Mamoiada, in the heart of Sardegna’s mountainous interior, could be considered a grand cru site for the Cannonau grape. Planted at dizzying altitudes on granite soils, the grape reaches a grandiose expression that rivals, in its own way, the finest Grenaches from Châteauneuf or Priorat. One of Mamoiada’s foremost ambassadors, Giovanni Montisci cultivates just two hectares of bush-trained old vines at 650 meters elevation. The chilly nights here preserve a certain buoyancy to these deep, complex wines perfumed of wild fruit, flowers, Mediterranean herbs, and spices—a truly compelling translation of this extreme terroir, made for the hearty local cuisine of Sardegna’s mountains. Giovanni’s wines reflect his painstaking attention to detail, from the organic work in the vineyards—which he often plows with the help of a bull—to the gorgeous Quintarelli inspired labels that adorn the bottle. His wines are fermented spontaneously, aged in neutral wood, and bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal added sulfur. They are proof that Sardegna is capable of much, much more than the simple quaffer. Aged two years in botti, the Riserva showcases eighty-five-year-old Cannonau. This masterpiece represents the pinnacle of skilled artisanship—its brawn is matched only by its ethereal touch on the palate. Decant, or hold for a decade.
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.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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