Exploring Sardinian Wine

Sardinia is a sunny island in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. Its fertile soils are perfect for growing vines  In this post, we will take a closer look at some the island’s most important grape varieties and at four wines.

Sardinia has a long tradition of winemaking and many of the cultivated grape varieties were brought to the island by the Spanish who ruled over Sardinia for many centuries.

Cannonau

Sardinia Map

Map of Sardinia – Click to zoom in. Credits: Dch License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Cannonau, which is without a doubt Sardinia’s red signature grape, is technically-speaking a synonym for Garnacha/Grenache but because it has been grown on the island for many hundred years, it is nowadays considered an autochthonous variety. This grape produces full-bodied, powerful wines and is often used to produce varietals. Sometimes it is blended with small amounts of other local varieties like Bovale Sardo.

Cannonau is a grape which grows extremely well in arid, hot climate conditions. More than 100 km2 of Cannonau plantings exist in Sardinia, making it the second most widley planted grape variety of the island. It is only surpassed by Vermentino.

Cannonau has its own DOC appellation in Sardinia called Cannonau di Sardegna DOC.

Carignano

Carignano is a grape which has its origins in Aragon, Spain. Aragonese merchants helped in spreading the variety along the French Riviera and eventually brought it to Sardinia after the Crown of Aragon conquered the island. While in Languedoc the grape variety is mostly used in blends with Syrah or Grenache, in Sardinia the grape is primarily found in varietal wines.

In the past, it was speculated that Carignano had originated in ancient Phoenicia and that Phoenician merchants brought the grape with them to the Mediterranean islands Sicily and Sardinia. But there is not enough proof to back this claim and the much more plausible theory is the grape comes from Aragon, as explained above.

The summers can get extremely hot in Sardinia and Carignano prefers dry, warm, climate conditions which explains its success on the island.  It ripes rather late and produces a very high yield which can be problematic if a winery wants to produce quality wine. Therefore, green-harvesting or pruning are used during the growing season by responsible producers to guarantee a quality product. In France, wineries were not very responsible when growing Carignano and flooded the market with cheap, bad-tasting, mass-produced Carignano which was often bottled in 2 or 3 liters bottles.

In Sardinia, Carignano has its own appellation called Carignano del Sulcis DOC.

Monica

Monica is another red grape variety which has its origins in Spain but in present-day it is exclusively grown in Sardinia. Monica is lighter than Cannonau. The grape has low levels of acidity and produces great yields. Most Monica wines are simple, often unoaked, reds and only very few wineries produce sophisticated Monica wines.

The appellation Monica di Sardegna DOC was created to honor this grape variety. All wines labeled as such must be produced with at least 85% Monica. Sparkling Monica also exists but is far less popular and the large majority of sparkling Monica is consumed locally as it found little love outside the island. Monica di Sardegna wines are generally speaking dry. Another appellation for sweet Monica wines does also exist: Monica di Cagliari DOC.

Vermentino

Vermentino grapes. Photo by Magnetto. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Vermentino grapes. Photo by Magnetto. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

The white Vermentino is probably Sardinia’s most well-known grape variety. Its origins are unclear and claimed by the Spanish and the Italians. Some sources say that merchants of the Crown of Aragon brought the grape from Spain to Sardinia whereas other authorities point out that Vermentino has the same DNA as the Piedmontese grape Favorita and therefore say that the grape made its way to Sardinia and Spain from Piedmont.

Vermentino is by far Sardinia’s most widely planted grape variety. It is light-skinned and its wines are characterised by a refreshing acidity and highly aromatic profile which includes Mediterranean herbs, lime and stone fruit.

The large majority of Sardinian Vermentino wines are varietals but sometimes it can also serve as blending for Nasco or international varieties. The grape does equally well oaked as unoaked, especially in Gallura wineries prefer to age Vermentino in oak.

Outside of Sardinia, Vermentino is grown also on Corsica, in Provence, Tuscany, Piedmont and Liguria, among other places. However, it is mostly associated with Sardinia where it is home to one DOC and one DOCG appellation: Vermentino di Sardegna DOC and Vermentino di Gallura DOCG.

