Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Wild Wines of Sardinia

Sardinia (or Sardegna) is an island in every sense of the word. It’s considered part of Italy yet still holds many ties to its past ruler, Spain. Its location puts it just as close to Italy as it does from the northern tip of Africa and the most northeastern tip of Spain. Because of this, the climate is remarkably different from its Italian neighbors across the Tyrrhenian Sea, as well as its soil. And its wines, as they can be thought of as Italian, are quite different and often made from indigenous grapes that are not found on the mainland. In fact, I find it hard to compare the wines of Sardinia to any other wine-growing region that I’ve experienced.

Up until 25 years ago, the wines of Sardinia were created in mass with the intention of making bulk wines or heavily alcoholic, almost sweet wines that would be shipped to the mainland and used for blending purposes. However, as these vast vineyards were uprooted in the ‘80s and a new perspective on modern winemaking was introduced, the slow revitalizing of Sardinia’s winemaking has been underway.

Most notable, of the Sardinian wine-making revolution, was the entrance of Giacomo Tachis, in a joint venture with the makers of Sassicaia (Tuscany) and Santadi of Sardinia to create Agricola Punica. Tachis had come to believe that the Carignan, or Carinena, grape had found its perfect home in the sandy soils of Sardinia. Carignan is not a grape that’s usually associated with fine wine; yet here, it has been turned into something truly special and is absolutely worth seeking out. My experiences with both of the bottles they produce have been eye-opening. The wines are all at once concentrated, vibrant, spicy… in a way… sexy.

Another notable Sardinian winemaker is Attilio Contini, one of the oldest and most prestigious wine producing establishments in Sardinia, is also the producer who first peaked my interests in Sardinian wine. Located in the mid-western part of the Sardinian island and with a full range of indigenous varietals making a very unique set of wines. Their premier bottle, Barrile, which is made from 85% Nieddera, is a wine that maintains almost electric vibrancy while still delivering masses of spicy fruit, dark nuances and details. Not to mention, in recent tastings, my guests have scored it higher than a number of top Italian wines.

Then there's Alessandro Dettori, on the north west of the island. Dettori can easily be compared to Frank Cornelissen of Sicily in his approach to natural winemaking. Refusing to use chemical fertilizers in the field and only a trace of sulfur in the bottles, Dettori believes that wine itself can be made without human intervention and that it is the “winemaking” that should be removed from the process. Dettori uses a number of indigenous grapes, such as Pascale and Monica, to create truly unique Sardinian wines and suggests that bottles should be opened and left to air for hours or even days before enjoying. These are truly wild wines, and although they may not be for everyone, they are worth trying to expand your palate.

On to the notes:

2007 Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi IGT (60% Carignano - 10% Syrah - 10% Cabernet Sauvignon - 10% Cabernet F - 10% Merlot) - This wine showed a dark purple core, which faded to ruby red around the rim. The nose showed raspberry jam yet also had a sour berry component. Further exploration brought spicy cola and a dark earthiness to the front. On the palate, I found wild berries, which were sour yet soft with allspice and a hint of vanilla. This wine showed impeccable balance that leans toward acidity, which makes it great with or without food. It is modern yet shows a remarkable finesse and a juicy core of fruit. (91 points)

Find this wine on Wine-Searcher!

2004 Agricola Punica Barrua Isola dei Nuraghi IGT (85% Carignano - 10% Cabernet S. - 5% Merlot) - This was a big and brooding wine with confectioners sugar, rich blackberry jam and star anise on the nose. The palate showed sour wild berries at first but gave way to richness and dusty black cherry over time. It was dry yet juicy all at once with a wall of concentration that’s offset by vibrant acidity and faded into a long berry finish. (92 points)

Find this wine on Wine-Searcher!

2001 Attilio Contini Barrile Isola dei Nuraghi IGT (Nieddera) – The Barrile had a dark ruby red color. The aromas wafting up from the glass were amazing and reminded me of a savory, buttery, veal and herb sauce. Digging deeper, the fruit came forward and showed currants and a bit of vanilla. The palate was racy and, dare I say, sexy with a push and pull of tannin verse acidity waging war and revealing black currant, baking spice and black pepper with a long red licorice finish. (93 points)

To Find the wines of Attilio Contini on Wine-Searcher!


  1. Eric, GREAT post on Sardegna!

    Back in january I attended an Italian Wine Merchants tasting and my favorite for the day was the Punica Montessu 2007. I just checked my notes... "A nose of violets, herbs and white pepper, and a ripe profile of plums, blueberries and even a little peach." Peach! in a red wine! I love wine!

  2. It's a great bottle of wine. I pop'd and poured this pretty quick but I'd be really interested in letting a bottle breath for a while. I know IMW tends to open them a while before the guest arrive. If I'm not mistaken, I found this bottle for $20 at the time. Talk about a value.

  3. Just saw this now, Eric. No Dettori notes?

  4. I ended up publishing something about dettori at the link below. At the time that this piece was written, I hadn't had the chance to taste much Dettori. Now I have, and they are great wines.



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