North and west of Sicily lies Sardinia, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean and one of the five autonomous regions in Italy. As such, it is an insular and fiercely independent island with cultural curiosities borrowed from Spain, France and Africa.
Sardinia is often associated with Caribbean-like beaches, posh resorts, oversized yachts and undersized bikinis. But all that glitz and glam is a relatively recent phenomenon, starting in the 1960s when suntanned skin became the fashion on Paris runways. In the many centuries preceding ours, much of Sardinia’s civilization was founded inland—safe from trolling pirates—and special emphasis was placed on sheep herding and grape growing. In fact, scientists have uncovered fossilized grape seeds that suggest Sardinia was the site of the Mediterranean’s first wine. To this day, its wine areas span the entire island and offer distinctive wines that express all of the island’s qualities and eccentricities.
Like other emerging areas, Sardinia is a treasure trove of traditional grapes. To the north, near the spectacularly beautiful Straits of Bonifacio, is an enormous area dedicated to crisp, white Vermentino di Gallura, which is an excellent companion to seafood and shellfish. Vernaccia di Oristano and Carignano del Sulcis are pinned to specific areas in central and southern Sardinia respectively; and the better known Cannonau di Sardegna and Nuragus di Cagliari are produced in large areas across the island. International varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon hail from Alghero, a Catalan city on the island’s Spain-facing flank.
“I’ve seen the evolution of Sardinian wines,” says Mario Consorte, CEO of Sardinia’s Sella & Mosca winery. “The most significant changes have occurred over the past 20 years because in that time, the amount of wine Sardinia produced has dropped by one third. This has forced us to re-evaluate our priorities.” The result, he explains, is a careful focus on quality wines and on wines that “have a Sardinian identity and boast Sardinian characteristics.” These include wines made from traditional varieties that reflect the aromas of Mediterranean herbs, mineral-rich soils and generous sunshine.
Other producers to look for include: Azienda Punica (from the makers of Italy’s legendary Sassicaia), Cantina Sociale Gallura, Cantina Sociale di Santadi and Cantine Argiolas.