Sardegna and stone go hand-in-hand. This island is essentially a jagged lump of granite in the middle of the Mediterranean, covered with just enough soil and scrub to make it farm-able and, as such, habitable. One of the main tourist attractions of the island are the astonishingly well-preserved prehistoric stone huts called nuraghi, which dot the landscape in northern Sardegna especially. In fact, other than the swanky resort area along the northeastern coast (known as the Emerald Coast, or Costa Smeralda), Sardegna looks at times like it hasn’t been traveled since the days when those stone huts were built.
And while we’re on the topic of stones, another tourist attraction just a stone’s throw (sorry) from the Costa is theTomba dei Giganti, an ancient burial tomb found near the northern village of Arzachena. Constructed from giant slabs of granite and looking a little bit like an Italian Stonehenge, it is a dramatic example of the rough-hewn character of Sardegna.
Did I mention that it was rocky? Well it is, in case that wasn’t clear. And there may be no better grape to plant among these rocks and ruins than vermentino, which to me is one of the great indigenous white grapes of Italy. Known as rolle in France, vermentino is the ultimate Mediterranean variety, capturing all the salty, herbal fragrance of the coastline and its fragrant macchia, the ubiquitous scrub-brush that includes stuff like wild mint and fennel.
Although vermentino is grown all over Sardegna, its ultimate expression is in the northeastern corner of the island, in the officially delimited growing zone known as Gallura. Vermentino di Gallura is Sardegna’s only appellation with DOCG status, although it may be one of the least-known and under-appreciated DOCGs in the Italian wine world.
Most vermentino-based wines, whether they hail from coastal Tuscany, Liguria, or Sardegna, are marked by their crisp acidity and herbal, briny character. They are generally light wines. But in the intensely hot and dry conditions of Sardegna, and in those poor, rocky soils, the masochistic vermentino thrives – the result being a richer, more viscous style of wine with hints of tropical fruit.
The most intense and aromatic vermentinos from Sardegna carry the Vermentino di Gallura appellation, and on our list two staples are the very affordable “Funtanaliras” Vermentino di Gallura from a co-op winery called Cantina del Vermentino, and the “Monteoro” Vermentino di Gallura from the Sardinian giant Sella & Mosca. Another superb vermentino, which is made in the heart of Gallura but doesn’t say so on its label, is the vermentino “classico” from Tenuta Capichera. This last wine has terrific concentration and lots of rich fruit under its typically herbal aroma, and is very well worth its slightly higher price.
These fragrant, expressive Gallura wines have so many great partners on Mario’s menu, from the “Sicilian Lifeguard” Calamari to the Babbo Caprese Salad to the Marinated Grilled Octopus, that you really cannot go wrong if you order a quartino or bottle. Prepare to be transported to the islands with every sip – not a bad fate during the dog days of August.