Archive for the ‘Sardinia’ Category

On the day of our heaviest snowstorm so far this year, the annual New York presentation and tasting of Tre Bicchieri award-winning wines took place just about half a mile from where I live.


So I slogged through the flying snow and the street-corner slush to take advantage of what I hoped would be a sparse crowd and a lot of idle winemakers, thus allowing me to actually taste some wines. For the first hour, I was right, and I did have the opportunity to taste some remarkable wines – but then the storm let up and the hordes came in, and my chances for thoughtful tasting ended. I’m happy for all those hard-working winemakers that the Tre Bicchieri tasting is such a popular event, but as a hard-working journalist I do most seriously wish there was some better way to experience and evaluate these wines.

But you’ve heard that lament from me before, and are probably quite tired of it now. Besides, the key thing about this particular tasting is how many top-flight Italian wines it gathers in one room, and I don’t want to let the circumstances of the tasting obscure that. My palate and the collective palate of the Tre Bicchieri judges don’t always agree 100%, but those guys sure get an awful lot right, so a collection of almost 200 top-ranked wines amounts to an event to pay serious attention to, no matter how many people you have to elbow aside to do it.

Not that even under the best circumstances I could manage to taste all 200 in one afternoon, but I did my best to get to a reasonable assortment of old-favorite, regular prize winners and some of the new kids on the block. I was impressed by everything I tasted, without exception. I don’t get the chance to say that often, so let me repeat it: Every single wine I tasted that snowy afternoon deserved its Tre Bicchieri designation. Here are the ones I tried: first reds, then whites.




From Basilicata

Re Manfredi’s Aglianico del Vulture Manfredi 2013, a wonderful example of a grape I love

From Piedmont

Elvio Cogno’s Barolo Bricco Pernice 2011, another masterpiece from winemaker Valter Fissore

Bruno Giacosa’s Barbaresco Asili Riserva 2011, one of Barbaresco’s finest crus, beautifully rendered

Elio Grasso’s Barolo Ginestra Casa Maté 2012, benchmark Barolo, as always from this estate

Giacomo Fenocchio’s Barolo Bussia 90 Dì Riserva 2010, macerated 90 days on the skins, with consequent depth and intensity

Oddero’s Barolo Bussia Vigneto Mondoca Riserva 2010, a classic Barolo of a great vintage

Vietti’s Barolo Ravera 2012, a lovely, beautifully balanced wine with potentially great longevity (and I also liked Vietti’s very nice but not prize-winning Barbera d’Asti La Crena 2013)

From Sicily

Palari’s Faro Palari 2012, year after year the best red wine made in Sicily, in my opinion (and the 2012 Rosso del Soprano is right on its tail in quality: It got Due Bicchieri)

Planeta’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico Dorilli 2014, a lovely light-bodied wine, refreshing and vigorous

From Tuscany

Boscarelli’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Il Nocio 2012, as always an elegant, complex wine

Castellare di Castellina’s I Sodi di San Niccolò 2012, graceful and lovely Sangiovese from winemaker Alessandro Cellai

Castello di Volpaia’s Chianti Classico Riserva 2013, medium-bodied, perfectly balanced, with the elegance that always marks Volpaia

Il Marroneto’s Brunello Madonna delle Grazie 2011, as always from this remarkable cru and maker, a very great wine

Mastroianni’s Brunello Vigneto Schiena d’Asino 2010, maybe the best Tuscan wine at this gathering of greats

Ricasoli’s Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledilà 2013, a luscious, juicy wine that drinks far too easily

Terenzi’s Morellino di Scansano Madrechiesa Riserva 2013, very young Sangiovese, with this maker’s trademark balance and elegance

From the Veneto

Allegrini’s Amarone 2012, already big and textured

Bertani’s Amarone 2008 and 2009, both still young and evolving, with great depth and the promise of decades of life

Masi’s Amarone Vaio Armaron Serègo Alighieri 2011, a stunning wine from a great site

Speri’s Amarone Vigneto Monte Sant’ Urbano 2012, another fine example of what seems to be a great year for Amarone

Tenuta Sant’Antonio’s Amarone Campo dei Gigli 2012, an infant Hercules


I doubt anyone is surprised by the fact that Italy is producing so many fine red wines, but for me the best news of the day was how superior so many white wines showed themselves to be. Every single one I tasted had distinct varietal flavors joined to genuine goût de terroir. This for me was the most fun of the afternoon, and I kept switching from big reds to whites of every kind to keep my palate fresh. (It worked for a couple of hours, then I gave out.)


