Sunday, January 25, 2015

Italy Unit 20 - Sardegna

The following are my notes for studying the wines of the Sardegna (English: Sardinia) region of Italy including information about the topography, climate, soils, important red and white grapes and extensive information on the DOCs and DOCGS of the region. I also include notes on the wines I tasted from this region.

The island of Sardegna is 125 miles west from Tuscany and Lazio on Italy’s mainland and is south of France’s island of Corsica. It is the 2nd largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and covers abut 9,300 square miles. Located between 38 and 41 degrees north, the island lies at the southern edge of European viniculture. The majority of Sardinian vineyards are located on the western side of the island, which is also where its most location-specific DOCs are found. The primary exception is the Vermentino di Gallura DOC which covers the island's north-eastern corner.

Red, White and Fortified Wines of Sardegna

Although Sardegna has the lowest wine production per hectare of any Italian wine region, it does have a distinct wine culture that is heavily influenced by Spain. Several of Sardegna’s red grape varieties are Spanish in origin such as Cannonau (Spain’s Garnacha) and Carignano (Spain’s Carignan / Cariñena). Cannonau dominates in the eastern coast around Nuoro under the Cannonau di Sardegna DOC appellation.

Likewise, Sardegna’s two important white varieties Vernaccia (not related to Tuscany’s Vernaccia) and Vermentino may also be of Spanish origin. In fact, the wines of Malvasia di Bosa DOC and the amber-colored wines of Vernaccia di Oristano DOC, made around the basin of the Tirso River, may be fortified and produced in a style similar to Spain’s Fino Sherry. The wine is aged in barrels in which a yeast flora forms on its surface that flavors the wine richly.

A fine sweet white is often bottled under Sardinia Semidano DOC, although the best examples are produced around the town of Mogoro. They are aged for at least 1 year in oak barrels, or at least 2 years for reserve wines, some fine examples come from Oliena, Jerzu and Capo Ferrato. A port-like sweet wine called liquoroso is also made which has at least 17.5% alcohol.

Many of Sardegna’s wines are made with native grapes around the port of Cagliari in the Campidano area, such as Girò, Monica, Nasco and Nuragus that are rarely found elsewhere in Italy. These grapes, as well as the more ubiquitous Malvasia and Moscato, all bear the town name in they are grown such as Girò di Cagliari DOC, Monica di Cagliari DOC, Nasco di Cagliari DOC, Nuragus di Cagliari DOC, Malvasia di Cagliari DOC and Moscato di Cagliari DOC. At the north end of the island is Sardegna’s only DOCG - Vermentino di Gallura DOCG.

