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Wines of Sardinia & Sicily (mostly) Sardegna Sicilia
Sicily is the larger of the two main "islands" of
Italy and it's not quite clear that Sardegna, or Sardinia if you prefer, is
here to go to a page about Sicily.
In fact, both have their own particular cultures and certainly each place is
inhabited by people who will claim they are not really Italian.
Both islands are a bit isolated, as it turns out. And this is in the
21st Century! Imagine the difficulties in getting to one or the other, or
traveling from Sardegna to Sicilia, 20 or 30 years ago!!
It's damned near impossible, for example, to fly from Sardegna directly to
Sicilia, for example. If you want to take a ferry, you'll need 12 hours
from southern Sardegna to Palermo. And they don't seem to sail every day
of the week...maybe just once or twice a week!
Sardegna is full of these stone edifices called nuraghe. They say
there were still 7,000 of these old structures still on the island and they are
reportedly quite ancient in origin.
As Sardegna was traversed and, to some extent, trampled by numerous
would-be conquerors, it's really only relatively recently that the country, if
you want to call it that, has been part of Italy.
Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Spanish and various Italians
(okay, yes, we mentioned Romans already) came to the island.
In our modest exploration of Sardegna, we found a bit of that independent streak
in the form of graffiti.
There are grape varieties whose names you are likely to know if
you're a wine aficionado and a number of grapes particular to the island.
Especially well-known these days is the Vermentino grape and you
can find it all over Sardegna. Perhaps its most special area is that in
the northeast of Sardegna where you'll find "Vermentino di
Gallura." You can find Vermentino all along the Mediterranean these
days and there are numerous wineries vinifying Vermentino in Tuscany, too.
We have found a number of really top bottlings, though, from this Gallura region
and these are often well-priced and top quality.
Two other grapes should be of interest to wine consumers around the world.
These are the Cannonau and Carignano varieties.
Cannonau is cultivated around the island and there is but one general
designation for this, "Cannonau di Sardegna." Are there
particular vineyard areas which produce inherently superior wine or is this
simply a matter of a seriously dedicated grower/winemaker who is driven to
produce the best wine possible? Despite its long wine history, this
question is still being answered in Sardegna.
Cannonau, in any case, is said to be the grape known in Spain as Garnacha and in
France (and elsewhere) as Grenache.
Carignano, as Carignane is called in Sardegna, seems to produce some wines of
quality in the southwestern part of the island. The appellation is
Carignano del Sulcis and this is a wine of merit, too.
Again, keep in mind Cari˝ena is a fairly common variety in Spain (where it also
goes by the name Samsˇ and Mazuelo).
The vine is capable of producing an abundant crop, but ages ago we recall our
old friend Peter Scagliotti of Gilroy's Live Oaks Winery as saying his
viticulture professor, Frederic Bioletti, contended that old vine Carignane
could produce a more profound wine that Cabernet Sauvignon.
The folks at the Santadi co-op make some serious Carignano. The owner of
the once great Super Tuscan estate that makes Sassicaia and his stepson have a
Carignano venture, as well. It was the great winemaker Giacomo Tachis who
advised them in producing their Sardinian red wine and they rent space at the
Santadi winery for their "Punica" wines.
There are other potentially interesting varieties, as well. If you want to
drive yourself crazy, try reading and sorting out the grapes called Bovale
Grande and Bovale Sardo. It's said the former is the same as Carignano,
while the later is the grape known in Spain's Rioja as Graciano. But you
also can read that the grape known to some wineries as Cagnulari is the same as
Spain's Graciano. Or possibly closely related. And so it's perhaps
closely related to Bovale Sardo.
If one remembers that Spain controlled, if you want to call it that, Sardegna
from some time in the 1300s until some time in the 1700s, it might be easier to
understand the ties of today's Spanish viticulture with today's Sardinian
The wine industry in Sardegna is on the rise, however. Wine has been a
small part of the island's economy, but it's increased by some 50% from the 2011
vintage through the 2015 harvest.
We should note, though, that in 1970 there were far more hectares of vines
planted than today. In those days, though, wine was more of a recreational
alcohol than a cultured meal time beverage. And a significant percentage,
we understand, was sold in bulk to fortify other European wines.
