Table of Contents
- Historical background on wine in Sardinia
- What are the red grape varieties found in Sardinia?
- The Cannonau grape variety
- The Carignano grape variety
- The Monica grape variety
- The Bovale Sardo grape variety
- The Cagnulari grape variety
- The Girò grape variety
- The Caricagiola grape variety
- What are the white grape varieties found in Sardinia?
- The Nuragus grape variety
- The Vermentino grape variety
- The Torbato grape variety
- The Semidano grape variety
- The Vernaccia di Oristano grape variety
- The Malvasia grape variety
- The Nasco grape variety
- The Muscat grape variety
- Other grape varieties grown in Sardinia
Historical background on wine in Sardinia
Wine in Sardinia has a deep and ancient history, thought to date back to the Nuragic period and beyond. Archaeobotany studies and the discovery of archaeological finds support the hypothesis that the wine was produced in this era. According to the available historical and archaeological documentation, Sardinia played an important role in the domestication of wild grapevines, thanks in part to the influence of peoples who introduced new agronomic practices.
Today, vineyards can be found throughout most of the island and are an integral part of the landscape. The particular orogenetic and spatial conformation of the island makes possible a moderately intensive cultivation that produces high quality wine.
Viticulture has always played an important role in the Sardinian agricultural economy, and wine has become a symbol of culture and civilization. The vinifera vine is thought to have originated in Sardinia, although the island has benefited from the influence of various cultures throughout history, such as Semitic, Cretan, Phoenician, Punic, Roman and Byzantine.
The Punics found viticulture already developed in Sardinia, which would become the dominant crop in the colonies of Kalaris, Tharros, Cornus, Nora, and Olbia because of closer relations with the Sardinian people. During the hegemonic period of the Roman Empire, Sardinia practiced viticulture, as evidenced by numerous archaeological finds.
An example of this is the large and important Arrubiu nuraghe complex in Orroli, where grape crushing tanks, press bases and containers have been found that were actual wine-making workshops dating from the 2nd-4th centuries AD.
It is surprising to discover that during the Roman period , numerous grape seeds, or vine seeds, were found in the nuraghe, which belong to native grape varieties still widespread today. There are several other evidences of the Roman era throughout the island, such as necropolis and tombs with decorations and objects of oenological reference, agronomic terms of Latin origin, and vine training techniques still in use today.
However, the Roman era ended with the Vandal invasions, which led to the depopulation of the countryside and the destruction of crops. The Byzantines then contributed to the revival of viticulture by introducing new grape varieties and strict cultivation regulations. In particular, Basilian monks of the Greek rite planted new vines around their monasteries.
With the decline of the Byzantine Empire came the four Giudicati of Cagliari, Arborea, Torres and Gallura, during which wine production was consolidated and increased through exemplary regulations codified in the“Carta de Logu,” promulgated by Eleanor of Arborea in the late 1300s. This provided for severe penalties, usually monetary, but which could go as far as cutting off the right hand for those who uprooted or damaged the vines of others.
The Code of the Statutes of the Free Commune of Sassari, drafted in the late 1200s, regulates the planting of new vines in the north of the island, introducing a system similar to the current one. During Aragonese and Spanish rule, between the 13th and 18th centuries, there was an intense exchange of experience and knowledge in viticulture, which led to the spread of grape varieties to other regions of the Mediterranean.
Before the devastation caused by phylloxera in the late 19th century, Sardinia had about 80,000 hectares of specialized vineyards , later rebuilt using American “foot” grafting and expanding to an area of about 75,000 hectares. Currently, Sardinian viticulture covers about 26,000 hectaresand includes both cooperatives and small and medium-sized private wineries equipped with modern, state-of-the-art winemaking and marketing facilities.
Sardinia ‘s viticultural landscape is very diverse and characterized by different environments suitable for vine cultivation. The wide variety of grapes, mostly indigenous, is the result of the careful work of Sardinian winemakers who have selected the varieties best suited to the different growing environments.