Sardegna, like Sicily, is affected by sirocco which is a Mediterranean wind that comes from the Sahara and reaches hurricane speeds in North Africa and Southern Europe. Consequently Sardegna has a hot dry Mediterranean climate along the coasts, plains and low hills and a continental climate on the interior plateaus, valleys and mountain ranges.
In the south the soils of Sardegna are not very fertile, shallow and consequently not very productive for agriculture so most of the land (60%) is dedicated to livestock – sheep, goats and cattle. In the north, Gallura is a hot, high-elevation zone with soils and bedrocks that vary from granite, limestone and sandstone to mineral-rich clays and free-draining sands and gravels which are ideal for reducing Vermentino’s vigor.
Sardegna has 15 Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) zones which are: Barbagia, Colli del Limbara, Isola dei Nuraghi, Marmilla, Nurra, Ogliastra, Parteolla, Planargia, Provincia di Nuoro, Romangia, Sibiola, Tharros, Trexenta, Valle del Tirso, Valli di Porto Pino.
DOCs and DOCGs
There are 15 Denominazioni di Origine Controllata (DOC)s and 1 Denominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) in Sardegna.
1. Vermentino di Gallura DOC
Established in 1996. The primary white grape varietal is Vermentino Bianco, Passito Bianc, Vendemmia Tardiva and Spumante must consist of a minimum of 95% Vermentino.
2. Arborea DOC
Established in 1987. Arborea is a town on the west coast of Sardinia, just south of Oristano. The primary white grape varietal is Trebbiano. The primary red grape varietal is Sangiovese. Rosso and Rosato must consist of a minimum of 85% Sangiovese. All variety labeled wines must contain 85% of the stated grape.
3. Cagliari DOC
Established as a DOC in 2011, incorporating the former Malvasia di Cagliari DOC, Monica di Cagliari DOC, and Moscato di Cagliari DOC. The primary white grape varietals are: Malvasia, Moscato, and Vermentino. The primary red grape varietal is Monica. Rosso must consist of a minimum of 85% Monica. Spumante must consist of a minimum of 85% Malvasia.
4. Campidano di Terralba / Terralba DOC
Established in 1976. The primary red grape varietal is Bovale. Rosso must consist of a minimum of 85% Bovale and/or Bovale Grande. Rosso and Superiore must be aged a minimum of 5 months prior to release. Riserva must be 2 years prior to release.
5. Cannonau di Sardegna DOC
Established in 1972, Cannonau di Sardegna DOC covers the entire island and is divided into three subzones: Oliena, Jerzu, and Capo Ferrato. The primary red grape varietal is Cannonau. Rosso, Rosato and Passito must consist of a minimum of 85% Cannonau. Classico must consist of a minimum of 95% Cannonau.
6. Carignano del Sulcis DOC
Established in 1977. The primary red grape varietal is Carignano. Rosso, Rosato and Passito must consist of a minimum of 85% Carignano.
7. Girò di Cagliari DOC
Established in 1972. The primary red grape varietal is Girò. Rosso and Liquoroso must consist of a minimum of 95% Girò.
8. Malvasia di Bosa DOC
Established in 1972. The primary white grape varietal is Malvasia. Bianco, Passito and Spumante must consist of a minimum of 95% Malvasia di Sardegna.
9. Mandrolisai DOC
Established in 1982. The primary red grape varietal is Bovale. Rosso and Rosato must consist of a minimum of 35% Bovale Sardo; 20–35% Cannonau; 20–35% Monica.