In researching information for this posting, we were amused by an article about
Sardinia and its wines posted in The
Wine Spectator in October of 2016. The article, amongst other
tidbits, asserts that "...Sardinia produces the
smallest quantity of wine of any Italian wine region..."
Apparently they have not heard of the Valle d'Aosta, Umbria, Molise, Basilicata,
the Marche and Calabria. All, according to the Italian National Institute of
Statistics, produced less tonnage of wine grapes than Sardegna in their most
recent documentation (the 2014 harvest).
We have not been able to find a single source of great information regarding
Sardegna and its wines. We do know there are, at least, 135+ wineries on
There are numerous grower's co-op cellars and you'll read that these are
propelling the increase in quality wine production. We have tasted
many good wines from these cellars, but still find, for the most part, that
smaller, independent wineries produce wines with a bit more
Having traveled around and experienced the wine and food of Sardegna, we
can say we are blessed to have a stellar restaurant nearby featuring
good dishes of the island. This would be San Francisco's LA
In fact, while visiting Sardegna, we sent Massimo and Lorella , owners
of La Ciccia, a photo of an octopus stew along the lines of
theirs. Our note indicated that La Ciccia's was far superior to
the same dish served on its home turf.
If you've not dined there, book yourself a table at La Ciccia and ask
them for help in selecting a nice bottle, or two, of Sardinian wine.
SOME WINES WE LIKE:
- The dynamic and charming Antonella Mancini runs this medium-sized winery
in the town of Olbia. If you fly into this town in the northeast of
Sardegna, you're maybe five minutes' drive from the winery.
They have about 40 acres of vineyards in several sites a short drive from
The name Mancini is a big part of winemaking in the Gallura
area, possibly the best for Vermentino. Mancini has been known as a
winemaking and grape-growing family since the late 1800s.
It took us until perhaps 2010 to "discover" their wine.
They produce more than a dozen different wines and not just in bottles.
Local Pedres fans show up at the cellar door and buy wine in "bulk"
I don't think they check your oil, tire pressure or wash your windshield when
you stop by for a "fill up."
These guys are Pedres winery Fan Club members.
The cellar is well-maintained and clean, a couple of features we like to see.
One of the cellar crew was busy cleaning out a machine which helps clarify the
For wines which are put into a glass bottle, they apply a label...
Tasting a wine "in progress."
Pedres produces mostly white wine, but there's a small quantity of red, as well.
Our selection from Pedres is their dynamite Vermentino di
Gallura. It's been consistently good for many years.
We have usually found what we thought was a woodsy note in the wine, yet in
reading through various tasting notes, everyone said the wine doesn't ever see
A whopping 3% is given a brief pass through a barrel and so it turns out our
suspicions were confirmed.
But it's just a faint note you might sense on the nose, but it's not so intense
you'd say "hey, this reminds me of well-oaked Chardonnay" for
It's just like a sprinkle of salt on some food...not enough where you'd say it's
salty, but just enough to add a note of complexity. The wine shows a
bright, fresh melon and peach sort of character and it's dry and very mildly
We've noticed most people who have bought their first bottle have come back for
a second. And why not? It's got more charm and character than your
standard Pinot Grigio and it's delicious.
Currently in stock: 2018 PEDRES VERMENTINO DI
GALLURA "Thilibas" SALE $19.99
- We first became aware of Giuseppe Gabbas' wonderful Cannonau while
dining in an Italian restaurant in Germany (!). The wine was called
"Dule," Gabbas' top-of-the-line red. Well, we thought it
was his top wine, but it turns out there's another stellar wine called
"Arbore" which might be even more showy.
Gabbas' ancestors, if we understood the story correctly, were medical
doctors while Giuseppe, who's likely in his 70s, works as a public law
specialist. The family has owned property in the region called
Barbagia. This area gets its name, we're told, from its ancient
reputation for its "barbarian" culture. We wonder if they
got that designation from their cultivation of the Barbera vine, but
apparently this has to do with their ability to not allow the Romans to
run roughshod over their stretch of the country.
The name Barbagia, it seems, comes from a Greek term, Βάρβαρος-ου
translates to something like Barberian, but also referred to someone who
speaks slowly or is perhaps a chronic stutterer. We can only imagine
what sort of sketch the Monty Python troupe would create to celebrate wine
from this place!
