Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sardinian Vulcan Wines Born of Happy Grapes

Sardinia boasts both beautiful beaches and good wines. Photo by Patri Iade.


can see it now: The starship Enterprise hovering somewhere overhead. Mr. Spock is standing on the jagged cliffs of Sardinia, overlooking the teal blue sea. A wine glass is in his left hand. His right hand is raised with fingers splayed, he intones in a deep basso voice, “Live Long and Prosper.”

If Mr. Spock were a wine drinker, his wine would be Sardinian: complex, unusual, seemingly otherworldly.

A grand experiment in international viniculture for millennia, Sardinia sits just south of Corsica and north of Sicily. Ancient Phoenicians and Greeks left remains of wine jugs, mixing bowls and amphorae strewn all over the sun-drenched island. Marauders crossing the Mediterranean and establishing colonies throughout the 11th-16th centuries brought with them grapes from their native lands: grafts from Spain’s Aragon region, Southern France, and possibly Syria or Lebanon.

Mixed among them all, not to be uprooted or undone, were Sardinia’s own indigenous grapes (varietals), such as Vermentino, Cannonau, Monica. And some time in the 23rd century, explorers from the planet Vulcan will stand on its craggy hills, Mr. Spock among them, and extol the virtues of this noble winemaking tradition.

But that’s not what I really mean by vulcan. Vulcan here refers to volcano. Sardinia sits atop inert volcanoes, its limestone and granite soil still connected to its lava-laden past. In fact there are caves with lava stones all around Sardinia’s pristine coasts. The volcano-tinged granite soil, some Sardinian winemakers believe, give their wines a distinctive flavor, an earthy heartiness, an almost mineral taste.

Dr. Mehmet Oz speaks highly of such wines as Vigne Surrau Sincaru-Cannonau di Sardegna. Photo from Vigne Surrau.

Tasting tip: Mineral Taste
What do I mean by a mineral taste? Don’t worry. I promised not to use terms like “pencil tip,” and I won’t. But consider this: ever drink mineral water? Ever have the sense of there being something kind of … well … different about the water? If not, go to your favorite frou-frou gourmet store, shock yourself silly at the price of a little ole bottle of water with an unintelligible label, and swig. Ahhh, the “something different,” the mineral taste.

Now take that same taste, that same rather earthy or metal-like quality, and transfer it ever-so-gently to wine. Imagine sipping wine, and without diluting its flavor, add a metal-earthy tinge –just a touch – to the wine. The wine would seem less sweet, less fruity (not fruit-forward on the palate). It might even seem sweet’s opposite: savory (reminiscent of herbs: thyme, sage).

The Secret of Sardinian Wines: Respect the grape
Combine the mineral taste from the volcanic-granite soil with Sardinia’s indigenous varietals, and presto! The making of unusual – and quite beautiful – wines. But if Sardinia’s wines are so unusual, beautiful, and otherworldly, why haven’t we heard of them by now?

It’s simple: Sardinian viniculture fell prey to the ebb and flow of popular tastes, as well as the difficult choice of whether to follow the grape or follow the trends. Grapes are temperamental beasties. Pull, prod, prune, and blend, folks can try to bring them in line with lighter flavors, but ultimately nature will rebel.

Disrespect the character of the grape – like disrespecting the essential nature of horse – and you’ll be thrown for a loop every time. Sardinian grapes responded to being dragged kicking and screaming into trendy fashion by creating plonk. What is plonk? Cooking-sherry-quality wines. Pure drech. Rot-gut.

Sardinian wines were on the menu at the recent Vino 2011 Italian Wine Week in New York. Photo from Italian Made.

During the past two decades, Sardinian winemakers literally went back to their roots, respecting the nature of their indigenous varietals and their distinctive tastes. Instead of trying to make nature conform, they began to celebrate what it is that the local grapes could produce. Integrating some modern agricultural approaches with traditional methods of winemaking, Sardinian winemakers have cultivated distinctive hearty robust wines with minimal sweetness.

How did I manage to hear of Sardinian wines? Partially by accident, and then searching for them deliberately at the Vino 2011 Italian Wine Week at the Waldorf=Astoria New York.

Two Sardinian Varietals and One Vineyard: Vigne Surrau
One of Italy’s four DOGC white wines (highest level of controlled appellation), Vermentino is a Houdini of white wine: what appears before one’s eyes and what one gets are two delightfully different things. Imagine a wine that smells powerfully fruity, unmistakably fruity, like citrus. In fact, the first sip even tastes fruity. But then, without any advance notice, the fruit melts away and becomes a warm not-sweet-at-all (dry) mineral taste with a savory edge. One dip down, and the eyebrows go up, wondering what the heck was that?!?! Welcome to Vermentino.

Vigne Surrau: Branu 2009
Open a bottle of Surrau Branu and stand back. There’s no need to approach the bottle. Its fragrance (nose) – as strong as a full bouquet of flowers and honeydew fruit salad – will rise, shake your hand, and call you by name. Initially slightly sweet on the tip of the tongue (seemingly fruit forward), the wine suddenly fades (middle finish) to a soft mineral taste with a delicious somewhat savory long aftertaste (lingering finish, slightly herbal). Surrau Branu pairs perfectly with seafood minimally fussed with, and soft cheeses.

Vigne Surrau Branu -Vermetino di Sardegna pairs well with soft cheeses and simply prepared seafood. Photo from Vigne Surrau.

Dr. Mehmet Oz put Sardinia’s Cannonau on the U.S. wine scene with one simple announcement: perhaps Cannonau, the wine with the highest antioxidant properties, is the key to Sardinian longevity. Related to the French Grenache, Cannonau is intense, eggplant dark, and rich – seeming both spicy on the one hand and fruity on the other, often with a hearty rustic aftertaste (oaky finish).

Vigne Surrau: Sincaru 2008
Despite a very intense fruit smell (black cherry on the nose), Vigne Surrau’s Sincaru is smoky (charcoal, oaky) and reminiscent of spices (savory). Sincaru pairs well with charcoal grilled foods, game and red meats.

Where to buy
Vigne Surrau expects its wines to be available in the United States and online by the end of Spring 2011. Until then, you have three choices: Go to Sardinia, try Argiolas’ version of the same varietals available online from Wine Access ( or hope that our friend, Mr. Spock can have Scotty beam over a case or two.

Next: Savoring Sauvignon Blancs – The OTHER White Wine

No comments :

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
VEVLYN'S PEN: The Wright take on life by Vevlyn Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License .
Based on a work at .
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at .