The cultivation of grapevines in Sardinia dates back to the Phoenician times, but evidence of Greek, Roman and Carthaginian presence left its mark in the following centuries. At the end of the 14th century, with the import of the Vernaccia grape, the wine-growing Sardinia began to have an important turning point, also thanks to the Vermentino grape variety introduced a little later. Then, in the following century, it was the turn of the Cannonau, introduced by the Spaniards (which from them takes the name of Alicante), and, subsequently, the Vines Bovale, Monica and Nasco. The annexation of Sardinia to Piedmont gave new vigor and fame to Sardinian oenology, above all thanks to the extension in the wine territories of the other Nuragus vines of Cagliari, Malvasia and Torbato, which contributed greatly to the export of Sardinian wines to Piedmont, Austria and France.
In more recent times, new winemaking technologies developed by Sardinian winemakers have enabled the renewal of the wine sector, qualitatively improving production with elegant and structured red wines and fresh and savory white wines such as Vermentino di Gallura, much appreciated in international tables.
The vines of Sardinia
Sardinia has a wealth of rather rich native grapes. In the island there is also the presence of international grapes, which are usually used in the production of wines, often in assembly to local ones. Although throughout the region many types of wines are produced, in the central and northern part of Sardinia there is a greater production of white wines, while the production of red wines is more concentrated in the southern part of the island. The main white grapes of Sardinia are: Malvasia Bianca, Malvasia di Sardegna, Nasco, Nuragus, Semidano, Torbato, Vermentino and Vernaccia di Oristano, while among the black grapes are Bovale, Caddiu, Cagnulari, Cannonau, Carignano, Girò, Monica and Nieddera. The Alberello breeding is quite widespread (especially for the Cannonau), but the most modern forms such as Spalliera, Controspalliera and Guyot are also present.
The wine production areas in Sardinia
The main production areas for wine in Sardinia are Vermentino di Gallura, Cannonau di Sardegna and Vernaccia di Oristano.
Vermentino di Gallura
The most famous white wines of Sardinia are produced with Vermentino. Quast’uva produces excellent wines throughout the island, but Gallura, in the northern part of the region, is the most classic and representative area. Vermentino di Gallura is the only DOCG wine of Sardinia. The main characteristic of this wine is its almond scent. In Gallura, Vermentino is the most widely cultivated grape with about 80% of the total, while the rest is mainly represented by Moscato Bianco, Bovale, Caricagiola and Nebbiolo, which is used here to produce interesting IGT red wines.
Cannonau of Sardinia
Cannonau is the most famous black berried grape of Sardinia. It appears to have been introduced on the island during the rule of the Spaniards, although it is not entirely clear which is the original variety from which it comes. Cannonau has similarities with the Canonazo of the area of Seville, with the Granaxo of Aragon even if the most widespread hypothesis links it to Grenache Noir. Cannonau is cultivated throughout the region, although the most typical area is Nuoro, where there are two of the three sub-areas of Cannonau di Sardegna DOC: Oliena and Jerzu, while the fourth sub-area, Capo Ferrato, is in the province of Cagliari. Cannonau, especially that of the Oliena area, is a wine with a high alcohol content and a robust structure. Recently, the introduction of more modern wine-making technologies allows the production of excellent and very balanced Cannonau wines. Because of its low acidity, Cannonau is often vinified as a blend with other grapes, especially native ones, with the aim of improving its gustatory balance.
Vernaccia di Oristano
The Vernaccia di Oristano is one of the most evocative and ancient wines of Sardinia, since the first historical information regarding it dates back to the 1300s. It is also the first wine of the region to which the DOC was recognized, in 1972. The wine it is produced with the grapes of the homonymous vine, native of Sardinia. Wine production is quite different from the wine making techniques of normal white wines. Vinification, maturation and aging follow ancient traditional methods, which make this wine similar to Spanish Jerez (Sherry), while maintaining its own identity. The maturation of Vernaccia di Oristano takes place in drained chestnut barrels, and above the surface of the wine develops a colony of yeasts (flor) which over time give the wine complex and unique organoleptic qualities. During the refinement, which can last even decades, the wine arrives to express extraordinary aromas of almond, hazelnut and its typical aroma of “rancio”.
Tasting … in Sardinia
Agriculture and pastoralism are the productive sectors that are at the base of the amazing Sardinian cuisine, with its aromatic herbs and natural spices.
Pane Carasau and other types of bread are the basic ingredients of unique dishes such as Pane Frattau, Pane a Fittas and Suppa Cuata, which go well with a Vermentino di Gallura of remarkable minerality. Fregula, Malloreddus, Maccarrones de busa, Lighittas and Culurgiones are dry, fresh and stuffed pastas, which when served with a succulent ragù combine with a fresh Cannonau di Sardegna Rosato.
The traditional Sardinian pork, kid and lamb, which can be enjoyed cooked over a high heat or stewed with olives, artichokes and wild fennel, require a full-bodied wine for which a Cannonau from Sardinia is excellent, which is also good in combination boiled sheep. A particular contrubuto is given by the Frattaglie or the Trattalia – lamb offal on the spit -, or again from the Zurrette – made of lamb blood cooked inside its stomach – which combine with a young Monica di Sardegna or a Mandrolisai.
Sardinian cuisine is rich in lobster specialties and fine fish prepared with simple cooking, reserving the most elaborate preparations for larger fish.
And then, the delicious Spaghetti with Bottarga, difficult to combine for the very intense flavor, however, they can be tasted with a young Vernaccia di Oristano.
Among the many made with sheep’s milk, Sardinia’s cheeses include Pecorino sardo and Fiore sardo, to try, according to the stagionatuira, with a Vermentino di Sardegna or with a young Carignano del Sulcis.
Desserts like Cadadinas and Pardulas – with cheese or ricotta – or the Pabassinas, can be enjoyed well with a Nasco or a Moscato di Cagliari Passito, which is also ideal with Seadas – fried sweets – and other almond-based pastries . For desserts enriched with Sapa – obtained from cooked must – we can suggest the traditional Girò di cagliari Rosso.