“Sardinia”, said DH Lawrence, “is something else.” The famous English author was so taken with the island that, following a brief trip there in January 1921, he composed the travelogue “Sea and Sardinia”, which tries to summit the essence of the place via breathless hyperbole: “Sardinia is out of time and history.” Lawrence wrote. “This land resembles no other place. Enchanting spaces and distances to travel-nothing finished, nothing definitive. It is like freedom itself.”
More concretely, Sardinia is the 2nd largest island in the Medditeranean (after Sicily), situated 150 miles from the west coast of mainland Italy. It is one of four Italian regions enjoying semi-automonous status; its specificity is the result of identifiable historical and material circumstances. Still, you can understand how Lawrence got carried away; from white sand beaches to alpine forests, across mountains, hills and plains, Sardinia covers 9,300 square miles of immense ecological and topographical diversity - an island that’s almost a continent, as its been called. Sardinia has also suffered numerous foreign invasions throughout its history - from Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Spanish, French and Italians - and the landscape is dotted with evidence of the inhabitants fierce resistance. There are some 7,000 ancient Nughari, or Bronze Age dressed stone circular defense towers built by the Nugari civilization (and for which no parallel exists anywhere else in the world) all over the island. More recently, you can find the slogan “Sardigna no est Italia”, which translates to “Sardinia is not Italy”, graffitied on many village and town walls.
The result of this stubborn independence is a local culture and tradition that, while recalling Italy and Spain and other Medditereanan neighbors, is quite unique - from the cuisine (the great SF Sardinian restaurant La Ciccia does a beautiful job demonstrating this originality) to, of course, the wine. While Sardinian wines were much prized by the ancient Greeks and other bygone Mediterranean civilizations, they have not been held in high regard for most of modern history. This has changed significantly in the last few decades, as dedicated local vintners focused on celebrating the local terroir and varietals with sustainable farming practices and low yields, resulting in some very high quality bottlings. Today, Sardinia has has more DOC and IGT titles than Calabria and Basilicata combined, inclusive of one DOCG wine, 19 DOC zones and 15 IGT zones, despite having the lowest wine production per acre of any Italian wine region. The island is also responsible for 80% of Italy’s cork production. There are some 120 indigenous varietals grown in Sardinia, but the vast majority of planting and production is given over to just two: the red Cannonau (which is genetically identical to Grenache) and the white Vermentino (also grown in Tuscany, France, where it is called Rolle, and increasingly, California.) Our two producers this month work with these grapes, making wines that embody their varietal characteristics with startlingly depth and originality.
Wine Buyer-Noe Valley
Alghero, Sardinia, Italy
About the Winery: A banker by trade, Luigi “Gino” Bardino long entertained a dream of exiting the stagnant office environment and devoting his life to wine, his true passion. After years of studying enology in his spare time and numerous experimental vinifications in his Alghero home, Gino finally quit his desk job to follow his heart’s desire. With the support of his family, he planted his own vineyards and built a small winery, and in 2012 Vigne Rada saw its first harvest.
Gino chose to work with traditional grape varieties in the region, planting one hectare each year between two distinct terroirs. Monte Pedrosu, where the winery is located, features sandy and clayey alluvial soils with abundant riverbed stones and quartz, while the sloping Cubalciada site is home to clay, limestone, and some chalk. Farming is sustainable, by hand, with help from the whole family.
About the Winemaking: Grapes are de-stemmed, lightly crushed and cold soaked before pressing. Fermentation takes place in a stainless steel tank, and the wine is aged 3-4 months on fine lees, with regular stirring. The wine is bottled in the spring following harvest.
Tasting Notes: Vigne Rada’s Vermentino is reminiscent of wildflowers and Mediterranean herbs, with a mouth-coating texture and clean, saline finish. Delightfully crisp in its youth, it reveals a surprising complexity and depth with bottle age.
Price per bottle / Price per case
$25 / $270
Suggested Food Pairing:
All types of seafood:
Grilled squid. Grilled prawns or shrimp
Sautéed scallops with fennel gratin.
Spring and early summer vegetables such as asparagus, peas, broad (fava) beans, fennel and even artichokes
Saffron Fregole with Seafood (see recipe below)
Mandrolisai, Sardinia, Italy
About the Winery: Pietro Uras, Simone Murru and Renzo Manca are true “Garagistes”, a french term for a small winegrower making exceptional wines in small batches. The three friends have teamed up to keep the local winemaking traditions alive, and are farming their own vineyards by hand with organic practices. Their vineyards are nothing short of remarkable: they are cultivated on pink/white granite, and have been passed down by their ancestors over the years. The yields are extremely low. A good amount of the vines are over 100 years in age, the majority are 50 or 70 years old. The local varieties are Cannonau, Monica and Muristeddu (aka Bovale Sardo), and while their wines are full bodied and rich, their non interventionist winemaking avoids over extraction and results in brighter, high acid wines that are a pure pleasure to enjoy.
About the Winemaking: 100% Cannonau from three single parcels owned and farmed organically by Renzo Manca. The white and pink granite soils provide for a vibrant freshness even if Cannonau’s naturally bold body clocks in at nearly 16% abv. Fermented in stainless steel vats with native yeasts, aged 12 months used French Oak.
Tasting Notes: We have never tasted a Cannonau quite like one: Intensely complex and solidly structured and yet light in color and so well balanced. The sea breezes that make it all the way to the Mandrolisai keep this wine vibrant and lively, highlighting all the classic notes of this quintessential Mediterranean grape variety.
Winemaker: Renzo Manca
Price per bottle / Price per case
$37 / $345.6
Suggested Food Pairing:
Smoked pancetta, sheep cheese
Spaghetti with Sea Urchin
Saffron Fregole with Seafood
Fregole is a type of Sardinian pasta consisting small balls made withdurum wheat and water - you can easily find it in any good Italian deli or shop. You can also use couscous as a substitute.INGREDIENTS:
- 400 gm fregola
- 400 ml white wine
- 200 ml chicken stock
- Pinch of saffron threads
- 1 kg littleneck clams
- 60 ml olive oil (¼ cup)
- 5 golden shallots, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1-2 small red chilies, finely chopped, or to taste
- 8 medium uncooked prawns, peeled, cleaned, tails intact
- 2 cleaned calamari tubes, thinly sliced into rings
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Finely grated rind and juice of 1½ lemons
- Cook fregola in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente (14-18 minutes), strain and reserve.
- Meanwhile, bring wine, stock and saffron to the boil in a large saucepan over high heat, add clams, cover and shake pan occasionally until clams open (3-5 minutes; remove clams individually as they open). Set aside in a bowl. Strain cooking liquid through a fine sieve and keep warm. Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat, add shallot, garlic and chili and stir occasionally until tender (4-6 minutes). Add prawns and calamari and stir until just opaque (2-4 minutes), then add fregola, reserved clams, reserved cooking liquid and remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Serve hot.