Among the most cultivated grape varieties, some such as the Cannonau and the Vermentino are strongly linked to the island’s culture and landscapes, while others such as the Carignano, the Cagnulari, the Torbato, the Semidano and Malvasia, Nasco, Moscato, and Vernaccia are cultivated in a more localized way and express an even stronger connection to the places where they have been grown for centuries.
From this vast and extraordinary variety of grapes comes a wide range of wines of different types, such as sparkling wines, young and aged white wines, rosé wines, young and structured red wines, sweet dessert wines, and fortified wines.
Thanks to the application of new advanced technologies, Sardinia is finally emerging as a producer and trader of high-quality wines that can compete with the best European productions.
Currently, Sardinian wine production includes 15 Typical Geographical Indications and 18 Denominations of Origin, including one DOCG, Vermentino di Gallura.
What are the red grape varieties found in Sardinia?
The Cannonau grape variety
Cannonau is the most representative red wine of Sardinia, and its cultivation is widespread throughout the island, although it is better adapted to inland areas. The origins of this grape variety are not known with certainty, but recent ongoing studies suggest that winemaking activities were already being practiced in Sardinia during the Nuragic age and that Cannonau was already present in the region during Spanish rule. Currently, Cannonau covers about 30 percent of the regional vineyard area, with a total spread of about 7,800 hectares, more than 70 percent concentrated in the province of Nuoro.
Cannonau organoleptic description and food pairings
Cannonau is a red wine that can take on different aspects, depending on its color, which can range from the cherry hues of rosé to the purplish or ruby tones of red, which becomes darker and garnet with time. There are different types of Cannonau, such as rosé, red, passito, and liqueur, each of which lends itself to being paired with specific dishes of Sardinian cuisine. For example, rosé, with its delicate structure and olfactory notes of flowers and fruit, goes well with short- to medium-aged cheeses, fatty appetizers, risottos and pasta dishes with meat and fish sauces, and with white meats both baked and broiled. The red, with its good structure and olfactory notes of flowers and red fruits, evolving to more mature notes of jam and spices in the riserva or liqueur type, goes well with structured and flavorful traditional Sardinian dishes such as roasted meats, stewed dishes, cured meats and mature cheeses. The passito and liqueur wines, with their smoothness and alcohol content, lend themselves to pairing with desserts made with saba or honey, spices, candied fruit, nuts, almonds, and dried figs. Cannonau di Sardegna is a Denominazione di Origine Controllata wine.
Sardinian wines from Cannonau grapes
The Carignano grape variety
Carignano is an elegant and fine wine whose production is mainly concentrated in the Sulcis region, located in southwestern Sardinia, between the sea and the mountains. Probably introduced to this region by the Phoenician founders of Solci on the island of Sant’Antioco, Carignano is grown primarily on the sandy, warm and sunny soils of Sulcis, which give it longevity, vigor and richness in extract and fragrance. Despite its limited distribution, Carignano is one of Sardinia’s most important and prestigious wines. Recognized as a Controlled Designation of Origin wine in 1977, it is marketed as Carignano del Sulcis.
Organoleptic description of Carignano and food pairings
The climate, soil and grape variety result in a wine with great personality, deep ruby color tending toward garnet, with warm, enveloping aromas of plums, morello cherries, sweet spices, chocolate, licorice and black pepper. On the palate, the wine is well-balanced and aristocratic, with moderate alcohol content and soft, elegant tannins that make it suitable for pairing with large red meat roasts, stewed game, and flavorful, aromatic long-aged cheeses.
Sardinian wines from Carignano grapes
The Monica grape variety
Monica is one of the oldest Sardinian grape varieties, found throughout the island in different percentages and cultivated on a total area of about 2,500 hectares. It is thought to have been introduced to Sardinia around the 11th century by Camaldolese monks, from whom it would derive its name, although some theories link it instead to Spanish rule and call it “Monica of Spain” or “Uva Mora.” Monica grows best on limestone soils of medium depth and in hilly areas well exposed to the sun. Monica can be used for the Monica di Sardegna and Cagliari Monica controlled appellations of origin, and in blends with Bovale sardo and Cannonau in the Mandrolisai DOC.
