Could red wine be the magic elixir that fuels Sardinia's large population of healthy and vibrant senior citizens? Sardinia has the world's highest concentration of male centenarians and has been designated a Blue Zone - one of five places in the world with the highest concentrations of people who reach the golden age of 100. In addition to the importance of strong family and community ties, physical activity, and a healthy diet; moderate alcohol consumption has been identified as a part of life in almost all Blue Zones and Sardinia's Cannonau wine has significantly more powerful heart-healthy components than any other red wine. And no discussion of Cannonau is complete without discussing Sardinia's more prestigious winery, Sella & Mosca.
Cannonau di Sardegna - delicious and good for you (in moderation, of course)!
Founded in 1899 by Erminio Sella and Edgardo Mosca, two prominent Piemontese businessmen who played an important role in Italy's unification movement, Sella & Mosca winery is one of the largest wine estates in Europe - their 1,600 acre I Piani estate in Alghero has more than 1,200 acres of vines. The second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sardinian is an Italian region, but they proudly maintain a culture, and even a language, that is distinct from the mainland. I heard more than one Sardinian refer to the island as a country all unto itself.
From the bustling capital city of Cagliari in the south of the island to the medieval city of Alghero in the north, I had the road trip of a lifetime traveling throughout Sardinia with Sella & Mosca winemaker Giovanni Pinna. An adept driver who navigated Sardinia's city streets, winding mountain roads, rugged dirt trails, and scenic coastline with ease; Giovanni holds one of Italy's most prestigious winemaking positions. Giovanni's skill at crafting wines from indigenous Sardinian grapes like Cannonau and Vermentino, and also international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, have earned Sella & Mosca acclaim from critics and consumers. While visiting their impressive estate in Alghero, I was in awe of the steady stream of visitors who came to stock up on cases of their wines.
As the biggest and best known of Sardinia's wineries, Sella & Mosca occupies a rarified position. Despite their large size and prestige, Sella & Mosca manages to maintain the feel of an intimate family-style winery. In fact, many of their current employees can trace their family's connection to the winery back many generations. Sella & Mosca does not operate from an isolationist perspective and as we traveled throughout the island, I was struck and impressed by the close relationships and camaraderie that Sella & Mosca maintains with other Sardinian grape growers and winemakers. From the rugged terrain of Jerzu where majestically steep high-altitude vineyards demand "heroic winemaking" to the cozy seaside vineyards of Sulcis where you can almost taste the saltwater in the air, I witnessed an authentic kinship that seemed to generate from a shared Sardinian culture and devotion to creating the very best wines that express Sardinia's diverse terroir.
In Cagliari, Cucina.eat is a must-visit. Casual but chic, this cozy restaurant and gourmet shop showcases creative cuisine. Watch the chef in the open kitchen from your perfect seat at the bar.
Lucky me - our dinner at S'Apposentu coincided with my birthday! Chef Roberto Petza's beautiful restaurant in Siddi has been recognized for excellence with a prestigious Michelin star and the guide accurately describes it as a "hidden jewel in the heart of Sardinia." His innovative menu paired perfectly with Sella & Mosca wines, including some very special older vintages.
Wine is not just a drink in Sardinia. It is a way of life. It links communities. It tells a story. It connects the past to the present. At Michelin starred restaurants like Chef Roberto Petza's S'Apposentu in Siddi, creative dining destinations like Cucina.eat in Cagliari, and around a rustic table amidst the vineyards in Mamoiada; wine was a part of every shared meal and conversation in Sardinia.
Sella & Mosca vines in Alghero. Committed to eco-sustainability, the vineyards are planted with alternating rows of Mediterranean plants such as oleanders, palms, and eucalyptuses. This bio-diversity is great for the environment and protects the vines.
