stock.

cannonauwine said...

From cannonauwine (follow me on twitter):
Looking for an island wine made from #Cannonau? We have the 2005 Attilio Contini Cannonau Tonaghe di Sardegna in stock.

Rosso Wine Shop is located at:
3459-1/2 N Verdugo Road
Glendale, California 91208
Phone: 818- 330-9130
Fax: 818- 330-9131

albawine said...

to anomymus I say 'go to Capri in Venice and enjoy the 2005 Cannonau Reserva which i on the wine list is 42.- Biggish, rustic, but, what a supple finish it goes on for days.

Lisa said...

This is the best red wine in the world. If you get an excellent year and it has been preserved well, it goes with sweets, steak, and pasta. And the health benefits only add to the reasons. I lived in Sardedgna for 2 years and I miss this the most.Also with cheeses, so good! Salute!

sergio said...

Believe it or not, I'm sardinian and I live in Sardinia (Cagliari). Among the various "cantine" that produce Cannonau, I prefer the sub-type Nepente. It comes from the area known as Barbagia (cities of Nuoro, Ovodda, Oliena, etc...), and it probably represents my idea of "ancient".
Another common and appreciated kind of Cannonau is the one produced in (the city of) Jerzu and in its surrounding area.