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Tuscany might get all the attention but there is so much more to Italian wine production than one famous region. Did you know that there are 20 different winemaking regions in Italy? Sardinia is Italy’s second largest island, after Sicily, and is so diverse that is it often describes as being like a country in its own right. With rocky mountain ranges and stretches of untamed coastline, Sardinia produces some top notch wines in its interior. You may have heard of Cannonau and Vermentino but almost unknown off the island are a dozen indigenous varieties with names like Nuragas and Nasco.
Sardinians have been growing and producing wine since the 16th century when the island was called insula vini, wine island by outsiders. In keeping with the islands reserved personalty visiting vineyards can require research and patience and a sense of adventure. You can seek our individual farms and estates to visit or book an organized tour.
Let’s start with a few Italian terms, a few Sardinian wine varieties and our recommendations for the best places to find them.
DOCG, DOC, IGT: This alphabet soup that you will see on the wine table are abbreviations for Italy’s wine classifications and indicate the wine you are drinking complies with a strict set of rules. Rules that govern all aspects of the wine from the production to yields to the ratio of grapes that make up the wine. An important thing to know is that it does not indicate quality, only what is in the bottle.
Azienda, Agricola, Cantina, Podere, Tenuta: These are words you will see when driving in the Sardinian countryside, or doing internet trip research, and are all connected to wine estates.
Enoteca: Wine shop. There is sometimes a simple restaurant attached to these where you can drink wine with cheese and cured meats.
Vendemmia: The wine harvest which happens at the end of the summer and early fall.
While there is a thesaurus of adjectives that wine lovers use to describe what they are smelling, and tasting in the wine, the two important ones are Secco, meaning dry and Dolce, meaning sweet.
The Cannonau grape is a Grenache and makes a big and bold red wine. It is grown all over the island and you will find a few bottles on just about every wine list on the island. Some of the best producers are found in the center of the island near Alghero and Sassari. You can follow a somewhat organized route called the Strada del Cannonau. Another trio of towns where you can find excellent Cannonau are Barbagia and Nuoro and Ogliastra. Argiolas is a very well known vineyard where the Argiolas family has been producing wine for more than 100 years. Their estate is well organized for visits to the vineyards and cellars and there is a restaurant and shop where you taste everything you have learned about.
Vermentino is grown in the northwest corner of the island and makes a floral meets mineral white, a perfect accompaniment to any seafood dish. Make the short drive away from the coast into the hills towards Luogosanto for a visit to Siddura. From this rocky landscape where sea breezes just reach three different Vermentino wines are produced on the estate. The small cooperative vineyard Cantina Dorglai is not far from the small beach town of Cala Gonone. Visit the vineyards and cellars and spend a few hours learning about the wines in their tasting room. There is an organized route, the Strada del Vermentino di Gallura D.O.C.G., that makes it easy to plan visits to estates, restaurants and places to stay.
The unique Torbato grape which has ancient Greek and Spanish origins is grown exclusively at the Sella & Mosca estate not far from Alghero. This grape produces an aromatic white wine and this cellar makes eight different wines using it. There is a small museum on the property with exhibits on the history of winemaking and the areas fascinating archaeological history, Book a visit to the wine shop and taste some of the very unique wines from a bubbly Spumante Brut to a well structured white.
In the Cabra region near Oristano is where you will find this obscure grape variety sometimes also called Bovale. This is another grape with Spanish origins. The Contini estate in the Valle del Tirso is one of the few that is producing wine with it. Their award winning Nieddera Rosso is a robust red. This estate also makes a wonderful dessert wine with another rare grape variety Vernaccia di Oristano.
Cagnulari is another grape variety that is native to Sardinia but it is a rare find anywhere else. Rich and red,the wine this grape makes is lush and elegant. The cooperative winery Santa Maria la Palma is a straightforward place that creates excellent wines. Try their award winning Cagnulari at their easy to reach estate near Alghero. Another reason to visit is their very unique sparkling Spumante that is aged under the sea. In between Alghero and Sassari is the small farm Podere Parpinello that makes a spicy Isola dei Nuraghi Igt featuring Cagnulari.