From Alto Adige

Abbazia di Novacella’s Valle Isarco Sylvaner Praepositus 2015, a stunning, fresh, and vigorous wine from a grape of usually no great distinction, this year slightly better than the Abbazia’s normally superb Kerner Praepositus

Produttori San Michele Appiano’s Pinot Grigio St. Valentin 2014, high-altitude, rounder than usual PG – a real dinner wine

Produttori Valle Isarco’s Sylvaner Aristos 2015 – this seems to have been Sylvaner’s year; a lovely, lively wine

From Campania

Marisa Cuomo’s Costa d’Amalfi Furore Bianco 2015, a lovely, fragrant dinner wine coaxed from postage stamp-sized terraced vineyards along the steep Amalfi coast

Fontanavecchia’s Falanghina del Sannio Taburno 2015, lovely, characteristic Falanghina, invigorating and lively

Pietracupa’s Greco di Tufo 2015, medium-bodied and deeply flavored, with strong mineral accents, a fine wine, almost as good, in my opinion, as the same maker’s Fiano di Avellino, which didn’t get Tre Bicchieri

From Friuli Venezia Giulia

Livio Felluga’s Bianco Illivio 2014, a masterful blend of Pinot bianco, Chardonnay, and the native Picolit, sapid and intriguing

Primosic’s Collio Ribolla Gialla di Oslavia Riserva 2012, one of the briefly fashionable orange wines, but better than simple fashion: intense, distinctive, rich, and with the right food incomparable

Russiz Superiore’s Collio Friulano 2015, a lovely medium-bodied, deeply flavored (hints of almond) example of Friuli’s native grape

Torre Rosazza’s Pinot Grigio 2015, what PG used to be, fresh, vigorous, almost rambunctious

From Lazio

Casale del Giglio’s Antium Bellone 2015, distinctive, flavorful wine from an almost disappeared variety that merits preservation (Charles Scicolone has written about this estate here)

From the Marches

Cocci Grifoni’s Offida Pecorino Guido Cocci Grifoni 2013, a lovely wine from a variety that had been in danger of disappearing

Velenosi’s Offida Pecorino Rêve 2014, another fine example of the same grape variety, medium-bodied and mouth-filling; very enjoyable

From Sardinia

Vigne Surrau’s Vermentino di Gallura Superiore Sciala 2015, textbook Vermentino, fresh and bracing

From Sicily

Cusumano’s Etna Bianca Alta Mora 2014, capturing beautifully the volcanic nuances of Etna’s slopes

Tasca d’Almerita’s Sicilia Carricante Buonora Tascante 2015, a very characteristic version of Etna’s great white grape

From the Veneto

Pieropan’s Soave Classico La Rocca 2014, always the finest cru from this consistently great producer

Graziano Prà’s Soave Classico Staforte 2014, one of many excellent cru Soaves from this producer, all fresh, enjoyable and very age-worthy


There were many more wines to taste, but I had about reached my limit for tasting accurately and for elbowing, so I trudged my way back home through the remnants of the snow storm. I wish I had had the capacity for more, because I’m sure there were more discoveries to be made and reported on. Ars longa, vita brevis. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Non sum qualis eram, etc. You get the idea: I’d do more for you if I could, but . . .



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Like Falanghina and Carricante, Vermentino is yet one more Italian grape that has been emerging from the relative obscurity of its local importance to start staking a claim to international attention. The variety either is indigenous to Italy or emigrated centuries ago from Corsica. It has become a significant white wine along the Tuscan and Ligurian coastline under the name Vermentino, most especially in Sardinia.

sardinian vineyard


Sometimes in Liguria it is called Pigato, and it has an inland identity in the Barolo/Barbaresco zone of Piedmont as Favorita, where the late Alfredo Currado of Vietti was its great rescuer and champion. But Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes emphatically says that rock-solid research has proven all three are the same variety.

