Off the Western Coast of Italy is the mythical island of Sardinia (aka Sardegna in Italian). You probably know it for its idyllic beaches and crystal blue waters. A rich history and stunning geography make this island one of a kind. And, one thing that expresses this uniqueness best is Sardinian wine.
The island is home to one of the Mediterranean's most ancient winemaking histories. Pair that with a gorgeous terroir and fascinating grape varieties producing exceptionally delicious wines, it’s hard to stop sipping on Sardinian wine.
Let’s discover precisely why!
Sardinia’s Ancient Winemaking History
Winemaking is in the blood of the Sardinian people. We aren’t joking around - winemaking dates back to 1200 B.C. on this island, making it a floating artifact of wine history.
The thing is - there’s a bit of a discussion around when winemaking began on the island. For a while, many archaeologists and wine experts believed the Phoenicians brought winemaking to Sardinia (just as they did to Sicily). This wasn’t a random assumption - archeologists uncovered Vernaccia and Malvasia seeds in Sa Osa, a town in the western province of Oristano, dating back to 800 BC when the Phoenicians occupied Sardinia. The coolest part was that these seeds were non-carbonized. In other words, they were in almost perfect and ‘fresh’ condition. Now, that’s incredible!
Yet, an earlier discovery proves that the Phoenicians weren’t the first winemakers on the island. Ancient Sardinians were already making wine during the Iron Age over 3000 years ago. Archeologists uncovered a tower press in Monastir, a small town in southern Sardinia. Testing confirmed that this press was indeed used to make wine, giving the wine world more confirmation that Sardinia is one of the oldest wine-producing places in the Mediterranean.
Sardinian Wine Grape Varieties
Such an ancient winemaking region means some seriously old grape varieties. What’s captivating about Sardinia is how its grapes reflect the overlap of invasions, conquests, and cultural fusion on the island.
White Wine Grape Varieties
When thinking of an island, you probably envisage refreshing white wines to pair with the illustrious blue waters and incredible tuna and seafood dishes that are a part of the daily cuisine. Well, you’re right - Sardinia is home to spectacular white wines produced with local grape varieties with tons of character.
Enter Sardinia’s most famous white grape - Vermentino. This grape is behind Sardinia’s only DOCG - Vermentino di Gallura. With Vermentino’s bright acidity, Gallura’s incredible mineral-rich granite soils, and the Mediterranean breezes, it is a gifted white wine that is utterly refreshing.
Funny thing is - Vermentino is technically not a local variety. No one knows where Vermentino comes from. But, it’s safe to say that this grape traveled from the Italian region of Liguria, perhaps brought by sailors, on a thirsty voyage to the island.
Now, let’s move South. In the Western province of Oristano, you’ll find two very Sardinian varieties Nuragus and Vernaccia. These two grapes might be the oldest on the island, dating back to potentially past Phoenician times. Nuragus (similar in name to the ancient Nuraghi built all over the island) produces easygoing table wines, while Vernaccia takes the main stage. Consider Vernaccia di Oristano: this wine is similar to the sherry of Spain and the technique of using flor yeasts in partially filled barrels was brought to Sardinia by the Spaniards when they occupied the island in the 18th century. Vernaccia di Oristano is still produced as a fortified wine and was Sardinia’s very first DOC.
There are other white grapes on the island, of course. You have an ancient Malvasia variety (which locals call Alvarega) producing the delicious Malvasia di Bosa DOC wines. Either way, it’s an intriguing wine with distinct aromas of the Mediterranean and a golden color no one can miss in the glass. Malvasia di Bosa is a sweet dessert wine that is late harvested. Flavors in the wine are of dried peaches, dried figs, orange rind, caramel and honey. It’s heavenly with the typical Sardinian desserts often made of eggs, sugar, honey, almond paste. Look out for seadas.
Red Wine Grape Varieties
Sardinia also is home to red wine grapes that keep all wine lovers on their toes with their mysterious origins and delicious character.
First up is Cannonau. You may know this grape by its more famous name - Grenache. Now, don’t get confused - Cannonau is unique to Sardinia. Originally, it was believed the Aragon dynasty of Spain brought Cannonau to the island. But, further investigation revealed that Cannonau most likely arrived first via the Phoenicians.
Cannonau is ideal for an island like Sardinia - it can take the dryness and the heat (It better be well-suited for the island if it has been there for 3000 years!)
Most Cannonau you will find under the Cannonau di Sardegna DOC. There are various styles - from Classico to Riserva, Passito to Liquoroso - that make this category versatile and exciting. If you’re going for a good ole dry red wine, Cannonau di Sardegna Classico (and Riserva) can be full bodied elegant, fruity wines with hints of rose petals and spice, and sometimes even Mediterranean herbs.
Now, the tales of potential Spanish varietals do not end with Cannonau. Carignano - genetically related to Carignan, a Spanish grape - flourishes as well in Sardinia. The same debate, though, rages on around if Carignano was indeed in Sardinia before the Spanish even dared to make a conquest. The answer is still unknown.
What is known is that the Carignano grape is behind the delicious Carignano del Sulcis, a DOC wine from southwestern Sardinia. It’s a rather bold wine with a rich concentrated, almost cooked fruit character. Of course, the character varies on the wine. Just like Cannonau di Sardegna, Carignano del Sulcis also has multiple varieties and styles, 6 to be precise: Rosso, Riserva, Superiore, Novello, Passito, and Rosato.
Wineries to look out for from Sardinia
- Sella & Mosca
Sipping on Sardinia with Big Hammer
So, have you had any wines from this magical island yet? It’s worth exploring. Each sip of Sardinian wine sends your tastebuds to an ethereal island with one of the most ancient winemaking histories in the Mediterranean.
Big Hammer’s team of wine experts is always on the hunt for Sardinian wines and other incredible Italian island wines. Don’t hesitate to explore the wine selection and expand your palette on Sardinian wine!
Wines to Taste
Big Hammer Wines
The wine experts at Big Hammer Wines taste thousands of wines every year from around the globe, looking for quality and value. This special offer reflects the passion we have for our clients.