Still somewhat unsung among Italy’s huge crop of wines are those of Sardinia, which, whether white or red, capture the island’s wild, untamed surroundings in a bottle. Drawing from a palette of grapes of mostly Spanish origin (the island was controlled by Spain’s Aragon Dynasty from the 14th through the 18th centuries), Sardinia’s winemakers are turning out an ever-improving and appealingly diverse selection of bottlings.
On the white side, Sardinia’s native vermentino (also found on the Tuscan and Ligurian coasts) is one of Italy’s most distinctive indigenous varieties. Able to withstand the intense heat and light of the island, vermentino struggles to put down roots in famously rocky soils, and the resultant wines are marked by a pronounced herbal character. In fact, the wines seem to pick up flavor from all of the wild Mediterranean scrub that grows alongside it: wild sage, mint, fennel, myrtle, and the countless other plants that somehow turn green and fragrant in the dusty, rocky earth.
Sardinia’s principal red grapes are cannonau (the local name for grenache, or garnacha) and carignano (carignane). Both of these varieties have found greater fame in Spain (Rioja) and southwest France (Languedoc, among others), but Sardinia is not to be overlooked. Cannonau di Sardegna, made all over the island, combines the earthly complexity of a good Rioja with the plushness of a California pinot noir. Carignano, a specialty of the southwestern region of Sulcis, is a black and deeply fruity wine built to take on the likes of Aussie shiraz. At the moment, the Sulcis winery called Santadi is Sardinia’s principal carignano specialist, and if you can get your hands on the potent “Terre Brune” Carignano del Sulcis you will not be disappointed; it is one of Italy’™s great reds, just without the eye-popping price tag. Here are two other Sardinian greats to go along with it:
Tenute Soletta, Vermentino di Sardegna “Prestizu” 2000
Everything you expect from vermentino, with a little more body and fruit intensity layered on top. Smell this wine and be instantly transported to the Mediterranean coast, where you might sip this zippy, savory white alongside a pungent, herb-scented zuppa di pesce. An evocative, well-structured white at a bargain price.