Surrounded by striking blue-green waters, private beach coves, medieval castles, and the freshest seafood, Sardegna (or Sardinia) is full of wonder and discovery. “The Emerald Coast” once famously named, is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean, following Sicily. It has roughly 1,242 miles of coastline and its pristine beaches are surrounded by the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is almost three times the size of the French-owned Corsica, which is located to the north.
Once governed by Carthage, Ancient Rome, the Byzantines, Spanish Arabs, and then Spanish Catalans, the region is bustling with culture, history, and a storyline that is told through its vineyards. Sardinia is one of five of the “autonomous regions” in the Italian constitution. This means the island has gone a step further toward protecting its traditions. This separation heavily influences Sardinian wine culture, making the portfolio of vineyards dissimilar to the varieties planted on the mainland.
The provinces of the region are; Cagliari (regional capital), Carbonia-Iglesias, Olbia-Tempio, Oristano, Medio Campidano, Sassari, and Ogliastra. There are roughly 20,000 hectares of vineyards in Sardinia, making it the lowest in wine production of any Italian region. Despite its volume, however, the native grapes along with the history of the vines tell a powerful story. Sardinian wines are glorious.
THE TERROIR OF SARDEGNA
Sardinia has a superb landscape that is wonderfully rural and unique to the island. The ancient mountains and rocky cliffs grace the inland areas of the island and the coastline is peppered with old-stone structures called nuraghe. There is wildlife everywhere; flamingos, goats, ancient sea turtles, beautiful Mediterranean fish, wild boars, and a plethora of livestock, which greatly influences Sardinia’s agriculture, cuisine, and terroir.
The combination of hills, mountains, and rocky terrain drastically diversifies the isle’s mesoclimate. Thanks to the cooling effects of the Mediterranean, the island is much more forgiving during its peak hot summers, helping the grapes withstand long, warm climates, during crucial flowering and ripening periods. The soils vary from granite, limestone, and sandstone, to mineral-rich clay and free-draining sand and gravel.
THE WHITE WINES OF SARDEGNA
Vermentino - the Vermentino grapes are often planted north on the island to offset the hot climate. The coastal breezes and diurnal shifts maximize Vermentino’s acidity and flavor compounds. Combined with calcium carbonate rich-limestone and vineyards scattered between sea and hills, Vermentino, thrives on the island. Tasting notes include white flowers, citrus, white fruit, and a distinctive bitter finish.
Torbato - Originally from Spain, torbato is pale and straw-like in color. Torbato is somewhat of a rare grape variety, with only 200 acres left in the world. It is typically grown in the commune of Alghero on the island. The grape produces white wines that taste of white flowers and sea minerals.
Semidano - A unique white variety that is often blended with other grapes on the island. A medium-bodied wine, it is known for its green herb and seaweed characteristics.
Nuragus - A white grape variety grown in Cagliari, the island’s capital. The ancient vine is said to have been brought to Sardinia by the Phoenicians in 12 Century B.C. It produces a light-bodied white with high acidity.
THE RED WINES OF SARDEGNA
Cannonau (Grenache) - This is one of Sardinia’s most successful grapes. The red grape dates back to the 14th Century and may have originated in Sardinia. The grape is planted throughout the entire region with both red and rose wines produced. The grape itself produces powerful, full-bodied red wines with medium alcohol, soft acidity, and luscious red fruit flavors.
Cagnulari (Graciano in Spain) - this red grape variety also originates from Spain. It has a luscious rusty red color with deep flavors of blackberry, blueberries, and game.
Carignano - as you go further south on Sardinia, you hit the Sulcis region where Carignano is thriving and abundant. This grape produces wines that are full-bodied with notes of licorice, plum, and cherries.
THE CUISINE OF SARDINIA
Salty meat, sharp aged cheeses, grilled fish, and fresh local produce boasts a varied and bountiful cuisine throughout the sparkling isle of Sardinia. Sardinian food has been enriched through centuries was influenced by the various populations that have settled on the island. Each province on the island has its own influence and flair, whether it be pasta, wild boar, or seafood fresh off the boat.
Fregula is a pasta native to Sardinia. Fregula is a spherical pellet made from rubbing semolina flour and water together to create a small, round shape. Fregula is typically served with clams.
Malloreddus (gnocchetti sardi) are made of semolina flour and flavored with saffron. They’re prepared on the island with a sausage sauce called alla campidanese.
The Sardinians love their spaghetti, mainly with loads of maritime creatures. Spaghetti with clams and bottarga (fish eggs) and spaghetti con ricci di mare (sea urchins) are some local favorites.
Tuna fishing is part of the region’s culture, specifically in the Sulcis area. Tuna fishing nets there are called Tonnare and the cuisine reflects their respect of the fish.
Near the area of Alghero lobsters are found in abundance. Typically boiled with tomatoes, celery, and onion, followed by a sauce made from the head of the lobster, lemon juice and rich olive oil.
A classic Sardinian dish features porceddu, which is a suckling pig, roasted for hours over a fire flavored with myrtle, rosemary, and bay leaves.
Sardinia boasts the largest production of pecorino cheese in Europe. Sheep are found everywhere in Sardinia, making it easy for the natives to gather rich sheep's milk to make their native cheese.
Author: Melissa Norton ©