While I’ve been on something of a quest for new and interesting grapes, there’s certainly more to learning about wine than just grape varieties. Today’s selection is about the place, because while this is made from a familiar variety, it’s from a region we have not visited before. So we’re off to Sardinia with the Cantina Santadi Carignano del Sulcis Grotta Rossa 2009.
Sardinia is an island in the Mediterranean between Italy and North Africa, just south of the French island of Corsica. It has a colourful history, having been run at different times by the Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Aragónese, Spanish, Austrians, and the House of Savoy. It joined what was to become Italy in 1861 and is run as an autonomous region.
In terms of wine, there isn’t as much history, colourful or otherwise. There is historical evidence of viticulture pre-dating the Carthaginian rule, but other forms of agriculture dominated, particular cultivation of grain and grazing of livestock. While vines, mainly of Spanish origin, were imported under the rule of Aragón, wine has not been as important culturally or economically on Sardinia as it has been in mainland Spain, Italy or France. Plantings were encouraged and subsidized after World War II, resulting in a rapid expansion of vines and availability of low quality, high alcohol wines used for blending on mainland Italy. However, funding was cut in the 1980s and such bulk wine production has dwindled greatly.
Though there are almost twenty Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) regions and one Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) established on the island, production of quality wine is somewhat undermined by the expansiveness of some of the DOCs (including the entire island in several cases) and high limits on yields. Vermentino, Cannonau (also known as Garnacha Tinta, or simply Grenache), Carignano (Carignan), Vernaccia and Malvasia are widely planted, as are some of the more common Italian and international varieties, but there is not a wealth of popular varieties unique to the island the way there is with Sicily. I’ve seen references to Cannonau, Carignano and Bovaleddu as bring native Sardinian grapes, but for our purposes they are Grenache, Carignan, and Graciano respectively. On the other hand, Monica Nera, Nasco and Nuragus are a red and two white grapes respectively that have yet to be identified as anything other than Sardinian.
As to Carignan, it is a grape that is familiar to long time readers of this site, but for a recap it is worth having another look at the Carignan (blend) I tried from De Martino last year.
Carignana del Sulcis is a DOC in the southwestern tip of the island, including two smaller islands, Sant’antioco and San Pietro. A DOC since 1989, it is one of the few areas within Italy where Carignan is grown, and in addition to the standard varietal bottling, there are levels of quality defined as Riserva and Superiore which require additional ageing. Rosé and Passito wines are also produced. The climate, as with the island as a whole, is as Mediterranean as you can get, and soils vary with clay, sand and limestone, though the island as a whole is known for decomposed granite as well.
Cantina di Santadi is a large cooperative winery established in 1960. It had its start producing vast quantities of bulk wine which was sold unbottled and unbranded. Fortunately, a change of management in the 1970s resulted in a shift, and the coop has moved from being an anonymous supplier of cheap wine to being a rare example of a coop with a strong focus on quality wine production.
To that end, they’ve worked in close partnership with Giacomo Tachis, one of Italy’s most famous winemakers. One of the driving forces behind the massive improvements within the Italian wine industry through the 1970s and 80s, he has been involved with Antinori and helped create the Super Tuscan Sassicaia. He’s long had an interest in Sardinia, and in particular believes that Carignan, not widely loved or revered in the production of fine wine, is especially well suited to the climate and soils of southern Sardinia.
Today the company produces over a dozen different wines, DOC and IGT, red, white and rosé, as well as a grappa. Beyond Carignan, the company makes use of Cannonau (Grenache), Bovaleddu (Graciano), Vermentino, Monica Nera, Nasco, Nuragus, Sangiovese, Syrah, and Chardonnay in their wines. In addition, they released a special edition 1960-2010 commemorative bottling comprised of Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which could be called a Super Sardinian.
As to the wine in front of me, in the glass it’s clear and bright, with a dark ruby colour and quick, thick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of cherries, sweet spice, pomegranate, and strawberries. On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium body, medium minus tannins, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium plus length. There are notes of black cherries, liquorice, some red meat, dried red fruit, and small goods.
This is a good quality wine. It was interesting for more than just its origin, but not overly complex. Despite having good intensity, I felt myself reaching for descriptors as the fruit was somewhat indistinct. However, it certainly suffered no faults and was pleasant to drink.