I’ve had the good fortune of visiting almost all of Italy, both as a wine professional and as an avid tourist, and I’m still surprised at how many people still think all Italian wine is just Chianti and Pinot Grigio. Some people know to branch out into the Piedmont and the Veneto, in the north of Italy, but what about Campania, Molise, Calabria, Apulia, Basilicata and the islands? Italy produces wine in every part of Italy, often with local varietals that you see nowhere else in the world. Today, with the Island of Sardinia, I begin an Italian wine journey that is “off the beaten path” in that these wines are not from Rome, Florence or Venice, but they are well worth the detour to discover another part of Italy’s ancient history.
Flying from Palermo, Sicily, we crossed over Mediterranean blue waters to arrive in Cagliari, Sardinia’s largest city, which reminds me of Nice, France. This ancient island of jutting volcanic rock, craggy coastlines, ancient forests and endless plains happens to produce two of my favorite Italian wines: Vermentino and Cannonau. Santa Maria La Palma makes two versions of Vermentino and one Cannonau that are carried by ABC. Begun as a cooperative agricultural venture in 1959 in the Nurra area, Santa Maria La Palma embraces their unique terroir to create wines that truly express the natural beauty of this ancient island. There are no counts or barons, just local growers working together in the true meaning of cooperation.
The Vermentino grape may have originated in Spain, but it comes to its full expression here and is a perfect wine to pair with the abundant, local seafood. Hints of tart apple and Provençale herbs on the nose merge with bright acidity on the palate. The Blu Vermentino di Sardegna, sourced right on the edge of the sea, has a little more salty richness than their entry level Aragosta, which has a lighter mouthfeel and a hint of almonds on the finish. Both are crisp and refreshing like a breeze coming off of the Mediterranean Sea.
Cannonau is genetically identical to Grenache or Garnacha, though the locals believe the grape originated in Sardinia. Le Bombarde Cannonau de Sardegna is Santa Maria’s award-winning version named for the beach near where these vineyards are found, and the cannons (a word play off of Cannonau) on the label allude to the long defensive history of this strategically placed island. This wine has all the tart cherry we expect from the grape but with some deeper complexity showing a little more tannic density than its mainland cousins, yet still finishes velvety and smooth. A hint rustic, this is a great wine to pair with game, grilled red meats and mature cheeses, but it can also work with lighter foods like roast chicken or pork.
I will never forget the beautiful countryside of Sardinia, making it well worth the detour from the mainland. One of the most shocking surprises I had was the intense flavors of their local vegetables, the celery in particular, which was the spiciest celery I’ve ever had, perfect for a Bloody Mary. It spoke to the great soil conditions that also make their wines so unique and delicious. When you visit Sardinia, you get to try the local food with the local wine and experience perfect wine pairings that are passed down through the ages. Even if you can’t make it over to Sardinia anytime soon, you can get a feel for this magical place by trying some of their fantastic wines here. Cheers!
Dan Eddy, Wine & Spirits Sales Manager
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