Nasco

Nasco is a very old white grape variety which has been grown in Sardinian for almost a thousand years. It is light-skinned and can be used to produce dry as well as passito-style sweet wines and fortified wines which can surpass 17.5% ABV. Its low yield is the main reason why it is grown in far smaller quantities than Vermentino. Another reason is that the grape has a low resistance towards fungal diseases. The grape variety is found in blends but more common are varietal Nasco wines.

In the Sulcis area of Sardinia and near Cagliari, Nasco finds ideal growing conditions. Just like with Monica, there are no reported Nasco plantings outside Sardinia, making the grape variety truly unique to the Mediterranean Island.

Even though, there are less than 40 hectares of Nasco plantings in Sardinia, it has a long tradition which explains why the grape has its own appellation, Nasco di Cagliari DOC. The appellation requires the wine to be produced with at least 95% Nasco grapes.

Nuragus

Nuragus is another one of those white autochtonous grape varieties that has a long tradition on the island which, in the case of Nuragus, dates back to the 12th century BC. With Nasco it has in common that sweet and dry wines are being made. The annual produced of Nuragus wine has been declining over the years and nowadays it can be challenging to find a varietal Nuragus outside of Sardinia.

The grape produces light-bodied, crisp wines with a nutty character. Compared with Vermentino, it tends to be less aromatic.

Nuragus di Cagliari DOC is the main appellation for the grape variety which is grown exclusively in Sardinia.

Sardinian Wine: Tasting Notes

Of course, there are lots of other interesting grape varieties grown in Sardinia like Bovale Sardo, a blending partner for red varieties, and the famous Vernaccia which is used to produce Vernaccia di Oristano DOC (fortified) wines.

I will conclude this post with tasting notes on four Sardinian wines which I tasted recently. Two whites; two reds.

2014 Contini – Tyrsos – Vermentino di Sardegna DOC

2014 Contini - Tyrsos - Vermentino

The Contain has been making wine for four generations and their cellars are in Oristano.

Tyrs0s is a varietal Vermentino which ages in stainless steel. It’s an entry-level Vermentino which has aromas of lime, peach and apricot on the nose. It is dry, quaffable and slightly mineral. The wine has a medium body, is slightly alcoholic and has a herbal touch. Medium length.

3 stars

Find Tyrsos on Wine Searcher.

2013 Argiolas – Iselis Bianco – Isola dei Nuraghi IGT

2013 Argiolas Iselis Bianco

Argiolas is one of Sardinia’s largest and best-known producers. Their line-up includes everything from low quality to high quality wines.

This white wine is a blend of 85% Nasco and 15% Vermentino. Vinification takes place in parts in stainless steel tanks and in parts in barrique. Golden-yellow color in the glass. Aromatic wine with lots of ripe fruit, especially peaches and mango but also grapefruit and hints of liquorice. A tropical, dry, wine which has a balanced acidity comes with a great minerality. Full-bodied with flavors of bananas, citrus and Mediterranean herbs. Iselis Bianco is powerful and has a long finish. 14.5% ABV.

4 stars

Find Iselis Bianco on Wine Searcher.

2009 Gabbas – Arbore – Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva DOC

2009 Gabbas ArboreGiuseppe Gabbas is a small producer that has dedicated himself to the production of top-notch Cannonau wines. Arbore is his flaghship varietal Cannonau, sourced from some of his oldest vines. The wine aged for 16 months in barrique.

In the glass, the wine has a deep ruby red color. The nose is complex with lots of layers of fruit and oak aromas: Starting with black cherries, blackberries and licorice; followed by rosemary, vanilla and even roses. On the palate, very dry with a present but balanced acidity. Arbore is a vibrant wine full of energy with powerful, yet pleasing tannins. Very, very full-bodied, complex and harmonious Cannonau with flavors of forrest fruit, chocolate and marasca cherries. Lingering, saline, aftertaste. 14.5% ABV Perfect Vino da Meditazione!

4.5 starsFind Arbore on Wine Searcher.

2008 Meloni Vini – Le Ghiaie – Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva DOC

2008 Meloni Vini Le Ghiaie Cannonau di Sardegna RiservaLe Ghiaie is the name of Meloni Vini’s Cannonau Riserva. The winery is located in Selargius and is one of the few certified organic wineries that export its wines.

