The Cannonau grape (a.k.a. Grenache) finds a grandiose expression in Mamoiada, in the heart of Sardinia’s mountainous interior. With a mere two hectares of vines and a radically artisanal approach to his craft, Giovanni Montisci has earned a cult-like following for his powerful and distinctive wines from organically farmed old vines grown at 650 meters elevation. The chilly nights here preserve freshness while favoring a deep, complex expression of Cannonau that ranks among the world’s finest Grenaches. Naturally fermented, aged in large casks, and bottled unfiltered, Giovanni’s 2016 “Barrosu”—a local word for someone who is brazen or bold—is imposing as its name suggests, recalling wild strawberry, juniper, and Mediterranean scrubland.
Sardinia may be surrounded by water, but in Mamoiada, the landscape is rugged and mountainous, with cold, harsh winters. The local cuisine reflects this, and specialties are from the land rather than the sea. The rich, powerful wines produced here perfectly complement this hearty, rustic, earthy cuisine. Featured dishes of the area include culurgiones—large ravioli stuffed with potatoes, pecorino, and wild herbs—as well as pastas with porcini mushrooms and wild game, which can be found in abundance. Giovanni’s cellar is dotted with hanging legs of prosciutto, to be sliced up and served during a tasting; the luckiest guests will have the fortune of enjoying his wife’s crispy, tender roast suckling pig—a match made in heaven with an exquisite Cannonau.
Cannonau is grown all over Sardegna, but the town of Mamoiada, in the island’s mountainous interior, could be considered one of its grand cru sites. With a mere 2 ha of vines and a radically artisanal approach, Giovanni Montisci has established himself as one of Mamoiada’s foremost ambassadors. He has earned a cult-like following for his distinctive Cannonaus from organically farmed old vines grown up to 650 meters elevation. The chilly nights here allow for slow and steady ripening, preserving precious acidity. Giovanni’s wines are the product of his painstaking attention to detail, from the meticulous work among his ancient alberello-trained vines to the gorgeous Quintarelli-inspired labels adorning each bottle.
Our first foray into Sardegna is very recent, and it only took one trip to fall in love with the island, its culture, and its wines. Similar to its northerly neighbor, Corsica, there is a strong regional identity here that goes far beyond its official status as one of Italy’s twenty regions. Its people are proud, strong-willed, and deeply attached to their traditions—a distinctive character often seen with island people and accentuated by its long history of invasions and outside rule.
This tumultuous past has resulted in diverse influences—Greek, Roman, Aragonese, Catalan, and Ligurian, just to name a few—that have shaped the island’s culture, language, cuisine, and wines over many centuries. While Vermentino and Cannonau (aka Grenache) reign, Sardegna also boasts a number of indigenous grapes that are capable of expressing something unique in its abundant variety of terroirs.
The Mediterranean plays a major role, providing cooling, salty breezes to coastal areas, while the rugged, mountainous interior is home to high-altitude sites where wines retain freshness in spite of the southerly latitude. The granitic highlands of Gallura and Barbagia come to mind as some of its most qualitative zones, but a range of soils, elevations, and varying distance to the sea mean that the island is capable of producing wines in all styles, from crisp whites to powerful reds and exquisite vini dolci.
The three growers we represent bring something new to the table, something fascinating that is not found elsewhere in Italy or even in nearby Corsica. Their wines evoke the rustic beauty of this fascinating island civilization, and of course, pair perfectly with the local cuisine, be it seafood-based or the hearty, earthy specialties of its interior.
Let the brett nerds retire into protective bubbles, and whenever they thirst for wine it can be passed in to them through a sterile filter. Those of us on the outside can continue to enjoy complex, natural, living wines.
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