Photo: vineyard on sandy soils for Carignano del Sulcis DOC: more than 400 hectares, all ungrafted vines from before Phylloxera which is unique.

The richness of indigenous grapes makes Sardinia´s viticulture highly interesting and this in combination with the original gastronomy makes Sardinia a wonderful destination. It is still not clear whether the many rare varieties have been introduced or were cloned with local varieties or are purely local. It is sure that these rare wines are precious jewels and they will make each discovery tour to Sardinia the more interesting. In short: an extra argument to visit Sardinia.
An important problem of rare varieties is that they are scarse: other varieties are commercially more ´safe´ and these wines almost never make it to become a strong brand. For the interested winelover these wines represent great value, but some efforts are needed to find these wines.

Photo: vineyards in South Sardinia (photo Frederik Kreutzer)

This wine is a great discovery for each winelover. I tasted a small selection and directly becomes clear that this wine is one of those magical treasures of Italian viticulture. The variety is Carignano with sometimes a small amount of other grapes. It offers aromas with cinnamon and clove and a wealth of fruit, plums, very abundant subtle fruit, hints of herbs and all with a little inch of minerality and such length! The wine is intense, fresh, and the present tannins do not disturb. These wines are among my most prefered Italian reds. And the good news is: most of them are still very affordable. And this wonderful wine comes from what is probably Europe’s largest concentration of ungrafted pre-Phylloxera vines on the sands of Sulcis. Carignano del Sulcis DOC is produced only in southwest Sardinia and on two local islands, San Pietro and Sant’Antioco. Where Carignan in France is mostly a grape used for blends and is considered of modest importance, here, in the warm sunny fields of Sardinia’s southwest this grape offers wines with great potential.

The majority of Sardinian vineyards lie on the western side of the island, which is also where its most location-specific DOCs are found. North of Sulcis we find the DOCs Vernaccia di Oristano, Malvasia di Bosa and Alghero. Also a big part of the important Cagliari DOC is produced in this part of the island.
Vernaccia di Oristano DOC is a rare DOC produced around the town of Oristano. Also this wine is such a wonderful treasure. The wine is special with its unique perfumes of dried almonds, honey and caramel, but in a fresh and unique style. This region is much Spanish influenced or maybe Catalan – inhabitants of Alghero speak an old Catalan dialect. The Vernaccia is often used in local gastronomy. It is not completely clear how the Vernaccia grape arrived here: it might have been the Spanish who dominated her several centuries, but there is also the option of Phoenicians or Carthagenians who arrived at this coast in the 8th century BC. The wine is produced in barrels in which yeast flora is formed on its surface: ‘flor‘. After producing the wine can be aged in a solera system which is known of Jerez. The flor appears during fermentation in the same way as is known from Sherry. All this results in extremely rich wines with very rich, complex perfumes with hints of dried almonds, caramel and tropical fruit, and – with the dry version – wines that remind one of dry Sherry, with its rich complex taste with hints of dried almonds, caramel, butter, nuts, minerals, dried fruit and a very long finish. Other than Sherry Vernaccia di Oristano is never fortified.
Sardinia always had a reputation for Malaria: it was hot, and the lagunes at the coast were ideal for the Malaria fly. But the shepherds who wandered around the lagunes near Oristano were almost immune for Malaria, a most curious feat. A relation with Vernaccia was always thought and – indeed! – research has shown that hexanol and diacetyl compounds in the perfume of the Vernaccia may be responsible for this. The anopheles fly, responsible for Malaria is normally attracted to humans because human respiration contains carbondioxide but the hexanol and diacetyl compounds neutralize it.Photo: excavations of the historical town Tharros near Oristano dating of at least 8th century BC

