Sardinia: Italy’s Resorgimento
Sardinia is home to the ancient mythological hero-god Sardus Pater, and some surprisingly good wines. So good that these local treasures are indicative of Sardinia’s resurgence as an important wine region that is capable of producing fine wines to meet international standards. Today I am joined by long-time friend, and fellow sommelier, Serena Dutto. Knowing my interest in ancient history and willingness to explore unusual and interesting wine regions, it was only logical that when I suggested that we take some time off, Serena picked Sardinia.
The island’s history dates back to antiquity and has been colonized by everyone from the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Berbers, Spaniards, French, and Italians. No doubt the blending of such diverse cultures has led to a colorful viticultural history and unique portfolio of wine grapes.
What is most interesting with Sardinia’s wines, the varietals bear little resemblance to those on the Italian mainland. More often than not, the varieties are of French and Spanish origin. I was surprised to find an abundance of Garnacha, Bobal, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
So what do two sommeliers do on holiday besides enjoy the sandy beaches and pristine waters … drink wine, of course. We have chosen Poetto Beach, just on the outskirts of the city of Cagliari, for today’s wine tasting. This stretch of white sand is popular with both locals and tourists alike. Sun worshippers revel in everything from lazy days, to extreme sports such as kite surfing.
Serena selected some wonderful wines. We began with a Vermentino from Tuvaos. This wine is from the western region of Usini. On the eye our 2011 Giovanni Cherchi Tuvaos is a pale straw-yellow, with just a hint of green. It is not an effervescent wine, but there is just the slightest hint of bubbles. The bouquet is aromatic and filled with white flowers. There is also the suggestion of green meadows that adds to its allure. On the palate it is very fresh and enjoyable. It is smooth, richly floral, and elegant. The finish is smooth, warm, and very long. The alcohol content is 13.5% with a price tag of $25.
“I prefer Sardinian Vermentino over those from the mainland,” Serena said flatly.
“Agreed, too often Vermentino is much too sharp and dry,” I paused lightly. “With what dishes would you serve our Tuvaos?”
“Any type of seafood, especially fish,” she replied as she poured us another glass of wine. “I would also serve this wine at 52 degrees Fahrenheit to bring out its flavors.
Our next wine, Capichera Vigna’ngena Vermentino 2011, was definitely one of the first great white wines produced in Sardinia. It hails from the renown Gallura region. The allure of this wine is that it is aged in French oak barriques which gives it great intensity and complexity. On the eye, the wine’s color is a pale yellow straw. The nose shows notes of orange blossoms, rosemary, and thyme. On the palate, there is a perfect balance of acidity, sweetness, citrus fruits, and minerals. There was just the slightest hint of oak and the finish was medium and lost none of its flavor. Over all, this is a delicate and polished wine that is filled with subtle nuances. The alcohol content is 13.5% with a price tag of $40.
“I knew this one would be your palate. It also pairs nicely with fish, shellfish, and seafood risotto,” she said as she gently fed me some clams.
“I know that Capichera wines are favored over all other Gallura wines and it is easy to understand why,” I paused to pour us both more wine.” I like the use of the French oak barriques. It definitely rounds out the character and flavor of the wine.”
Our next selection, Sella & Mosca Terre Bianche Torbato Alghero 2006 hails from Sardinia’s northwest. The Torbato grape, originally from Spain, is known for producing wines that are a delicate straw yellow, with golden hues. On the nose it is complex and persistent, with noticeable fruit aromas dominating. On the palate it is light and refreshing, crisp, and flavorful. The acidity of this fruit forward wine is naturally assertive, yet pleasing. There are also lovely suggestions of vanilla from oak aging. Sella & Mosca age the wine 4 months in 2 and 3 year old barrels. What emerges is a wine that is full-bodied, savory, structured, and complex. The alcohol content is 12.5% with a price tag of $30.
“Sella & Mosca are among Sardina’s premier wine estates,” Serena’s tone was matter of fact. “The 1600 acre estate, with 1200 acres under cultivation, make Sella & Mosca one of the largest wine estates in all of Europe.”
“Definitely my preference on a summer day,” I nodded in approval.
“Torbato also pairs sensationally with shellfish and seafood dishes,” she said with calm finality.
Serena selected as our last wine, Vernaccia di Oristano Riserva 1988. Vernaccia, is from the Italian word vernaculo. It translates best as “common” or “indigenous.” Vernaccia Oristano is a sherry-like fortified wine from Sardina’s western regions. This style of wine is harvested and pressed in the standard way, aged in oak barrels for 3-4 years. The result is a wine that has a musty bouquet with an abundance of almond nuttiness on the nose. This golden yellow wine has a curious taste of bitter fruit on the palate. I did find it quite enjoyable. The finish is light and pleasant and loses none of its almond qualities. Over all, it is a delicate, yet complete wine. The alcohol content is 15.5% with a price tag of $45.
“I love this wine,” Serena gasped as she expressed her delight. “It is so gracious, so seductive.”
“What foods best match Vernaccia Oristano?” I queried.
“Prawns first and foremost,” she paused to collect her thoughts. “Cauliflower and black olive fusilli pasta, sweet potatoes, stuffed avocados, and eggplant are among my favorite pairings,” Serena chuckled under her breath.
“What is so funny?”
“Well then,” I paused on the moment to share in Serena’s merriment. “Shall we talk a walk down to Poetto Beach? If we spot a bakery on the way, I promise to buy you a dozen chocolate cookies.”
“Make it a baker’s dozen and I’m out the door,” she playfully toyed. But that my friends, is a different story …”