Sardinia is one of Italy´s largest regions, but for long it´s image was that of a desolate island and shepherd´s paradise and not much more… And, yes, there are still shepherds living a quiet life with their sheep.. a contrast to the tiny jetset paradise with chicque restaurants at the Smeralda coast. But most of Sardinia is still a quiet region with local villages, local food is often authentic and cheap. The interior is partly filled with rugged mountains and the long, idyllic coastline is not yet spoiled by tourism. Scattered vineyards produce an abundant richness of wine styles. Sardinia is a land full of archaic wine traditions. But who knows about this richness? It is the fate of the Sardinians to be the last of Italy´s regions to be visited and it remains out of sight for many winelovers. It is isolated, one has to make more efforts to arrive here. And the distance to the mainland, increasing the costs of logistics, is another obstacle for Sardinia´s producers. But Sardinia offers fascinating and mind-blowing wines, it merits to be considered as one of Italy´s most unique wine regions. And what´s more: many of those incredible wines are still affordable. Which wine region can compete with that?
On some 25.000 hectares a large number of 41.000 producers are working, therefore the cooperative cellars have an important role. A total of 116 grape varieties have been counted, five of which are widely planted. There are some international varieties too but it is the richness of indigenous grapes which makes it worth to go for a wine-discovery tour.
Photo: vineyards near Dolianova (photo: Frederik Kreutzer)

Sardinia is huge. A drive from Cagliari, the capital, to Nuoro in the central mountains took us 2 hours. The drive to Monti the next day took one more hour and we are still not completely in the North. There are four different dialects spoken and in Alghero they speak some old Catalan. Sardinia´s highest peak, Gennargentu, is still snow-covered at the the beginning of April. The climate is mediterranean, but rain is common in winter and spring. We do not see much forests apart from the mountain areas, because in the 19th century much wood from Sardinia was used for Italy´s railways.
It is remarkable to discover that Sardinia doesn´t know earthquakes, different from Italy´s mainland: it has to do with it’s geology: a big part of the island is granite rock, especially the north. Middle and South are a mix of some granite, clay and limestone soils and in far southwest rare, free-draining sands are found in Sulcis area. Some other areas boast mineral-rich clays or gravels. It is said there is a geological relation of Sardinia with the Alps.
Another interesting aspect of Sardinia´s wine sector is history: where most scientists consider the Caucasus or Middle East as the cradle of viticulture, until now some of the oldest traces of viticulture ever have been found on Sardinia. Being isolated in our times, it was a central place in the trade routes of the old Mediterranean times. Historical findings near Oristano indicate viticulture between 2.000 and 1.000 BC, during the Bronze Age, the period of the Nuraghi civilisation. And near Cagliari, in Monastir, old caves have been found of the 9th century BC where traces of acid tartrates could be traced back to 900 BC. It is clear that the civilisation of the Nuragi worked with different grape types and was very active with viticulture.
Photo: Nuraghi, the mysterious buildings of the nuragus civilization (dated between 1900 and 730 BC): they are found everywhere on Sardinia

After 1945 cooperatives started to dominate which resulted in high yielding clones, low winemaking standards and a huge number of uninteresting wines but later many vineyards were abandoned. Only the last 20 years the Italian wine renaissance reached Sardinia too and a number of little wineries are creating most interesting wines. Names like Argiolas, Alberto Loi, Ragnedda, Sedilesu, changed winemaking practices, concentrating on lower yields, modern cellar techniques in combination with the wealth of indigenous grapes: the result was a number of wines which created international interest. Maybe Sardinia is lacking a great personality – like Gaja or Gravner – who creates and stimulates new developments, but nevertheless the new breed of wineries and the young guys who are returning to the countryside is very promising.
Photo: Orune, a village in the mountains near Nuoro

REGIONS OF SARDINIA
There are several different wine regions to distinguish. Gallura in the north produces a good number of reliable Vermentino wines. Secret of the area is the high density of granite in the soil with sometimes a top-layer of sand and gravel. Frequent wind creates cooler conditions. All this was reason for Sardinia´s only DOCG: Vermentino di Gallura. On the other end of the island one finds another special area: Sulcis, it is situated at the west side of a mountain range. It´s soils are mostly sandy, especially towards the coast: this is the region of Carignano del Sulcis DOC, one of Sardinia´s most interesting wines. Carignano is related to French Carignan, gives here such excellent red wines, all of them are particular, boasting a lot of fresh fruit, length and subtle tones with some minerality. These wines offer a full—fruity style but not heavy and easy drinkable. Another particular aspect is that the sandy soils allow the production of ungrafted vines, which is quite particular as most of all European and American vineyards had to be grafted on American rootstocks after the Phylloxera disease: around Porto S.Antioco and Porto Pino at least 400 ha of ungrafted vines are counted – which is unique.
Another interesting area is Mamoiada, by many considered the best region for Cannonau. It is situated higher in the mountains at the northern edge of the Gennargentu massif at heights between 500 and 900 m and the height helps to preserve freshness in the wines. The IGT of this area is Barbagia. The town of Nuoro was also called Athens of Sardegna because of the intense artistic life with musicians, sculptors and poets.
Photo: Vermentino grapes

VERMENTINO, ONE OF ITALY´S MOST ELEGANT WHITES
Vermentino is one of my prefered whites from Italy, it possesses elegance, some minerality, some hints of straw, tropical fruit, ananas, mint, but always in an elegant way. Always an easy drinkable wine but so enjoyable! Sardinia´s most important white is known in two versions: Vermentino di Sardegna DOC and Vermentino di Gallura, Sardinia´s only DOCG. Vermentino di Sardegna is a bit suffering of image because the Gallura version takes much credits but I tasted several excellent wines of Vermentino di Sardegna DOC. Considering the big distances it is logical that the wines from different zones are different. But, anyway, many Vermentino from Sardinia knows this typical bright and refreshing acidity, with hints of green apple, citrus fruit, and ripe pear.
The Vermentino di Gallura DOCG shows the granite of its terroir in the style: there is a remarkable minerality and the wines have personality. It offers some dried straw perfumes together with hints of mint, tropical fruit in a very elegant way. Aging on wood is done, but in my opinion the wine does not need it: it´s spontaneous fruit, this elegant mix of mint, straw, tropical fruit makes the wine very attractive.