Gabbas vineyards are located a short drive from beautiful downtown Nuoro,
a short drive from the town of Oliena. This would be is central/east
Sardegna. That's a 60 mile drive south of Olbia, for example.
If you had flown into Cagliari, the capital of Sardegna, you'd be about
110 miles south of Nuoro.
The property comprises about 35 hectares of which close to 20 are in
vineyards. They also have maybe 5 hectares of olive trees which
produce a sensational oil which has a remarkable artichoke-like
flavor. (Bosana is the type of olive, by the way.)
Gabbas planted some vineyards as far back at 1974 and in the early 1990s
he began selling a bit of wine and it was called Lillove, the name of the
area where the winery is situated. The vineyards are not certified
as organic, but they certainly lean in that direction. Their wines
are sold in Japan where apparently everything is analyzed before being
offered for sale. We understand the Gabbas wines are
"cleaner" than those which do have some sort of organic
We were delighted to discover the Gabbas wines were available in our area
and we included two of his bottlings in a blind-tasting of Cannonau in
2016. I had his wines in first and second places in the tasting and
the Dule was the clear winner of the tasting.
recently did they make their dry white wine, a Vermentino, available to
us. The vineyards were planted in a place unsuitable for Cannonau
and the wine was simply for the Gabbas family. But the production
now exceeds what they can comfortably drink, so a few bottles make their
way to California and we have no trouble drinking this wine!
It's dry and non-oaked. While the Gallura region up north is prime
Vermentino country, it's worth noting the soil of Gabbas' vineyard is
similarly granitic in nature.
The proprietary name is "Manzanile" and this is some sort of
Sardinian dialect term for being ready to drink in the morning. So,
if you're looking for a breakfast wine...
its supposed lack of pedigree, we would likely guess this wine, if tasted
blind, to hail from the Gallura region. It has nice fruit and that
vague spice note we enjoy so much. They only cultivate a few
hectares of Vermentino, though, so its availability is sketchy.
The special bottling of Cannonau and, for us, a bit of a benchmark for
this grape, is called "Dule."
The vineyards are said to be 40 to 80+ years of age and produce a fairly
small crop. The wine has a fairly lengthy maceration with the grape
skins, as this is about a 30 day process. The wine is then
transferred in small French oak barrels, with a healthy percentage being
They typically mature the wine in wood for about a year and then give it
some bottle aging. A riserva can't be sold until the third November
after the vintage and it must spend at least 6 months in wood.
Curiously, those sold as "Classico" (and Dule is now labeled as
a Classico wine) must spend 12 months in wood and can only come from the
provinces of Nuoro and neighboring Ogliastra.
We currently have the 2012 in stock and it's a very fine
You'll find the wine to be medium-full bodied, but not a big, heavy
blockbuster. The laws mandate a Cannonau Classico must have at least
13.5% alcohol, so it does not have quite the high octane level of many
present day ChÔteauneuf-du-Pape wines from France's Rh˘ne Valley.
Maybe this is another reason we're fond of this wine??
We tasted a couple of bottles of the 2004 vintage. The first bottle
was not quite right, so Francesco Gabbas, Giuseppe's nephew, opened a
second. This was complex and while on the smooth side of the scale,
there was still a mildly tannic finish.
2006 Dule was a bit unusual, showing a slightly burnt wood element which
we find sometimes in South African Pinotage. It also had some brushy
notes reminiscent of some Pinot Noir wines.
We suspect they've refined the winemaking since and the recent vintages
are more polished and this may be due to their working with the famous
Tuscan enologist, Lorenzo Landi.
small production wine is made in special vintages and it's called Arbore.
This is predominantly Cannonau with a small percentage of Muristellu, a
secret code name for Bovale Sardo. The 2012 we tasted at the winery
was excellent. Old vines. Fuller bodied. Fine.
Intense. Balanced and elegant. The first vintage was 2008 and
we have not seen this in our market.