Photo: vineyards of Mandrolisai

Sardegna Mandolisai DOC is a rare but very interesting wine, from the region of Atzara and Meana. The vineyards are situated high, at the western edge of the Gennargentu massif and produced from 5 or more different varieties. It is a blend of Cannonau, Muristellu, Monica, Nuragus and other local grapes like Nasco or Giro.
Malvasia di Bosa DOC can be dry or sweet. Malvasia is found everywhere in the Mediterranean but it is unclear if all grapes with the same name are the same variety and how they are eventually related. The sweet version is rich with aromas of honey and camomilla and in the taste some hints of almonds and a good acidity. There is also a version which is produced with ‘flor’ during fermentation (like Sherry) and this creates those particular aromas of the wine.
Alghero DOC is produced from Torbato, a grape originating from Spain. It is a fresh pale-straw white with hints of white flowers and minerals. The wine is rare. The sparkling version can be quite good and the still versions can be lighter or more full-bodied style. It used to be produced by Sella & Mosca but now also other producers are starting.
Photo: the town of Bosa, north of Oristano

The long postwar period of neglect has seen a decline of attention to the minor varieties. There has not been much research on them and the search for better clones is difficult, which does not help to increase the quality. Nevertheless during my visit I tasted some most fascinating wines.
Alvarega is almost unknown but an association is dedicated to preserve it. It tastes dry and fresh, with some spicyness, minerals and a hint of tropical fruit, a wine with distinct character.
Arvisionadu is very rare, in fact it is almost never bottled. I tasted a rather light, dry version produced by an association dedicated to preserve this grape.
Barbera from Sardinia (Barbera Sarda) is an indigenous variety from Sardinia, not related to other Italian Barberas.
Bovaleddu is a variant of the Bovale, but smalles and mostly used as table grape.
Bovale (also called uva di Spagna) is a difficult grape for the producer but when the producer gets it well this can be a highly interesting wine, especially it’s high acidity is notable, but the wine offers deep and expressive fruit notes as well and needs some aging.
Cagnulari (identical to Graciano from Rioja, Spain) is produced in small quantities in the area between Sassari and Alghero. It can give highly interesting and particular wines with sometimes a quite high acidity and sometimes dominated by mineral notes. It is always produced as Isola dei Nuraghi IGT.
Granazza, a very rare white grape.
The variety Monica is mostly planted in the south, it gives light aromatic red wines, not full-bodied and with some subtle fruit and spices. It is mostly present as Monica di Cagliari or Monica di Sardegna.
Red variety Muristella is maybe related to Mourvedre but that is unclear.
Semi-aromatic Nasco is thought to be present since Roman times and produces an elegant and medium-bodied white with elegant, honey perfumes and some intense, mature flavours. It is not related to Piemonte’s Nascetta.
Nepente is a variety of Cannonau and is only found near Oliena.
The name of the variety Nuragus is of historical importance because it is thought that the Phoenicians have brought the grape to the island. There are some nice crispy white wines.
Semidano is a very delicate white wine with hints of white flowers and hay, perfectly to combine with local aged pecorino cheese. It is difficult to produce and also the planting is quite difficult because the usual combination with selected rootstocks did not work. There is ca 30 ha planted in total, near Mogoro we find only 3 ha but here it has been entitled to carry its own recognition as subzone: Semidano di Mogoro because the cellar of Mogoro saved the grape from extinction. It possesses a very thin skin and is difficult to age but very suited for the production of sparkling and passito wines.

– Vigne Bentesali 2014: some herbal aromas and a full-bodied wine with hints of herbs, dark fruit, minerals, salt, and a very long finish.
– Gavino 2013: concentrated style, some strong tannins, some spicyness, good freshness, needs time but will develop very well.
– Is Arenas 2011: some stuffed fruit perfumes, wonderful fruit, mature, some spicyness, lenght.
– Santadi (presented as Valli di Porto Pino IGT) Shardana 2010 (Carignano plus some Syrah): wonderful blackberry perfume, character, strong tannins, some sweet notes, freshness, lenght
– Esu Carbonia (presented as Isola dei Nuraghi IGT) 2014: Dark and herbal aromas, in the taste some dark fruit dominates, but tannins are present which give the wine some body.