CANNONAU (on photo)
It is often said that Cannonau is identical to Grenache but research has proven that there are genetical differences: DNA of Cannonau and Grenache is 82% identical so there must have been some modification during the century-long stay of the grape at the island. Findings of pits of Cannonau from 1.200 BC has proved that the wine was present for ages in Sardinia´s vineyards – therefore the fact that the grape might have been brought here from Spain is now questioned, it migh be original from Sardinia. Cannonau is Sardinia´s most common red and can be quite interesting if the producer works with attention. Some of the best Cannonau wines offer distinct fruit, freshness in the perfume and intense, but also delicate tannins and a long finish. There is also the association Strada del Vino Cannonau with 22 producers mostly from the central area around Nuoro.

Next week more about Sardinia’s authentic varieties.

WINES TASTED:
– VERMENTINO:
Siddura, Vermentino di Gallura Superiore 2014: complex aromas, some toast and mint, intense long taste with some minerality and butter
Tenuta Aini, Vermentino di Gallura Superiore 2014: wonderful elegant wine, fresh perfumes, complex style, apple, mint, apricot, a fine minerality and length
Tani, Vermentino di Gallura Superiore Taerra 2015: elegant perfumes, fine tropical fruit, spicy and almost a touch of sweetness
Cantina di Li Duni, Vermentino di Gallura 2014 Renabianca (produced from ungrafted wines): nice fruit, some apricot in the nose, characterful taste with some butter and tropical fruit
Cantina Li Seddi, Vermentino di Gallura Superiore 2015: intense and complex perfumes, elegant wine and in the long finish sensations of different tropical fruits
Cantina di Gallura, Vermentino di Gallura Superiore Canayli (vendemmia tardiva): nice perfume with a hint of tropical, elegant lighter style with fine minerals, dry fruit, length
Tenute Delogu, Vermentino di Sardegna Ide 2014, nice elegant perfume, intense style with some tropical fruit, mint, apricot and length
Cantine Mesa, Vermentino di Sardegna 2014: beautiful rich aroma with some mint, sage and intense taste with great freshness and length
Masone Mannu, Vermentino di Gallura Superiore Petrizza 2015: elegant fine perfumes, elegant pleasant style, with hints of ananas, mint
Masone Mannu, Vermentino di Gallura Superiore Costarenas 2015: most intense perfume with some apricots and almost sweet fruit, very characterful wine, stylish, mineral, relatively full-bodied, intense and fine fruit, hints of apricot, mint
un Mare di Vino, Vermentino di Gallura Terra e Mare 2014: interesting complex perfumes, elegant style with hints of minerality, mint, sage
Piero Mancini, Vermentino di Gallura Superiore 2015: fine, elegant perfume, refined taste with some hints of dried fruit, sage, minerals
Cantina del Vermentino, Vermentino di Gallura Superiore 2014: intense aromas with tropical fruit, body and complex taste with hints of sage, ananas, butter
Depperu, Colli delle Limbari Vermentino IGT Ruinas 2014: refined tropical fruit perfumes, hints of spicyness, ananas, minerality, length
Other interesting Vermentino wines are produced by these cellars: Tenuta Olianas, Tenute Smeralda, Gabriele Palmas, Tenute Olbios, Masone Mannu, Ledda, Cantina del Vermentino, Un mare di vino, Tenuta Gregu
CANNONAU
Atha Ruja, Cannonau di Sardegna 2010 Kuentu riserva: wonderful rich aroma, rich wine, good balance, soma acidity, intense red fruit, peppery, beautiful wine
Giuseppe Sedilesu, Cannonau di Sardegna 2010 Ballu Tundu: in perfume soft fruit, with some hints of cooked and blackberries, very intense tannines, body, but good balance, red fruit, blackberries, some spicyness, length
G.Sedilesu also produces a version of selected grapes, very intense and long.
Cantina Castiadas, Cannonau di Sardegna capo Ferrato riserva 2010: some spicyness in perfume and intense fruit, somewhat fatty, intense, length, needs time
Suelzu, Cannonau di Sardegna 2013: intense aroma with some stuffed fruit, wonderful intensity, blackberries, elegance and length
Cantina Doglianova, Cannonau di Sardegna riserva Blasio 2011: a little dominant oak, but very intense fruity style, spicy, pepper, good tannins, length
Other good quality Cannonau di Sardegna of these cellars: Siddura, Cantina Ogliastra, Berritta, Cantina Dorgali, Cantina di Orgosolo, Tenute Bonamici, Cantine Oliena, Tenuta Olianas, Sardinia Wine, Ledda, Cantina Castiadas
Photo: Cannonau vineyards near Mamoiada at a height above 500 meters

In July  there wlll be an international wine festival in Cagliari with a great selection of wines from Sardinia. Follow the news!

Many thanks to Mario Bonamici for his excellent organisation and recommandations.