Friday, June 06, 2008

Sun, Sea, and Wine: Sardinia

This year, as regular readers know all too well, I'm doing a region-by- region crawl through Italian wine, drinking a red, a white, and (if I can find one) a third wine that's either a sparkler, a rose, or a dessert wine. So far I've been to Friuli-Venezia, Campania, Le Marche, Molise, and Sicily. This month, I'm off to the sunny island of Sardinia, off the western coast of Italy. (photo of Sardinia Liquid Blu by Virgi Lex Zuo)

Sardinia, like many regions of Italy, has an ancient wine-making history. As with most wine history, the details are often decidedly murky. Some of the grapes grown on Sardinia, like the white grape Nuragas, can be traced back to the ancient Phoenecians. The red Monica grape is thought to have been brought to the island by Catholic monks. Archaeologists discovered grape seeds that could be dated back to 1200 BC, making Sardinia a contender for the oldest viticultural site in Europe.

While the origins of Sardinian wine might never be fully understood, what is clear is that from the earliest times through to the present, Sardinia has been home to a thriving wine culture. From ancient times invading armies have fallen in love with the island's sweet, Sherry-like wines. Catholic monks and Spanish nobles brought vine cuttings from their native lands to plant on the island. And in the 19th century the native white Semidano grape proved resistant to the ravages of Phylloxera. Despite this long history, Sardinian wines are often dismissed by Italians on the peninsula as simple, rustic, and forgettable. (photo Drink Up by Katherine346 taken during Carnival in Cagliari)

Sardinia's reputation for simple, rustic wines is being replaced these days with a reputation for interesting varieties and great value. Viticulturally, Sardinia has a surprising amount in common with its neighbor to the west, Spain. When the Spanish occupied the island during the Medieval and Renaissance periods, they brought some of their favorite grapes with them, including several that go well with the favorite fare of the region: suckling pig. (Just because Sardinia is an island doesn't mean that it has a seafood-based diet. On the contrary, the pig is king.)

It now seems likely that Sardinia provided some important gifts to Spain in return, namely the Grenache grape that is grown on the island under the name Cannonau, and in Spain under the name Garnacha. I can't help but wonder if Sardinia is poised to become Europe's next region that is known for great value. (Almost Cannonau by Valerius25)

Stay tuned to see what the tastings reveal as I explore the wines of Sardinia. If you have wine suggestions please share them in the comments below, and I'll do my best to find them and give them a try. As with most of these Italian regions, I'm on a steep learning curve and can use all the help I can get.

7 comments:

Richard A. said...

I have a couple suggestions for you:

2003 Cantina di Santadi Shardana Valli di Porto Pino IGT (about $29). This wine is 100%. It is a muscular, rich wine with notes of leather, spice, blackberries and even chocolate.

2004 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna (about $10). This wine made from 90% Vermentino and 10% other Sardinian grapes. This wine is crisp and has delicious flavors of citrus and tropical fruits.

noble pig said...

Ibhave had the Vermentino Richard mentioned as well. I did a review on it on my site too.

Sardinia is a thriving region isn't it. You have described it well.

Nancy said...

This will seem completely out of left field, but since you are a bright soul I have "tagged" you. I hope you'll go to my book review blog, Vellum (link to the right when you are at my wine blog), have a look at the rules, and play. It's all about reading -- got any good wine books you would like to share?

D J R-S said...

Dr. D, Jancis Robinson in her '96 'Guide to Wine Grapes' exempts Sardinia's Carignano del Sulcis from her blanket dismissal of Carignane-based wine as charmless plonk for the masses. I had a decent example from Sella & Mosca in the last year, but still mourn the loss of a 35 euro bottle from a small producer I bought in Hamburg in 2003, of all places, which slid off my baggage cart (stowed in my carry-on daypack) as I rushed to change planes in DFW airport...I'm a big fan of Sardo wines, from the light Monica based quaffers-- not to mention the crisp & flavorful whites-- through the range of variations possible with ur-grape Cannonau...I will recommend, since you are closer for this summer season, you find Massimo & Lorella's palace of Sardo home-cooking in San Francisco, 'La Ciccia' when you're in town...
Ciao!

D J R-S said...

PS-- never do a half-way favor. If only my rerouting/stopover plans had worked, I might offer to treat, but...La Ciccia has a brand new website I just went to check--
http://www.laciccia.com/
both Max & Lore were mostly involved with wine before taking the leap into the restaurant business. They have great stories to tell, you can tell them I sent you & I'll see them, 'que Dieu le veut', in October...

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for all the great suggestions, and to DJ R-S especially who took the time to write in while en route from South of the Equator to points north. I will definitely try to get to that restaurant this summer. I'll report back on wine shopping and hopefully can find some of these wines.

Anonymous said...

When you report back, could you please tell us where they are available in the U.S.? (I live in Kansas City, MO.) I've not been able to find anyone yet in our area who has them, much less, is familiar with them. They look at me like I have three heads when I ask if they have any wines from Sardinia. I'd really like to find some, since I've read that they have extra good health benefits. Maybe you could include a report on actual/specific health benefits. I don't want to order from wine.com (about the only place I've found anything so far) because shipping costs as much as a bottle, and I want to be able to have this wine on a regular basis. Also, am looking for only the red Sardinian wines. Thanks.