– Cantina di Mogoro, Semidano di Mogoro Superiore DOC Puisteris 2012: beautiful perfumes, tropical, ananas, body, length
– Cantina Pili, Nuragus di Cagliari DOC 2014: Some dried fruit aromas and a subtle but quite powerful taste with a mix of fruit, dried fruit and mandles.
– Dolianova, Falconara 2010 (grapes Cannonau, Montepulciano and Carignano): Beautiful red fruit in the nose, with hints of some dried plums, a moutfilling taste of fresh fruit with sensations of cherry and mandles.
– Argiolas, Turriga IGT 2010: A blend of 4 grapes (Cannonau, Carignano, Malvasia nera and Bovale sardo), a full-bodied red with some subtle fruit, plums, freshness, some minerality, tannins present but balanced and a long finish. One of Sardinia’s best reds.
– Deperu Holler, Familia, a blend of Muristella and Cannonau: interesting
– Fradiles, Sardegna Mandrolisai DOC rosso Istentu 2011 (made of Cannonau, Monica and Bovale Sardu and other local grapes): a perfume with notes of stuffed fruit and some freshness and a deep, long finish with good tannins and some laurel.
– Tenute Olianas, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT 2014 (blend of Bovale, Carignano and Cannonau): intense aromas with dark fruit and some vanilla, strong wine with some minerality, spicy but needs time.
– Mesa, Valli di Porto Pino IGT Malombra 2012 (blend Carignano en Syrah): wonderful aromas with little sweet, ample fruit, blackberries, herbs, freshness, and intense tannins, great length, needs some aging.
– Melis, Sardegna Terralba Bovale DOC 2013 Dominariu: fresh, light perfumes, intense and strong tannins, compact fruit, acidity, length – a wine with character
– Su Entu, Marmilla IGT Bovale 2014: rich ample bouquet, freshness and a rich, complex taste with hints of apple, berries, herbs, cassis and length
– Fradiles, Sardegna Mandrolisai DOC Superiore Istentu 2014 (Bovale, Cannonau, Monica and other grapes): very rich wine with ample fruit, blackberries, laurel, good acidity and length
– Enrico Melis, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT Cagnulari 2015: intense, strong perfume with various fruits and cassis, intense taste with some cassis and acidity and great length
– Siddura, Isola dei Nuraghi Cagnulari 2014: intens, and rather complex aromas, fine fruit, cherries, blackberries and some acidity, good length
– Chessa, Isola dei Nurahi Cagnulari 2014: wonderful wine with intense aromas and complex flavours of blackberries, some spicyness, tannins and acidity and length
– Poderi Parpinello, Isola dei Nuraghi Cagnulari 2013: intense strong wine, beautiful fruit, cherry, vanilla, length, but oak a bit dominating maybe
– Cantina di Mogoro, Sardegna Terralba DOC Bovale riserva 2012: wonderful wine, with spicy aromas and body, needs some time
– Un Mare di Vino, Colli dei Limbara rosso IGT 2013 Rossosmeralda: intense red fruit aromas, complex wine, intense, length, much tannins and spicyness (blend of Carignano, Cabernet, Merlot, Muristellu, Sangiovese)
– Davide Orro, Vernaccia di Oristano DOC 2009: strong yellow colour, perfumes of dried almond, caramel, and most intense taste of dried fruit, minerals, honey, caramel, a most particular wine!
Also worth noting:
– Cantina del Vermentino, Colli di Limbara IGT 2009 (blend of various indigenous grapes and Cabernet Sauvignon): very intense, strong wine, complex, hints of blackberries, spicyness, length
– Tenuta Asinara, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT rosso (blend of Cab.Sauvignon, Cab.Franc, Merlot and Cannonnau, made in a sweet style – 18,5%): rich perfumes of roses, honey, vanilla, and an intense, sweet but also fresh taste with hints of caramel, honey, sirup.

Many thanks to Mario Bonamici for organizing the excellent visits and tastings.