10. Moscato di Sorso-Sennori / Moscato di Sennori / Moscato di Sorso DOC

Established in 1972. The primary white grape varietal is Moscato. Bianco, Passito, Spumante and Liquoroso must consist of a minimum of 90% Moscato Bianco.
11. Nasco di Cagliari DOC
Established in 1979. The primary white grape varietal is Nasco. Bianco and Liquoroso must consist of a minimum of 95% Nasco.
12. Nuragus di Cagliari DOC
Established in 1975. The primary white grape varietal is Nuragus. Bianco must consist of a minimum of 85% Nuragus.
13. Sardegna Semidano DOC
Established in 1995. The primary white grape varietal is Semidano. Bianco, Passito, and Spumante must consist of a minimum of 85% Semidano.
14. Vermentino di Sardegna DOC
Established in 1989. The primary white grape varietal is Vermentino. Bianco and Spumante must consist of a minimum of 85% Vermentino.
15. Vernaccia di Oristano DOC
Established in 1971. The primary white grape varietal is Vernaccia. Bianco and Liquoroso must consist of a minimum of 100% Vernaccia di Oristano. The wine is transferred into barrels for Sherry-style aging in March. Bianco must be aged for at least 29 months, including 2 years in barrel. Superiore must be aged for a minimum of 3 years in and Riserva a minimum of 4 years in barrel.
1. Vermentino di Gallura DOCG
Established in 1996. The primary white grape varietal is Vermentino. Bianco, Vendemmia Tardiva, Passito and Spumante must consist of a minimum of 95% Vermentino.
Key White Grape Varieties
Also known as Malmsey, Malvasier, Malvazia, and Monemvasia. It is believed to be of Greek origin, the Malvasia family has been commercially important to the Mediterranean for more than 2000 years. The name Malvasiais a derivation of the coastal Greek town of Monemvasia. It is grown all over Italy.
Known as Moscatel in Spain and Portugal, and Muscat internationally it is one of the oldest and most widespread grape families in the world. It is believed to have originated in the Middle East and was grown by the ancient Greeks. Moscato Bianco (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) is the oldest and most highly valued of the Muscat family.
Also known as Basco Bianco, Nasko Sardinskii, Nusco, Ogu de Aranna, Resu and Nascu, a name derived from the Latin word muscus, in reference to the variety's musky scent. It is a light-skinned grape that tend to yield very little fruit and the variety has low resistance to fungal disease; consequently its popularity has steadily declined. The grape tends to accumulate sugar and lose acidity quickly making sweet wines preferable. The wines are characterized by a strong herbal note of rosemary, thyme as well as the varietal character of musk.
Nuragus is a grape of historical significance that Phoenicians brought the grape to the island. Its name is from nuraghe, the ancient stone towers that have come to symbolize the island. Growers have often been allowed the yields to be high creating insipid wines and giving it local nicknames such as Abbondosa (abundant), Preni Tineddus (grab the bucket) and Scacciadeppidus (grape that clears the debt). The grape tends to lose acid quickly and requires careful canopy management to avoid producing flabby low acid wines. The positive side the grape is resilient in times of drought. The grape is related to Semidano and has medium-large conical-cylindrical, winged compact bunches with medium-large berries. The grape tends to make light-bodied neutral flavored wines but in favorable vintages as having aromas similar to Vermentino with almonds and sour apple flavor notes.
Also known locally as Laconarzu, Mizu, Migiu and Semidamu it was traditionally used to make passito wines, but now the few growers are producing dryer wines. While Semidano can produce wines with tropical fruit aromas but is better known for green herb and maritime (especially seaweed) characteristics with medium body.
This grape is not listed in any of the DOC specifications listed above but it is mentioned in Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch’s book Vino Italiano, “Rarer still are wines from the torbato grape which is also of Spanish-French origin… At the moment torbato is nearly the exclusive province of Sella & Mosca estate, which has tried to revive the variety… the wine is exotically aromatic, not unlike Vermentino in that regard, and is more powerfully structured than the biggest Gallura white” (page 375).
Trebbiano is also known as Ugni Blanc in France where it is used to produce both Cognac and Armagnac. There are a number of varieties that bear the name Trebbiano but some of them are not genetically related. In Italy, Trebbiano Toscano is sanctioned for use in about 85 of the country’s 300+ DOCs.
Vermentino is identical to the Pigato of Liguria and Favorita of Piedmont. It is a light-skinned wine grape variety with dark green and pentagonal leaves. The grapes are amber-yellow and hang in pyramidal bunches. The grape is said to have been cultivated in Gallura, often under the name Arratelau, since the 14th century. The wines tend to have high acidity with aromas of peach, lemon peel, dried herbs and notes of saline minerality.
The name of the grape comes from the Latin “vernacular” and the earliest records of the mention of the grape date back to 1327. It is an ancient grape variety in Sardegna since the time of the Phoenicians, who introduced it in the coastal area where the Oristano, in the Sinai Peninsula, founded the ancient port of Tharros. Its cultivation is limited almost exclusively to the Province of Oristano where it prefers the low lands, derived from ancient floods and recent Tirso and Rio Mannu. The name is attributed to the Romans who named the grape in Latin "vernacula," which means it is a “grape of the place.” But the Romans also used the same word in other regions to refer to other white grapes in Italy as the “grape of the place” which is why it is not related to Tuscany’s Vernaccia.
Key Red Grape Varieties
It is also known as Cariñena in Spain, Mazuelo in Rioja and Grenache in France as well as Carignano in Italy. The Bovale name attributed to two Italian wine grape varieties that are known more commonly by their Spanish names. The most widely planted is Bovale Grande (Carignan/Mazuelo) which has larger berries, while Bovale Sardo (Graciano) which has slightly smaller berries and tends to produce a more austere wine is found more rarely. Both are found on the island of Sardinia where they are used mainly for blending. It is a late budding and ripening grape that requires a warm climate in order to achieve full physiological ripeness. It has the ability to produce very large yields and is challenged by several viticultural hazards such as rot, powdery mildew, downy mildew, and grape worms.
The grape is also known as Garnache in Spain and Grenache in France. It is a late ripening grape which needs hot, dry conditions in order to fully ripen and when it does tends to produce wines low in tannin and acidity but have higher alcohol and be full-bodied with red fruit flavors (raspberry and strawberry) with a subtle, white pepper spice note.
Also known as Gliata and Zirone. Like many others in Sardegna, the grape may have originated in Spain and was introduced to the island when it was ruled by the Crown of Aragon. It is primarily used in the production of fortified wines in the Giro di Cagliari DOC. Plantings of Girò on mainland Italy were almost completely destroyed by phylloxera in the mid-19th Century and were never replanted.
The Spanish originally introduced Monica in the 1600s under the name “Morillo”, later known as “Mora” and, after some linguistic influences, Monica. This grape variety is also known as “Nieddera Manna” (Black Big), for its grapes, “Nieddera de Ispagna” (Black of Spain), Monaca and in some regions it’s still called Morillo. It is found throughout Sardinia, but it gives the best results in the middle and southern part of the island and prefers hilly areas with slopes that are exposed to the sun. Monica di Cagliari is a notable sweet wine made from the grape. Monica di Sardegna is a drier wine.
Sangiovese derives its name from the Latin Sanguis Jovis, “the blood of Jove and it has several synonyms. In Chianti Classico it may be referred to as Sangiovetto, in Montalcino it is called Brunello, in Montepulciano it is called Prugnello Gentile and along the coast in Maremma it is called Morellino. "Sangiovese" was actually several "varieties" of clones which are broadly classified as Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo. The Sangiovese Grosso family includes the clones growing in the Brunello region as well as the clones known as Prugnolo Gentileand Sangiovese di Lamole that was grown in the Greve in Chianti region. Sangiovese wines in Tuscany tend to be light in color with sour cherry notes and herbal undertones. Structurally they are naturally high in acidity, firmly tannic, and medium to full-bodied. When aged, Sangiovese traditionally spends time in large European (often Slavonian) casks, but modern wines are just as likely to be aged in new barriques, which infuse both flavor and texture into the wines.