Organoleptic description of Monica and food pairings
Wine made from the Monica grape has fresh aromas of blackberry, cherry, red fruit jam and delicate spice, often with hints of sweet almond. It is warm and smooth on the palate and pairs easily with earthy appetizers, pasta dishes with medium sauces, stewed white meats, and boiled meats.
Sardinian wines from Monica grapes
The Bovale Sardo grape variety
Bovale sardo is a grape variety native to Sardinia, while Bovale di Spagna, also known as Bovale grande, was introduced to the island around 1300. Although both are known as Bovale, they are actually two different grape varieties, as recent genetic studies confirm. Bovale sardo is grown throughout most of Sardinia, but it is at its best in the warm, well-exposed soils of the Mandrolisai area. Wine made from Sardinian Bovale is rich in extract, alcohol and polyphenols, especially when produced from vineyards raised to the Sardinian alberello system with late harvests. In blends with Monica and Cannonau, Sardinian Bovale enters the Mandrolisai DOC; in blends with Bovale di Spagna, it enters the Campidano di Terralba or Terralba DOC.
Organoleptic description of Bovale Sardo and food pairings
Mandrolisai wine is a wine of great structure, suitable for aging, made from the blend of three grape varieties: Bovale, Cannonau and Monica. It has a deep ruby color and slight garnet hue, with intense aromas of ripe or jammy fruit and ethereal notes. The palate has soft, developed tannins and a pleasant alcoholic sensation. It goes well with pasta dishes with long cooking sauces, roasted or stewed meats, cured meats and aged cheeses.
Sardinian wines from Bovale Sardo grapes
The Cagnulari grape variety
Cagnulari is an ancient grape variety that thrives in a specific area in the northwest of the province of Sassari in Sardinia. Some local winemakers have worked to recover and enhance this grape variety, which was in danger of extinction. It is best adapted to lime-clay soils that are well exposed to the sun and well drained. It is grown using the Sardinian sapling system or low espaliers, which give it sugars and polyphenolic substances that give structure and complexity to the wine. Cagnulari is used for the production of the Alghero Cagnulari DOC.
Organoleptic description of Cagnulari and food pairings
Cagnulari is a bright ruby red wine with intense and elegant aromas of berries and jams, wrapped in sweet balsamic notes. Intense, warm and delicately soft on the palate, it pairs well with local dishes such as stewed snails, pasta with meat sauce, roast kid, and aged pecorino cheese.
Sardinian wines from Cagnulari grapes
The Girò grape variety
The Girò grape variety is particularly suited to the production of dessert wines of rare finesse and elegance. It was probably introduced into Campidano di Cagliari during Spanish rule and is currently cultivated in small areas mainly in the south of the island. The Controlled Designation of Origin for Girò di Cagliari wine was created in 1972.
Organoleptic description of Girò and food pairings
This delicious sweet and austere red wine has had a great reputation in the past, having been recognized and awarded in several national and international exhibitions. It is one of the few and only fortified wines in Italy that can be compared to famous Iberian wines such as Port and Madeira. It has an intense old garnet red color and elegant aromas reminiscent of cherry jam and small berries, plums and morello cherries under spirits, caramel, myrtle and carob. The palate is firm and velvety, balanced and fine, slightly sweet, warm from alcohol and with soft, evolved tannins. It goes well with dry pastries and chocolate.
The Caricagiola grape variety
The Caricagiola vine is a red grape variety native to Sardinia, where it is mainly used for the production of full-bodied, structured red wines.
Caricagiola has a thick skin and firm flesh, and grows mainly in the Nuoro area of Sardinia. Wines made from this grape variety have a deep ruby red color and a fruity aroma, with notes of cherry and black cherry.
Caricagiola is a very hardy grape variety suitable for cultivation in hot and arid environments, such as those typical of Sardinia. It is a variety highly valued by the island’s winemakers for its organoleptic characteristics and disease resistance.
