The Wines of Sardinia

It was a good move by the office of the Presidenza of the Regione Autonoma della Sardegna to hold a seminar and tutored tasting of the wines of Sardinia, together with the olive oils and cheeses of that region, on the eve of a major Exhibition of Sardinian food and wines held at London's Café Royal in February 2005.

, the second largest Mediterranean island (after Sicily) can be too easily overlooked or lumped-in with the wines of Sicily and southern Italy, instead of being considered as a separate wine region.

As the OLN Wine Yearbook 2005 predicts, it is Italy's south where the action is going to be in future years, and Sardinia should play a useful part in that advance. The whites of are fairly well-known, but many of the red Sardinian wines too are worth considering.

Lying south of France's Corsica in the Tyrrhenian Sea and with its northernmost part roughly at the height of mainland Naples, Sardinia is fairly distinct from the other five southern areas among Italy's total 20 politically autonomous regions. It is hotter even than , and produces strong distinct flavoured wines.

Sardinia has produced wine since the time of the Phoenicians, a good thousand years before Christ. Since then it has been invaded and influenced by many other different wine cultures. The Romans were there over 200 years BC; followed later by Byzantines and then the Spaniards from 1324 and for four hundred years that followed.

The white Vermentino may be among the best-known of the varieties, but, for example, the in the north of the country, can claim quite a distinctive flavour of its own compared with Vermentino grown elsewhere in Italy.

Many of the grapes in Sardinia are of Spanish origin, but again are distinctive, and those from the main vineyard area of in the south of Sardinia, take the extra denomination of Cagliari, the island's capital and main port. Native varieties include the and the Sardinian version of .

The red is by far the biggest contributor to the Sardinian wine market, the bulk of whose wines go to Italy. It is rich in other DOC varieties, which include the red and , and the whites and - most carrying that extra denomination of 'di Cagliari'.

Most of these Sardinian grapes are grown in the ex-Roman short two-branch ground-hugging shape, but others are grown espalier fashion on posts and wires.

Those of us at the tutored tasting at the aforementioned Jolly Hotel St.Ermin near Parliament Square, were introduced to the fine , which has now achieved DOCG status.

This extremely pleasant dry white at 12%, was followed by a at 12.5%, ruby-red and plum-tasting, with a toasted spicy flavour after a goodly time in wood.

There followed an old-gold or amber-coloured , at a full-bodied 14.5%. This had a determined aroma, strong and musty, with a hint of honey.

Finally the tutees, who included not only some of your correspondent Lovat Stephen's fellow-members of the Circle of Wine Writers, but chefs and authors of cookbooks along to enjoy the olive oil and cheese presentations, then tasted an excellent 15% .

This is a true dessert almost sherry-like wine, made from a single grape variety, with a minimum age of 2 years in wood, which allows the formation of a yeast film during its maturing.

A final tasting was of a grappa, distilled from the marc, and produced at 42-45%, but reducible. It is described as Abbardente, but popularly known as the filu e fenu, from the string used to keep track of the wine from its maturing-pit. This grappa is made from the single variety Cannonau, with no addition of sugar or caramel. It has hints of shrub, is almost liquorice in flavour.

Although your correspondent takes pride in being something of an amateur chef (doing the family cooking on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights) and is fairly knowledgeable on cheese, he did feel that he had been exposed to a fuller appreciation of extra-virgin olive oil than he had expected. Probably serving as a good base for wine-tasting.

The various Pecorino cheeses, admirably displayed and presented, as was the Fiore Sardo, were a pleasure to taste both before and with the wine that followed.

The enthusiasm of the first two specialist lecturers - Giovanni Bandino of the Consorzio Frutticoltura Cagliari on olive oil and Massimiliano Venusti of E.R.S.A.T on Sardinian cheeses - was magnificently conveyed by simultaneous translation (via headphones) to supplement your correspondent's schoolboy Italian.

Then came the wine-tasting tutored by Pier Paolo Fiori of the Consorzio Frutticoltura Sassari, to complete a really well-organised and professional evening.

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