The Wines

While studying Sardegna I tasted the following wines:

2007 Contini Barrile, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT

This wine is made from 85% Nieddera and “other native varietals.”  It is an opaque red wine that is very dark purple (almost black) at the core with very little rim variation, medium+ viscosity and dark staining tears. On the nose it is clean with initial subtle aromas of blackberries, black licorice, violets and a hint of black pepper. After it has been opened for a while it has additional umami, meaty and teriyaki notes On the palate the nose is confirmed, it is dry with medium+ tannins, medium acidity, it is full bodied with medium+ alcohol (the bottle says 14% but it feels higher) and a medium+ length pepper and licorice driven finish. This wine is very New World Syrah-like, perhaps similar to something from Australia. This wine sells for $44.99 at Enoteca Vino Nostro in San Francisco.

2010 Chessa Cagnulari IGT

This wine is made from 100% Cagnulari. It is an opaque red wine, dark purple at the core to ruby at the rim with moderate viscosity. On the nose it is clean with medium- intense aromas of red plums and bing cherries with subtle notes of spice. On the palate the wine leans more towards flavors of sour cherries with subtle notes of licorice, dried cinnamon stick and spice. It is dry with moderate tannins, very lively medium+ acidity, medium bodied with medium+ alcohol, a moderate length finish and is well balanced. This wine sells for $25.99 at Enoteca Vino Nostro in San Francisco.

2010 Contini ‘Inu’ Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva

This wine is made from 100% Cannonau. This is an opaque red wine, dark ruby/purple at the core to ruby at the rim with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with  moderate intense aromas of chocolate covered cherries, raspberry preserves, strawberry jam with minor notes of spice. On the palate it is dry with juicy red fruits up front, moderate tannins, medium+ acidity, medium body, medium+ alcohol with lingering notes of cherry-vanilla on a medium+ length finish. It is well balanced and absolutely delicious! This wine sells for $44.99 at Enoteca Vino Nostro in San Francisco.

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