Organoleptic description of Caricagiola and food pairings
Wines made from Caricagiola are ideal with red meat dishes and aged cheeses. These are meditation wines that should be enjoyed in the company of friends or on special occasions.
What are the white grape varieties found in Sardinia?
The Nuragus grape variety
Nuragus is one of the most widespread white grape varieties in Sardinia, especially in the Cagliari and Oristano areas. Its origins are ancient and it is thought to have been introduced to the island by the Phoenicians, who are said to have brought it with them on their sailings. It is a hardy vine that is adaptable to different climatic and soil conditions, and also very productive. It is used to produce Nuragus di Cagliari wine, which was awarded the Denominazione di Origine Controllata in 1975.
Organoleptic description of Nuragus and food pairings
It is valued for its rusticity, its ability to adapt to any type of soil and for its productive generosity. The wine made from Nuragus has a medium alcohol content, is a delicate straw color, and sometimes has slight greenish hues. The nose smells of white flowers, green apple and delicate citrus notes, while the palate is savory and fresh. It goes well with fresh non-acidic short-aged cheeses, appetizers, soups and first courses of seafood cuisine light in aroma and flavor.
Sardinian wines from Nuragus grapes
The Vermentino grape variety
Vermentino is a popular wine in Sardinia, having arrived from Corsica in the late 1800s and spread throughout the island, where it is grown on an area of about 4,000 hectares. It has experienced a steadily growing sales trend in recent years and is used for the production of several types of DOCG and DOC wines, such as “Vermentino di Gallura,” “Vermentino di Sardegna,” “Alghero Vermentino frizzante,” and “Cagliari Vermentino.” This wine is distinguished by its great personality and unique characteristics, making it stand out from other Italian and foreign wines with the same name.
Vermentino organoleptic description and food pairings
Vermentino is a very popular grape variety in Sardinia and is grown throughout the island. Early vintages produce straw-yellow, fresh wines, while late vintages produce golden wines with ripe fruit notes and smooth sensations. Vermentino wines lend themselves to pairing with seasoned and flavorful seafood dishes such as seafood pastas, soups, risottos, and baked fish, as well as with seafood appetizers, shellfish, mixed fried foods, and small grilled fish.
Sardinian wines from Vermentino grapes
The Torbato grape variety
Introduced to Spain via Punicophytic routes from the Aegean Sea basin, the place of origin of the Malvasia family and later spread to parts of the Mediterranean, including Sardinia, during Spanish rule. Its cultivation developed considerably during the 300-year stay of the Catalans in Sardinia, and the wine produced was widely exported to the court of the Aragonese kings. Currently, Torbato is grown on an area of about 150 hectares exclusively in the city of Alghero, with Catalan cultural influences. The espalier training system and the agronomic techniques used help enhance the wine’s fresh and lively characteristics, which are particularly evident in the sparkling version. Torbato is vinified in purity to obtain both the wine of the same name and the base for the sparkling wine type, both of which are recognized with the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) “Alghero.”
Organoleptic description of Torbato and food pairings
The wine has a medium straw yellow color and aromas of iodine, flowers and white fruit. It has a lively and refreshing flavor that makes it ideal as an aperitif and pairs well with fish dishes, seafood, pasta with urchins, lobster Catalan style, and fried seafood and meat dishes. It can also be paired with white meats in light cooking.
The Semidano grape variety
The white grape variety known as Moscato di Sardegna has an uncertain history, but it was once widespread in Sardinia. It was usually vinified together with Nuragus to soften the wine. In the late 1800s, its cultivation was greatly reduced due to invasion by pests, and when new vineyards were replanted, more productive and disease-resistant varieties, such as Nuragus, were chosen. Today, Moscato di Sardegna is grown almost exclusively in a small area in the municipality of Mogoro, Sardinia, on hilly, medium-textured clay-limestone soils.
