Visiting Sardegna is like visiting several different regions at once. The eastern coastal side is rocky, with cliffs and magnificent coves accessible only by boat. The north-eastern sub-region of the island is called Gallura and is home to the famous Costa Smeralda, with Porto Cervo as the epicenter of Italian socialites and international jet setters. This is followed by the western side of the region which is less glamorous but equally fascinating. Long sandy beaches are a familiar sight here from the Gulf of Alghero to the Gulf of Oristano. Cagliari, the regional capital and province, is at the south end of the island. Lastly, Nuoro, Sassari, Oristano and Sud Sardegna are the other four provinces.
68% of the territory of Serdegna is hilly, with 13% montainous and 19% planes. There is limited acrage for cultivation, and the hills are suitable for grazing. This kind of topography naturally paved the path for sheep-farming and this is still one of the main activities in the region. In fact, most Italians still associate Sardegna with sheep-farming, which is ironic because being an island, fishing should be the natural inclination. However, the history of this island since ancient times is been subject to invasions from Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Spanish, and the French. The Sardinian people were forced to move inland, to the less accessible parts of the island to escape the predators, pirates, and occupation armies that routinely invaded their land. This must be one of the main reason why Sardinians are strongly indipendent even toward Italian authority.
Today, Sardinia’s economy is mostly based on tourism and agriculture, but lately the viticulture has been attracting more attention. There is a new generation of winemakers who are working hard to emphasize the unique characteristics of the Sardinian grapes and the territory where they are cultivated. Here are two examples of what can be achieved when winemakers are passionate and proud of their homeland.
Elio Longobardi, Italian Wine Specialist
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits – Noe Valley
About the Winery: Giovanna Chessa’s small family-owned estate is in the north-west corner of the island of Sardinia, near the city of Sassari. The soil here is limestone, calcium-carbonate rich. Giovanna’s winemaking style is elegant, transparent, and expressive. The wines are clean but full of character, allowing one to truly enjoy the nuances.
About the Winemaking: Keeping true to his style, Giovanna used only steel tanks for fermentation. It was in fermented in cold temperatures and did not go through malolactic fermentation.
Tasting Notes: At first scent you smell whisps of the salty ocean. Then it slowy grows into ripe golden apples, green apples and sweet pineapples. It finishes with light green herbs like sage, thyme and tarragon.
About the Winery: Cantina Gungui is situated in Mamoiada, at the heart of Sardinia. It is far from the sea and the vineyards sit at a high altitude ranging from 650 to 720m above sea level. Wine maker and proprietor, Luca Gungui, is a bit of a character. He got his degree in law and had a good job in the city but got tired of it quickly. He found strong allure to his family’s tiny winemaking estate and decided to head back home to continue the family business which is based on only Cannonau grapes
About the Winemaking: He produces 4,000 liters of base Cannonau wine and 1,000 liters of the reserve version. The wine is macerated on the skins for ten days, after which 50% is transferred to large barrels and 50% into stainless steel vats to mature for a year. The two wines are then blended back together and matured for another six months in steel vats before bottling. At the end, the wine reaches the market 26 months after the grapes were harvested. The wine is exposed to native yeasts from the environment.
Tasting Notes: The perfume of this wine is absolutely decadent. Deep red roses, dark raspberries and sweet cherries are dominant. But when you go in for that second and third sip you notice lilacs, lavenders, and other red and purple flowers of spring time. There is lacing of black pepper, lemon verbena and thyme throughout the palate. Soft, silky tannins that are remeniscent of dark chocolate coat your mouth.
A thrifty dish devised to use up day-old bread, pane frattau features the uniquely paper-thin flatbread from Sardinia, pane carasau. The bread is moistened in broth and then it’s layered with tomato sauce and grated cheese, so as to resemble a lasagna of sorts. The final touch – a poached egg with the runny yolk oozing over the top of the dish – adds flavour and substance to the lot, making it both scrumptious and nutritious.
Finding pane carasau is mandatory here, as nothing will really do in its place. The rest of the ingredients, on the other hand, are nothing more than pantry staples, and the dish itself, you’ll see, is as easy to whip up as it is delicious.
INGREDIENTS (serving 4)
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1⁄2 yellow onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
800g tomato sauce
500mL vegetable stock
12 sheet of pane carasau (if you can’t find this at your local shop, try www.italianharvest.com)
2 cups pecorino sardo cheese
Salt & Pepper
Place the oil, onion and the garlic in a medium saucepan set over a medium heat. Fry gently, stirring often, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the passata and 60ml water, lower the heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and season.
Poach the eggs in boiling water, one at the time, until the white is set but the yolk is still runny, about 4 minutes. Drain with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Heat the stock in the widest stockpot you have – it should be wider than the sheets of pane carasau. Dip a sheet of bread for a few seconds to soften it, then lift it up and ease it on a plate over a bed of tomato sauce. Top it with more tomato sauce and some grated pecorino. Repeat with two more layers per serving – each person gets three layers of bread – finishing with the sauce and cheese. Serve hot with a poached egg on top.