ITALIAN WINE CLUB

APRIL 2020

SARDEGNA A LA ESPAÑOLA

Sardinia is as Mediterranean as it gets, smack dab in the middle of the sea with Iberia to the West, Corsica just 10 miles North, the whole boot in the East, and Sicily a skip to the South. And it’s been a trading hub since ancient Phoenicia, with relics all over the island like 4,000 year old stone hut ruins where grapes were crushed, so yeah, wine and Sardinia go way back. As the second largest island in the Med and a hotbed of agriculture and trade, Sardinia is a cultural melting pot with a pretty notable 400 years of Spanish reign from 1323-1720. Most of Sardinia’s native grape varieties, (and there are a lot!) are not truly sprung-from-the-soil indigenous, but Spanish cultivars brought centuries ago and adapted to the island’s hot and dry sun-soaked climate to become Sardinian staples. The island is a cornucopia of the Mediterranean diet; a smorgasbord of seafood of course (sardines, anyone?) lamb, olives, semolina, artichokes, and wine wine wine. Small family farms with wee vineyards often share in co-op wineries to make their own little production, making co-op bottlings the main wine to come off the island, affordable and delicious. In the last few decades though, more and more small producers have built their own wineries and ignited interest in world-class vino Sardo.

-Kevin Wardell

 

 

WINE #1: CANTINE CHESSA CAGNULARI

Usini, Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardinia, Italy 2018

[can-you-LAR-ee]

Cagnulari may be indigenous to Sardinia, or genetically the Spanish Graciano… depending on who you believe. (The Sardinian red wines we’ve seen here in the US have mostly been limited to Cannonau, it’s good to see something different.) Ian d’Agata thinks the variety might be a biotype of the indigenous variety Bovale Sardo… or the more inflammatory Bastardo Nero. In any case, it’s very limited, only grown in a few hundred acres in Northeastern Sardinia. It’s very dark in color with extremely bright acidity, flavorful and fresh combining the wild herb aroma (called ‘garrigue’ in France, or ‘macchia’ in Italian) that is so common in Mediterranean wines with deep fleshy black fruit and wildflower aromas. 

Giovanna Chessa’s small family-owned estate is located in the remote north-westernmost corner of the rectangular island of Sardinia. They hail from the ‘Isola dei Nuraghi,’ named for the roughly 7,000 ancient conical stone tower “nuraghe” that have kept watch over the area since they were built between 1900 and 730 BC. The family has been growing grapes for over 60 years in these rolling hills, which crest to just over 800 ft above sea level. In this windy northern corner of the Med, the vines are rooted in calcareous-clay limestone soils, making this terroir unique in the island. Chessa stands out for their transparent winemaking style; elegant and transparent in the midst of a warm region that can tip into the overripe and over-oaked.

Jubilantly fragrant violets and super bombastic black raspberry, this inky red plays tricks like it’s a black moscato with all of its abounding flower petals, talc and bergamot. So much opulent acid and texture, this is a big-bodied beauty with fruit for days. 

WINE #2: FATTORIA CUSCUSA “CROBIA” CANNONAU

Oristano, Sardinia, Italy 2018

[KAHN-no-NAH’oo]

Another chicken-and-egg, who-begat-whom origin story is none other than the mighty Garnacha, (aka Grenache, here aka Cannonau.) One of the world’s most planted grapes appeared (apparently contemporaneously?) in both Spain and Sardinia way back in the early 1500s, and may take its name from Italy’s favorite word for local (vernacular) grapes: Vernaccia. But then again, maybe not? Amazingly well-adapted to Mediterranean climates, Grenache loves to love, expressing its lush velvety plushness in the ample sun.

The brothers Cuscusa have spent 30 years teaching organic agriculture through their small, but internationally attended farm “school” Gonnostramatza. They have long embraced biodiversity and taught against monoculture, by growing food and forage, harvesting wild herbs, keeping bees and producing dairy from their sheep. All that and a little bit of wine too, this is Sardinia, afterall. 

Beautiful right from the first sniff, structured and supple with all the warm fruit characteristics grenache can give: wild strawberry fruit leather and red currants with a hint of fennel seed finocchio salumi. That’s not quite ganache in this grenache, but there is a little kiss of rich milk chocolate. 

WINE #3: CAPICHERA “LIÀNTI” CARIGNANO

Gallura, Sardinia, Italy 2018

[car-eeg-NYAHN-oh]

The best guess origin for Carignan is probably, (definitely) the town of Cariñena in Spain, which then made its way all over the Iberian peninsula, passing through the Mediterannean, and on to the take on the entire world centuries ago. It’s locally also called “Bovale di Spagna,” more than hinting at that Spanish origin. High in acid and endowed with bright red color but often gruff tannins, it takes a deft hand to display such an elegantly beautiful example of Carignan’s potential greatness. 

Despite the previously often lackluster reputation of Sardinian wines, (which were blended and amended for many years,) the Capichera estate, family-owned since the 19th century, has been leading the charge for varietal expression and quality wines with great aging potential. Located in the northeast pocket of Gallura, they are in prime Vermentino country, with their 1980 Vermentino recently lauded by Parker as one of the best aged white wines in Italy, and lovingly critiqued as “Mediterranean Montrachet;” their reds are not to be outdone and possess the same power. Capichera purchased old Carignan vineyards planted in the granite unique to Gallura and named this bottling after the rising sun in the East: “Liànti” in Gallurese.

The Gallura granite here gives this Carignan its exotic Mediterranean mineral sheen, with an alluring red fruit and black plum crispness dusted with a skosh of cocoa powder. For having its roots in a dry arid plateau, there is an intriguing seaspray coastal forest floor character that is as mesmerizing as it is quenching.

WINE #4: CARDEDU “PRAJA” MONICA

Ogliastra, Sardinia, Italy 2018

[MOHN-ee-kah]

Now nearly unknown in its native Spanish homeland, Monica is well-loved throughout the island and has its own DOC Monica di Sardegna in the south. Its endearing name may have a monastic meaning, from Uva Monaca, the monk’s grape chosen for the mass. It produces light and lovely early-drinking wines, here appropriately named with a recommendation, beach wine.

Situated in the hills of the most mountainous and remotest part of the island in the Southeast, the vineyards of Cardedu (car-DAY-do) perch on sandy, granite cliffs hanging over turquoise blue water. Cardedu is one of the island’s traditional producers, and one of the champions of the humbly soft and sweet Monica grape. The Loi family is old-school, organically dry farming, fermenting with native yeasts, and aging this playful wine in concrete and stainless steel to maintain its brightness. ‘Praja’ is the Sardo word for the Italian ‘spiaggia,’ or ‘beach’, which may also translate to “mandatory place to open this bottle.”

A splashy watercolor of Sardinia’s Mediterranean delights: sun-baked brick and North African spice bazaar, blood orange sangria, and dried fruits (minus the raisins and prunes.) Finishing with a fresh leather and olive brine, the tannins hold on to your pallet more like a paprika spice than a harsh red. Drink it with frutti di mare, sheep cheese, or if you can, the couscous-esque Sardinian fregula pasta.