Organoleptic description of Semidano and food pairings
Wine made from the pure vinification of this varietal is of great finesse, usually characterized by a golden straw color and hints of hay, wild flowers and summer fruit, with delicate flavor notes of fruit and herbs. This is a long-lived, refined wine with good flavor and smoothness that pairs well with first courses with light sauces, soups, vegetable soups and omelets, and with medium-aged sheep’s milk cheeses. The Denominazione di Origine Controllata Sardegna Semidano with the sub-denomination Mogoro was created in 1995.
Sardinian wines from Semidano grapes
The Vernaccia di Oristano grape variety
The name Vernaccia is used in several Italian regions to refer to grape varieties and wines typical of the production area. There are three varieties of Vernaccia, two white and one red berry, registered in the National Vine Variety Register: La Vernaccia di San Gimignano, La Vernaccia nera di Serrapetrona and Vernaccia di Oristano. According to some hypotheses, the name Vernaccia could come from the Latin ibernaceum (from ibernum = winter) to indicate the grape’s characteristic of ripening almost in winter, or from the term vernatico (wine that is consumed in winter). Another more accepted theory traces the etymology of the name Vernaccia to the Latin vernaculus (of the place) by which local vines were referred to. In Sardinia, Vernaccia appears to be a wild vine exclusive to the island, probably cultivated since the Proto-Sardinian age and called Vernaculo by the Romans, which over time took on its present name of Vernaccia.
The discovery of more than 15,000 vine seeds at a Nuragic site si “Sa Osa” in the Oristanese region, perfectly preserved at the bottom of a well, has shown that viticulture in Sardinia was already known at least 3,000 years ago, during the heyday of the Nuragic civilization. The seeds, from two white grape varieties, Vernaccia and Malvasia, have been dated to around 1300-1100 B.C. using Carbon 14 evidence and were found in the very region of Sardinia where these varieties are grown today. This discovery disproves the earlier theory that attributed the introduction of domestic vines into the western Mediterranean to the Phoenicians and Romans, showing instead that vine cultivation in Sardinia was probably a phenomenon of “domestication” of local wild species. In addition, this discovery provides us with scientific evidence that the Nuragics knew and cultivated domestic vines.
Vernaccia di Oristano is a wine produced in Sardinia that is aged organically in wooden barrels using yeasts called “flor,” which belong to the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae. These yeasts are able to rise to the surface of the wine during alcoholic fermentation, even at high alcohol levels, and form a veil or biofilm on the surface. The metabolism of yeast “flor” has been the subject of study because it is responsible for the production of aromatic compounds in wine.
Organoleptic description of Vernaccia di Oristano and food pairings
Vernaccia di Oristano is a dry wine with unique characteristics and distinctive sensory expressions, such as its warm amber color and its complex, ethereal olfactory notes of dried fruit, almond blossom, bitter honey, cedar and candied orange. Long-term aging is evident in its complex, velvety flavor notes supported by a broad alcohol structure, with an intense finish and extraordinary aromatic persistence. Vernaccia di Oristano pairs well with all traditional Sardinian almond desserts, but it can also be enjoyed on its own for its extraordinary personality during moments of pleasant conversation. In addition to the DOC Vernaccia di Oristano, which was the first appellation recognized in Sardinia in 1971, this type of vine is also used to produce a young white wine marketed as IGT Valle del Tirso.
Sardinian wines from Vernaccia di Oristano grapes
The Malvasia grape variety
Malvasia is a type of sweet wine suitable for meditation, known for its elegance and often considered a symbol of hospitality and friendship. The name Malvasia is traced back to the Greek port of Monemvasia, where wine was traded around 1400. In Sardinia, the Malvasia vine may have been introduced as early as the Byzantine period and cultivated in the hills of Planargia and Campidano di Cagliari. In this region, two different DOC wines are produced, Malvasia di Bosa and Malvasia di Cagliari, which are distinguished by their organoleptic and sensory characteristics, mainly due to different environmental and growing conditions and aging techniques.