You may know Cannonau by another name: Grenache in France or Garnacha in Spain. Some say that the Cannonau grape arrived in Sardinia with the Aragon Empire in the late middle ages, but many Italian scientists insist that the grape was thriving on the island long before the arrival of the Spanish. They may debate the origins of the grape but Spain's influence on Sardinia can't be denied - the street signs in Alghero are in Italian and Catalan! And while almost all red wines can tout health benefits when sipped in moderation, Blue Zones researchers say "Cannonau wine has two or three times the level of artery-scrubbing flavonoids as other wines."
But let's face it - most of us wine lovers aren't primarily drinking wine for the health benefits - we are drawn to the taste, the artistry, the experience of sharing a bottle with friends, the tangible yet magical connection to a place and time. At the end of the day, Sella & Mosca is making wine, not medicine and the public demands that the wines taste good. Sella & Mosca meets that criteria and more, their beautifully crafted wines surpass good. Excellent not only for their balance and elegance, but also because they don't taste banal. These wines taste like Sardinia - the sea salt, the mountain herbs, the rich soil, the healthy grapes. (I've highlighted a few Sella & Mosca wines below, visit the website of their importer, Palm Bay, for more information on all wines currently available in the United States.)
Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva DOC 2013 ($16.99)
Loved by the Blue Zones researchers for its health benefits, I love Cannonau for the taste and Sella & Mosca is the standard by which I judge all others. An approachable but elegant wine, this Cannonau lures you in with sultry aromas of wild berries and a touch of spice. Beautifully balanced flavors of plummy fruit, earth, herbs, and spice create a wine with tremendous finesse and nuance.
Sella & Mosca "Tanca Farrá" Alghero DOC 2011 ($26.99)
Bold and complex, Tanca Farrá is a wine that demands that you take your time but it's worth it. Tanca Farrá means "Iron Earth" in the Sardinian dialect and refers to the high iron content of the soil in this portion of the Sella & Mosca estate. An alluring blend of Cannonau and Cabernet Sauvignon, this voluptuous vino has steely minerality and strength. Rich and full-bodied, its layers of dark fruit, graphite, and herbs evolve beautifully in the glass. Savor this sophisticated wine slowly and let it take your palate on a journey.
Sella & Mosca "Marchese di Villamarina" Alghero DOC 2010 ($64.99)
Cabernet Sauvignon may be grown virtually everywhere but Marchese di Villamarina is an elegant reminder of its ability to express the unique qualities of the region where it is grown. This wine is positively Sardinian and Cabernet Sauvignon's classic flavors proudly flaunt some Sardinian finesse. Intense but not overwhelming, it superbly balances rich flavors of blackcurrant and black cherry, with touches of vanilla and earth. (The 1989 vintage pictured is a reminder of how beautifully this wine ages.)
Sella & Mosca La Cala Vermentino di Sardegna DOC 2016 ($13.99)
Forevermore, a sip of this snappy Vermentino will conjure up vivid memories of Sardinia's stunning beaches. As crisp and fresh as summer linen, juicy citrus and peach flavors are balanced by a hint of salinity that reflects the vineyard's proximity to the sea. Another delicious reminder that there is more to Italian white wine than Pinot Grigio!
Of course, there are many factors that contribute to a long life, not just a daily glass or two of Cannonau. Breathtakingly beautiful, Sardinia is a world away from my hectic life in Manhattan but I did learn some important lessons that I can try to apply here in the concrete jungle. While the East River can't compete with the stunning turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, it is important to spend time with nature - it relaxes us, the water seems to absorb our worries. Living to 100 may not be in everyone's future, but my visit to Sardinia was a reminder that spending time with friends and family, laughing, loving, sharing a meal, and connecting over wine are the things that truly enrich our lives.
A special thank you to everyone who made my time in Sardinia so wonderful: Palm Bay importers, chief winemaker Giovanni Pinna, agronomist Gianfranco Farimbella, general director GianMatteo Baldi, public relations and hospitality manager Anna Cadeddu, and all of the people I met who so generously shared their precious Sardinia with me.