Gabbas also dabbles in making a sweet wine of Cannonau. It's called
"Avra," a Sardinian term for a cold wind. Some of the
grapes are picked late, some are dried on straw mats and other
bunches have their stems pinched on the vine and they are allowed to
dehydrate in the vineyard. The 2010 had cassis-like fragrances with
a hint of eucalyptus on the nose and a touch of menthol on the
palate. Despite its modest amount of residual sugar, the tannin
gives this a dryish finish.
in stock: 2015 VERMENTINO di SARDEGNA "Manzanile" Sold
2012 CANNONAU Classico "Dule" Sold Out
A view from the road into the hills...you can probably see the winery
building in the middle of the photo in the left half of the snapshot.
Francesco Gabbas, nephew of Giuseppe.
Inside the winery:
...a normal wine cellar, not a museum.
- A Nuraghe is one of those curious Sardinian buildings, constructed in a
conical shape. They resemble a tower on the outside and a beehive on
the inside. There's a snapshot of one of these in the introduction
on this web page...
This winery is located on the west coast of Sardegna, overlooking the
Asinara Gulf in what's called the "Lu Crabioni." They're
about 20 minutes drive north of the town of Sorso and 35 minutes north of
the larger city of Sassari.
The winery is that somewhat large building in the left half of
the photo and the sea is in close proximity of the vineyards and cellar.
Eight partners established the Nuraghe Crabioni vineyards and
winery. They began in 2003, planting 21 hectares on a 35 hectare
property. Their first vintage was in 2007, so it's not a storied winery
with a long and compelling history.
We had tasted their Cannonau and found it to be a really good bottle of wine and
it's been fairly popular in our little wine shop. We set out to visit a
number of wineries on Sardegna in 2017 and arranged to see this place.
The winery is a fairly standard wine cellar.
Nothing fancy, nothing grand. That's because for this
producer, it's all about the vineyard.
It seems they farm conventionally.
We've been fans of their Cannonau di Sardegna. They make
about 1200 cases of this wine and it's a charming red that's simply vinified in
stainless steel, clarified and then bottled. If you have a sniff of the
2015 that's currently in the shop you'd probably guess this to be aged in small
oak barrels. There's a charming fragrance reminiscent of brown
spices. Sweet spices.
"No," says winery staffer Anna Maria Pisano. "We don't
mature the wine in wood. But you're right about the fragrance which seems
like oak. It's ginestra."
Ginestra is "broom" and it can be nicely fragrant...
Anna Maria Pisano pours some tastes of Nuraghe Crabioni wines.
She poured a recently-bottled Cannonau and the wine was
disappointing in that it was missing that brown spice fragrance.
"That character develops naturally in the wine with bottle aging.
It's not there at the outset, but with time, you find this ginestra spice
They produce a few other wines...good Vermentino, a nice Cagnulari (an
off-the-beaten path red that is close to Spain's Graciano grape) and a somewhat
Currently in stock: 2015 NURAGHE
CRABIONI CANNONAU DI SARDEGNA Sold Out
- Dr. Piero Mancini was a dentist who started planting grapevines in the
1960s near his home in the sea-side city of Olbia. Over the years,
in between drilling and cleaning teeth, Mancini continued planting
Vermentino vines and by the end of the 1970s he had something like 70
hectares in the ground.
Apparently selling all those grapes was like pulling teeth, so in 1989 he
decided to vinify some fruit and see what kind of wine he could
make. These days his "kids" (they're not kids anymore) run
the family business. Alessandro takes care of vineyard management,
while Antonio is in the cellar. His daughter Lara and Piero's wife
Marisa handle public relations.
- The cellar is right near the harbor of Olbia in a sort of industrial
zone. It's not the bucolic sort of winery scene you'll find in Napa,
Tuscany or Bordeaux. But they make good wine and that's first and
Nothing fancy...just good grapes to make
We tasted a few tank samples including some bubbly.
This is a label for an Asian market (if we recall correctly)...
We have had Mancini's Vermentino di Gallura in the shop for a
decade, or so, and can report it's consistent, vintage to vintage.
Sardegna seems to receive sufficient sunshine to routinely ripen the fruit,
allowing them to make a good, simple, easy-to-drink dry white wine.
It's a good wine to pair with seafood...all sorts of shellfish
dishes or pan-fried rex sole...we've enjoyed this with the various
fresh-from-the-tank seafood at some of the local Chinese dining spots.
There's a bit of melon-like fruit and it's got a very faint spice note...Prosciutto
e Melone isn't a bad match, either.
The 2016 is in stock presently.