Organoleptic description of Malvasia and food pairings
Malvasia di Bosa is traditionally matured in drained barrels in the presence of “flor” yeasts, which give the wine warm, bright golden yellow hues with intense sensory notes of ripe fruit, honey and toasted almonds. On the palate, it offers a velvety and long taste persistence, with extraordinary balance and harmony. The young version of Malvasia, made from sugary, slightly ripe grapes, has a bright color and delicate sweet, aromatic notes, with a pleasant, well-balanced smoothness. The demi sec sparkling wine version, made from grapes harvested in early harvest, is fragrant and fresh on the palate. It goes well with traditional desserts, especially those made with almond paste, candied fruit and dried fruit. Cagliari Malvasia, which is not barrel-aged except for the Riserva type, has a less intense golden color and fresh, elegant floral and fruity notes.
The Nasco grape variety
Nasco is a grape variety of great value and rare finesse cultivated in Sardinia since ancient times. Today its cultivation is limited and is mainly concentrated in the sunny limestone soils of inland Cagliari. The dialect name “Nascu” derives from the Latin word “muscus,” meaning moss, and was given to this wine because of its unmistakable aroma that is particularly noticeable in wines a few years old. Known as early as the Roman period, Nasco was widespread throughout the island until the middle of the last century and was considered one of Sardinia’s most prestigious wines at the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair. It is usually grown with the classic Latin sapling, but it is currently experiencing renewed interest that could expand to a wider range of consumers.
Organoleptic description of Nasco and food pairings
Nasco has an elegant and warm amber and topaz color, with a thick texture and intense, enveloping aromas of honey, ripe fruit, dates, figs and candied orange. The palate is dense, sweet and velvety, with a finish of musk and scents of Mediterranean scrub. It pairs well with formaggelle and pardulas, as well as with dry pastries, particularly if they are spiced and almond-based. Its high alcohol content and great smoothness make it surprising when paired with particularly flavorful and spicy blue cheeses. It was awarded the Denomination of Controlled Origin in 1972.
Sardinian wines from Nasco grapes
The Muscat grape variety
The Moscato grape variety has very ancient origins and has been found in Sardinia since Roman times, who called it vitis apiana because it was the bees’ favorite grape because of the sweetness of its berries. It is found in almost all Mediterranean viticultural areas. In Sardinia, it is grown on the breezy hills of Romangia, exposed to the sea, inland from the Gulf of Cagliari on sunny, calcareous soils, and in Gallura on granitic substrates, which are particularly suitable for the production of Moscato spumante. Three different types of Moscato are produced in these three wine-growing areas, identified by their respective DOCs: Moscato di Cagliari, Moscato di Sorso-Sennori and Moscato di Sardegna, with the white, passito, from ripe grapes and Spumante types under the names “Tempio Pausania” (or “Tempio”) and “Gallura.”
Organoleptic description of Muscat and food pairings
Moscato grapes, thanks to their intense and prolonged ripening in the sun, arrive at harvest rich in sugars, aromas and varietal scents. The wine has bright and often brilliant amber tones, with a broad and rich flavor profile of rosewood, candied fruit, caramelized almonds, raisins, cooked must, dried figs and apricot jam. On the palate, the intense sensations perceived on the nose become even more pronounced. Deliciously sweet, soft and enveloping, it leaves an elegant finish of prolonged and pleasant savory-mineral persistence. It is usually traditionally paired with candied citrus fruits such as aranzada and pompia, but also with sugar and almond gattas, cream cakes, and fruit tarts.
Sardinian wines from Moscato grapes
Other grape varieties grown in Sardinia
Axina de Francia
Axina de Tres Bias
Bianca Rosa, Bogni
Bovali Mannu (Cagnulari)
Cagnulari (Bovali Mannu)
Girò del Mandrolisai
Girò of Bosa
Black Muscat of Seulo
Muscat of Modolo
Moscato Nero della Marmilla
Black of Oliena
Black Glabra of Modolo
Pascale of Cagliari
Pascale of Nurri
Remungiau of Serri
Saluda and Passa
White grapes of Serdiana
Black Grapes of Mandas