Le Ghiaie matures in oak barrels and has a ruby red color with garnet hues. Intense, unusual nose for a Cannonau with marasca cherries, plums, lots of smoke, leather and blackcurrant marmalade. Full-bodied, highly sophisticated Cannonau which has a silky texture. The wine is vivid and well balanced. Sapid with notes of cherries, raspberries and a touch of oak. Spectacular finish. 14% ABV.

4 starsFind Le Ghiaie on Wine Searcher

Parting Words

There you have it: Four wine reviews and some background information on Sardinia’s most important grape varieties.

But wait……there’s more!  My fellow bloggers have lots more to share with you so check out their blogs below.  If you’re reading this in time also you can join us live on Twitter at 11am EST at #ItalianFWT and tell us all about your experiences with the island of Sardegna or come and learn something new about this region.

Vino Travels – The Native Grapes of Sardinia with Argiolas Cannonau

Italophia – How I was “Swept Away” in Sardinia

Confessions of a Culinary Diva – The Food & Wine of Sardegna

Rockin Red Blog – Mountainous Food & Wine of Sardegna

Confessions of a Culinary Diva – The Food & Wine of Sardegna

Cooking Chat – Summer Spaghetti with Garlicky Shrimp and a Vermentino

Food Wine Click – What Wines Goes with Octopus?  A Sardinian Investigation

Culinary Adventures with Camilla – Grano Saraceno Risotto con Funghi e Miele

Thanks for joining us today! Next month September 5th we feature the region of Abruzzo.

What are your thoughts on Sardinian wine? Have you been to this fabulous island before? Let me know in the comment section below. Cheers!

21 comments on “Exploring Sardinian Wine”

  1. winetalks winetalks Reply

    The Argiolas wines are among my favorites. Korem and Costera offer good value wines. I’d love to travel to this beautiful place someday. My travels have not brought me to Sardinia yet but there is still time 🙂 Enjoy the weekend!

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Frank,
      Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your insights on Sardinian wine!
      I have a mixed opinion about Argiolas. Their upper-end wines are great but I don’t enjoy their entry-level wines.
      Cheers!

  2. Jeff Reply

    Nice summary, Julian and welcome to #ItalianFWT! Trying several of these wines for the 1st time, especially Monica and Nuragus, I was surprised that the wines I found were quite different from the “general” explanation.

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      You are too kind, Jeff!

      In my opinion it’s totally worth it to explore Sardinian wine a little further. The island is full of hidden gems and many of them have excellent quality-price ratios. Sardinian wine is quite underappreciated in Germany so the prices for it tend to be very fair.
      Monica is an interesting grape variety but so far I’ve only had very good Monica from very few producers. Most wineries just make entry-level Monica, unfortunately.

      Cheers!

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Thanks so much, Christy! Glad to hear you’re taking a closer look at some of them but it might be challenging to find these wines overseas because not that many Sardinian wineries export their wines to the US, at least so I heard.
      Would love to hear how you like them if you try any of these.
      Cheers!

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Martin! Sardinia offers lots of great grape varieties. Love travelling there because some of these wines don’t make it to across the sea 🙂 Cheers!

  3. Sean P. Reply

    What an informative post, Julian! I love Italian wine. Thanks for telling us about these grapes and their history.

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      The pleasure is mine, Camilla! Thanks for stopping by 🙂 Sardinia is a wonderful region with fabulous food & wine. It is very much worth exploring.
      Cheers!

  4. talkavino Reply

    I guess it would make sense to consider Cannonau at least a unique clone of Grenache, considering that it grows on the island – I guess I need to update my Wine Century tables with one additional grape 🙂 It is interesting that according to the article on Wine-Searcher, it is possible that Grenache originated on Sardinia and then from there spread to the rest of the world.
    Good post, Julian.

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      I’m with you on considering Cannonau a unique clone of Grenache. In my opinion, the grape as so much tradition in Sardinia that one can consider it autochthonous. In my Wine Century Club table I listed Cannonau as a separate grape because of that.
      The origins of Cannonau are sometimes still being disputed and a few authorities say that the grape was brought from Sardinia to Aragon but most sources I red and most wine people I talked to suggest quite the opposite. It’s not for me to judge who is right on the matter 🙂

      Cheers!

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