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Sardinian Wines
Emerging from the Shadows
As recently as 20 years ago, Sardinia evoked a yawn in fine wine circles. Today, as the search for affordable European wines of distinction sweeps ever southward, this region’s role as an isolated backwater producing good corks but average wine is being recast as part of the southern Italian “resorgimento.”
Sardinian Wines The island of Sardinia, off the Italian Coast.
Sardinia was called Ikhnos, or footprint, by the Greeks due to the island’s shape. Sun-drenched but not scorched, Sardinia enjoys an average of seven hours of daylight. A maritime influence, winds, and a mountainous terrain moderate the climate. Surprisingly for an island, its people are oriented toward the region’s interior, being primarily shepherds, farmers and woodsmen rather than fishermen. Despite the fact that the northern end of the island is closer to central Italy, Sardinia is considered part of the south. White wine production remains concentrated in the north, with red wines focused in the south.

The preeminent and most prolific red grape on the island is Cannonau, a clone of Garnacha (Grenache) brought from Seville in Spain. Cannonau di Sardegna is a full-throttled, wood-aged powerhouse once characterized as dinamite Sarda, or “Sardinian dynamite.” Paired with lamb stew, pasta or spit-roasted pig by the natives, it ranks alongside many of Italy’s elite reds.

Vermentino di Sardegna is the premier white wine export. Like some of the island’s other wine grapes, Vermentino is of Spanish origin. (Spain colonized part of the island in the 13th century, and Sardinia didn’t actually become part of Italy until 1726.) Vermentino produced in Sardinia is less acidic than the wine produced from the same grape in Liguria, both east and west of Genoa. Light, crisp and easy-drinking, it is a perfect accompaniment to fish dishes.

Monica di Sardegna, also produced from a grape variety of Spanish origin, is one of the main Sardinian red wines exported to the U.S. Except in the superiore version, it sees no wood and is designed to be enjoyed while young. It is soft and light-bodied for a wine from a warm climate. Locals drink it with a meal of Favata, a stew made with pork and fava beans.

Carignano del Sulcis, yet another wine with a Spanish heritage, comes from the southwest part of the island. This variety is also found in France and California, where it is called Carignan(e). Rescued from the destiny of a blending grape through revamped viticultural and vinicultural techniques, it creates a red, grapey, full-bodied wine that can offer some complexity at the riserva level or when produced from old vines.

Whatever variety you choose, selecting a Sardinian wine for dinner won’t require securing a loan to finance your purchase. While Italy’s most prestigious regions now command fast-lane prices, excellent yet economical wines still abound on the country roads of the less-traveled territories.

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Sardinian Wines
The rugged island of Sardinia is home to some surprising wines.