Sardinia, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily), boasts turquoise waters, white sand beaches, tender fish, plump figs, zesty lemons and harvests some of the most pristine wines in Italy. The island, a mostly unknown destination to foreign tourists, dates back past 6,000 BC with a number of architectural pieces still intact.
Additionally, DNA studies have found that the Cannonau grape (local name for Grenache), which is also found throughout France and Spain, has been traced back to Sardinia from the Venetians, more than 3,000 years ago. Of course, like any grape heritage, the research is up for debate. However, what’s not up for debate, is the island’s uncompromising growing landscape and native hospitality.
Why Sardinia is Ripe for Grape Production
What makes Sardinia a premier destination for wine is the land and growers themselves. Most vineyards in Sardinia are family owned, with vines that reach an average age of 30 to 60 years old (with some extending far beyond this age range as well).
Additionally, clean growing and harvesting is the name of the game on the Island, as the majority of vineyards are cared for without pesticides, resulting in superior quality wines. Growers in Sardinia will proudly tell any visitors or buyers that quality is the primary focus verses quantity – which makes Sardinia’s wines some of the most pure and exclusive wines in the world.
The Wine Styles & Grape Varieties of Sardinia
This grape produces Red and Rosé wines from the Cannonau grape, and is typically found in three varieties: dry, sweet and fortified (as liquoroso). The Cannonau grape produces dynamic, full-bodied red wines with medium alcohol, light acidity and rich red fruit flavors such as plums and raspberries.
Some varietals also include soft floral and spicy notes. While the Cannonau grape can be produced as a single varietal wine, it is optimal for blending as it tends to add body and fruit without adding tannin.
With its full body and fruity accents, Cannonau pairs beautifully with suckling pig (or roasted pork), eel, figs, olives, pecorino cheese and malloreddus (Sardinian gnocchi).
Vermetino has risen to become Sardinia’s superior white-wine grape. Primarily produced from seaside vineyards, Vermentino displays unique characters that you won’t find from warmer, inland varietals. Releasing familiar flavors of green grapes and grapefruits, and less common flavors such as daffodil and almond, this light-bodied white wine is deliciously complex and mirrors a similar profile of Sauvignon Blanc.
Though mostly dry, Vermentino is somewhat oily with flavors of citrus and (mild) salt, brought on from the natural growing landscape and Mediterranean sea blowing over the Sardinian vineyards. The wine’s finish can be slightly edgy with a hit if bitterness, similar to a grapefruit or fresh almond; however that shouldn’t deter you from the wine, as these flavor profiles make Vermentino the ideal pairing with any fish or citrus-centric dish.
Reserved exclusively for Red and Rosé wines, Carignano is comprised of the rich flavors of red raspberries and cherries, making it an ideal blending wine. The Carignano grape itself is very waxy, medium-thick and has a deep blue skin, with its flesh being very meaty, juicy and slightly pink. The result of all of these grape characteristics result in a beautifully bright, ruby-purple colored wine.
Just as beautiful as the wine’s color is its fragrance and taste. Hitting the nose, Carignano is classically, “winey” and fruity, with hints of mulberry and the scent of cherries and plums. The full-bodied wine is dry and warm to taste, slightly tannic and ever so full and resolute, and continues mature these characteristics with age.
Combining all of these attributes into one stunning pour of wine makes Carignano arguably one of the most perfect pairings for almost any food. With a balanced flavor profile, Carignano almost acts like an ingredient paired with food – complimenting classic proteins like roast turkey, chicken, lamb and cured meats; and a variety of cheeses like gouda and parmesan; as well as vegetables such as butternut squash, roasted red pepper, garlic, shallot, and more. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a wine that pairs well with such a diverse variety of food, like Carignano.
Additional Styles of Sardinian Wine
Though the three wines described above are dominant in Sardinia, there are a few obvious and not-so-obvious wines that are native to the island as well. For instance, Monica is a grape variety exclusively found on the island, which tends to be medium bodied with soft tannins and flavors of red berries and light herbs, with earthy afternotes – making it perfect for everyday drinking. The Monica grape is also commonly used for Rosé or blending, as it tends to rather be perfume-y. When used for Rosé, the wine takes on a watermelon color, as there is a little more pigment to the skin. However, don’t let the color mislead you, as these qualities also makes the Rosé varietal bone dry.
The Island also, of course, has Moscato, and is currently growing some super Sardinian Cabernets, utilizing the Carignano grape.
Visit & Taste the Wines of Sardinia
Sardinia wines are must-try, whether you’re visiting the Mediterranean or trying a bottle at your local wine bar, as the exports and price points of the island-native wines are currently very affordable. In fact, Joe’s Imports has a number of wines from Sardinia on our list starting at $34 per bottle, making it the perfect opportunity for you to get a taste of Sardinia wines state-side.