Currently in stock: 2016 PIERO MANCINI VERMENTINO
DI GALLURA Sold Out
- The Santadi winery is located in the somewhat remote southwestern
portion of Sardegna. If you're planning to visit, be ready for the
winding, twisting, turning roads (we called them Strada di Spaghetti,
for if you look at these on a map, you'll understand the concept) to get
The winery was founded in the early 1960s in the heart of the
now mildly-famous Sulcis region. For the first two decades they made wine
to sell in bulk. The notion of putting wine in a glass bottle of roughly
25 ounces was a totally foreign concept. But perhaps the wines being made
in those dark days were not really worthy of being bottled.
In the mid-1970s, though, new blood took control of the winery and they elected
a new chairman, Antonello Pilloni. He and his colleagues realized their
work might have greater significance if they elevated their game. To give
them some pointers, Cantina Santadi sought the advice of Giacomo Tachis, a
fellow who was born and educated in Piemonte, but whose first impact on the wine
world was with the Antinori family. He is credited with creating what we
call Super Tuscan wines. If you know the wines such as Sassicaia, Solaia
and Tignanello, you know a bit of Tachis' work.
General Manager Raffaele Cani shows off the cellar.
Happily the Board of Directors of the co-op were receptive to improving their
wines (which likely meant reducing the yields in the vineyards, something most
farmers struggle with). Tachis was smitten by Sardegna and its
landscapes. He was thrilled by both the Vermentino grape and the Carignano
in the southwest.
Today they have about 600 hectares of vineyards and about 200
The Slow Food group calls Santadi the best co-op winery south of the Alto
Sulcis has very sandy soils. The parasitic root louse called Phylloxera
has been unable to wreak havoc in the sand...though it can put holes in the
roots, but the sand immediately fills those and the vines seem to be able to
survive according to Santadi's manager, Raffaele Cani.
Santadi's top red wine is called Terre Brune and this is usually about 95%
Carignano and 5% Bovaleddu. Now, what is Bovaleddu? Could be Bovale
Sardo but some authorities contend it's not quite the same. It might be
related to the Cagnulari grape, grown farther north in Sardegna. This
variety, we're told is identical or closely related to Spain's Graciano.
It's certainly maddeningly confusing.
Happily, though, Santadi makes this deluxe wine of traditional Sardinian
There's a wine brand called Agricola Punica, owned by Sebastiano Rosa (nephew of
the owner of Sassicaia), the Santadi co-op, the owner of Sassicaia, the head of
the Santadi co-op and the heirs, we suppose, to the late Giacomo Tachis.
The red wines of Agricola Punica typically are based on Carignano but augmented
with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with some having Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
The Punica wines are made at Santadi.
We've found these to be mildly interesting, but have yet to be swept off our
tasted good wines from Santadi and they are a reliable brand.
You can decide if you find the wines to be compelling. We've found them to
be good to very good and the price levels are a good indication of what's in the
(There are numerous wineries whose products are all over the map, no matter what
Remarkably, Santadi does not filter its red wines. How many large wineries
can make that claim? Not many.
As noted above, their most prestigious wine is called Terre Brune and it's a
small production wine as this cellar is concerned. They produce roughly
80,000 bottles. It's matured in French oak (Allier and Tronšais) for
close to a year and a half. Yet you probably won't find it to
show much in the way of wood. It's designated as a Carignano del Sulcis
The Rocca Rubia is a Carignano del Sulcis
"Riserva." A typical vintage produces close to half a million
bottles of this wine. It is matured in new and 2nd use French oak for
about a year. It's a good wine, if a shade less concentrated than the
We have access to many of their wines if you are
Currently in stock: 2011 SANTADI "TERRE
BRUNE" CARIGNANO DEL SULCIS SUPERIORE Sale $69.99
A Museum of Terre Brune bottles
The lab is impressive...we visited this cellar on a Saturday and a lab tech
was busy analyzing wines.
In fact, the place was a beehive of activity!
Tasting with Santadi Manager, Raffaele Cani
We have the 2011 Terre Brune in the shop. It's a fairly
big wine and a good example (some experts will tell you it's the best example)
of Carignano del Sulcis.
There's some dark berry fruit and maybe a note of bay leaves...a touch of wood
and coffee-like tones. It is certainly drinkable now and will probably
cellar well for another 5-10 years.
