Wines from Sardinia — Italy’s other major winemaking island in the Mediterranean, besides Sicily — have been increasingly appearing in retail wine shops and on the wine lists of major restaurants in the U.S. Although this island off of Italy’s west coast, about an hour’s flight from Rome, makes a great variety of wines from native grapes and non-native varieties that are seldom grown elsewhere, the introductory brigade has been composed largely of one white, vermentino, and two reds, cannonau (the local name for grenache) and carignano, or carignan.
Grapes have been grown in Sardinia since prehistoric days, and its broad plains and steep mountainsides are indeed ideal for vines. There is also a great cultural pride in winemaking here. Even those growers who sell their grapes to cooperatives or independent producers make their own wines — which can be delicious — for personal consumption.
There is a strong tie between specific grape varieties and the villages where they are traditionally grown. This has resulted in the proliferation of such obscure cultivars as monica, girò, nuragus, nasco and vernaccia. Altogether, there are 19 DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wines in Sardinia and one DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, the highest Italian wine classification) — Vermentino de Gallura — along with 15 classified as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), granted to good wines that for whatever reason don't qualify for the higher categories. This all bodes well for those wishing to preserve the island’s rich winegrowing heritage.
One of the oldest (since 1899) and largest producers is Sella & Mosca, outside Alghero on Sardinia's northwestern coast, and Gian Matteo Baldi, its general manager, is one of the biggest boosters of Sardinian culture and Sardinian winemaking. Recently, Baldi invited me and a few other American writers to tour this island winemaking kingdom.