The Barbagia, one of the most sparsely populated regions in all of Europe is not known for many things: Rocky, rugged hills, sheep, bandits who kidnap tourists and hold them for ransom, and cannonau wine. There are not many DOC’s for wine in these hills, in fact there is only one, the seemingly generic Cannonau di Sardegna, a DOC which covers the entire island. The IGT Isola dei Nuraghi is equally generic, referring to wines made anywhere on the island. The most important town in the region, Nuoro, lies to the north of the area, and serves as a good base from which to explore the area.

Cannonau is a variation of the grenache varietal brought into Sardegna by the Spaniards during their rule of the island from the 15 th to the 17 th centuries. Wines produced from this grape vary tremendously from light, soft and floral wines with a light spicy note to deep rich reds with soft, sweet tannins. Nepente di Oliena is considered by some to be the finest expression of cannonau and the lone example of this stateside is from the cooperative Cantina di Oliena. A higher percentage of granite in the soil gives the wines here an added degree of grip on the palate, excellent with lamb or whole-roasted suckling pig, one of the regions specialties.

Giuseppe Gabbas is an attorney in Nuoro whose owns vineyards in the hills between Nuoro and Oliena. Assisted by Tuscan enologist Lorenzo Landi, his wines, all cannonau-based, are considered the most representative of the region. For value we have always loved his Cannonau di Sardegna “Lillové”, with its bright soft fruit, and we recently came across some of his Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva “Dule,” of which only small amounts are brought in. Much richer and more intense, the “Dule” shows blackberry-like fruit and a whiff of the perfumed underbrush of the Barbagia hills.

Another producer that we have followed for many years now is Attilio Contini. While his winery is located along the coast in Oristano (he is also the leading producer of Vernaccia di Oristano), his vineyards in the Barbagia yield a Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva called “’Inu” that shows a slightly brighter fruit, but an intensity similar to Gabbas’ “Dule”.

There are not many whites in these parts to speak of. I know that Gabbas makes a small amount of very decent Vermentino, but to the best of my knowledge, it stays in Italy. Too bad, because it would be great with the excellent Culingionis that our kitchen is cranking out this month.