We have access to most of their other wines and enjoy tasting
new vintages of their "Monica," a variety which is a bit of a
challenge. It seems there are several types of "Monica" and
maybe they are related and maybe they are not! Santadi's, called
"Antigua," is a wine bottled in its youth. Medium-bodied and
lightly tannic, it has a bit of red fruit and we don't believe it to be matured
in oak. Maybe you might described it as Sardinian Chianti? It's not
a complex wine, but one which dresses up a meat-sauced pasta or a mid-week
Give us a few days lead time to round up Santadi's wines.
Currently in stock: 2011 SANTADI "TERRE
BRUNE" CARIGNANO DEL SULCIS SUPERIORE $69.99
Giba is a small town in southwest Sardegna.
CANTINA DI GIBA
This small winery was founded by a group of
childhood friends who were from the area of Giba in southwest
Sardegna. The ownership has changed and the story is a bit hazy as to
what happened. Of course, the wine business appears to be quite
romantic and idyllic from a distance. Once you've invested in it or
are working in a winery, it suddenly takes on a much different perspective.
The winery was initially called "6 Muras" which is a corruption of
"Su de Is Muras," after a tiny little place just southeast of Giba
near Masainas called Semuras.
If I understand the current situation, there are but 2 partners running this
terrific little property and though they make a range of wines, it's their
Carignano del Sulcis which is their calling card.
They make 8 different wines and these are produced from grapes purchased
near Giba. The winemaker is AndrÚs
a young fellow who is born in Spain. He had been working previously at
the nearby co-op winery of Santadi, so he's quite a Carignanisto if
we can coin that term.
They make a few red wines, but it's the 6 Mura Carignano we find to be of
interest. The youngest vines are 30 years old and the most venerable
are 110 years of age. The vines are grown in very sandy soils.
The wine spends a short time in oak, maybe three to six months, but it's not
bottled for several years.
have the 2010 6 Mura in stock presently. It's a medium-bodied red with
some dark fruit notes. You won't find much in the way of wood here,
but there's something beguiling about this wine. It's got a tiny bit
of tannin and this fades away in the company of red meats or cheese.
in stock: 2010 6 MURA CARIGNANO DEL SULCIS $29.99
have a bit of wood as well as stainless steel.
Aurelia is a young French woman who came to Sardegna and fell in love with
the place...now she's in the cellar doing the winery work!
- The Argiolas winery is a good producer to know if you're just
getting acquainted with the wines of Sardegna. Their wines are
reliably good and sometimes thrillingly-so.
Antonio Argiolas inherited a few hectares of land in 1938
when he was in his early 30s. We're told he was the first to grasp the
notion of quality, but as we were not around to see the vineyards and taste
their wines, we know only of today's Argiolas.
Antonio's sons, Giuseppe and Franco, replanted their vineyards and today
these tally to more than 275 hectares. They're in a town called
Serdiana in the southern part of Sardegna, not too far from Cagliari.
Many of their vineyards are maybe 15 to 30 minutes drive north of the
winery, but they have a site in southwest Sardegna. That's Carignano
country and their site is in Porto Pino.
They make quite a
range of wines, from simple, everyday quality bottlings to higher-end, more
soulful wines. Argiolas cultivates all sorts of indigenous grape
varieties, so you'll find everything from Vermentino, Cannonau and Carignano
to Nuragus, Bovale and Monica.
We order a bottle of Monica to drink periodically...a perfectly pleasant
worked with the late winemaking legend, Giacomo Tachis, ages ago, they asked
him to help create a "Tignanello"-like wine and they came up with
a wine called Turriga. It's mostly Cannonau, but has small percentages
of Carignano, Malvasia Nera and Bovale Sardo.
It's a big, robust red, perhaps the island's most prestigious
bottling. Matured in small French oak, it's routinely quite a showy
wine, offering cedar notes and dark fruit tones.
The wine spends about two years in wood and then a year in bottle before
Turriga is quite serious and if you're intent on offering a Sardinian red of
top tier, this is it.
Currently in stock: ARGIOLAS 2013
TURRIGA Sale $89.99
We can order most of the wine of the Argiolas portfolio...let us know
what you'd like!