In some respects, and not just that the vines seem to like to be near water, Vermentino makes an ideal seashore wine. Light and crisp, brisk and acidic, with refreshing herbal, citric, mineral notes, it serves beautifully as a warm-weather, fresh-air apéritif as well as a year-round companion to seafood of all sorts. It is the most important white grape in Sardinia, especially in the northeastern province of Gallura, where 20 years ago it had already achieved DOCG classification, Sardinia’s only such to date.

map of sardinia

Note that there is also a “simple” DOC Vermentino, vinified from grapes grown in other parts of Sardinia. It too can be quite good.

Most Sardinian Vermentino is harvested slightly early to preserve its high acidity, which is the characteristic – coupled of course with its pleasing mineral/herbal/citrus flavors – that makes it so pleasing an apéritif and light dinner wine. All the most famous Sardinian producers – Argiolas, Santadi, Sella & Mosca – offer well-made DOC Vermentino.

BranuUsually the DOCG Vermentino di Gallura stands a cut above these, with more intense fruit and sharper focus. Recently I tasted some bottles from Vigne Surrau, whose vineyards lie in the valley of the same name, just inland from the beautiful Costa Smeralda. Its 2015 Branu had a beautifully characteristic herbal nose that may remind some tasters of Sauvignon blanc at its best. On the palate, it was bright, acid, and lightly herbal, mixed with suggestions of Mediterranean macchia (juniper and such). This is classic apéritif wine, and equally classic companion to clams on the half shell and all their crustacean cousins.

ScialaSurrau’s 2015 Sciala, a DOCG Superiore (that means slightly higher alcohol), had a similar aroma and flavor spectrum, but was bigger and rounder, showing more white fruits on the palate, and finishing longer. This makes a lovely dinner wine with broiled scallops – that’s what I tried it with – and probably with any fin- or shellfish or chicken and veal as well. Nice wines, both of them, and fine examples of a variety well worth exploring.

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Avanti, Sardegna!

Sardinians have been making a brave showing here in New York in recent days. First Sella & Mosca, the large, 114-year-old firm that has been named Gambero Rosso’s “Winery of the Year” for 2013, presented a selection of its line of wines in a luncheon at Ai Fiori restaurant. Then the consortium of producers of Carignano del Sulcis offered a whole slate of Tre Bicchieri winners during a luncheon at Eataly’s Scuola Grande. All told, probably too many calories for my ever-growing middle, but a very fine and interesting collection of wines.

For an island that has been invaded, conquered, and owned over the centuries by so many diverse peoples, from Phoenicians and Carthaginians to Arabs, Genoese, French, and Catalans, Sardinia remains the most isolated region of Italy. It’s a land where in some respects time stands still. The island’s language – it’s an injustice to call it a dialect – sounds like late Latin. Neolithic monuments dot the countryside. Pre-phylloxera vineyards of grapes still on their own roots are numerous, as are indigenous varieties.

neolithic site 1

For wine-lovers, those last two facts should be enough to attract attention, but until recently that hasn’t been the case. The quality of the wines I tasted on these two recent occasions promises to change that, however. Sardinia has been making notable wines for some time – and as the flurry of Gambero Rosso awards should indicate, somebody is finally noticing.

Beppe CaviolaConsulting enologist (and talented Piemontese winemaker in his own right) Beppe Caviola presented the Sella & Mosca wines. They started with two whites: 2011 La Cala (100% Vermentino) and 2011 Terre Bianche (100% Torbato). Vermentino can be considered a Sardinian specialty, and Torbato a Sardianian almost-exclusivity.

The La Cala is a very decent, inexpensive (about $12) example of Vermentino. Light and bright, with herbal, floral, and sometimes citrus notes, it is a very pleasing thirst quencher and partner to fresh seafoods. Caviola detected rosemary and oregano in the aroma; I have to confess those went right by me, without detracting from my enjoyment of the wine.

The Torbato variety is a rarity, and Sella & Mosca one of the very few bottlers of it. The grape was down to a nearly invisible 10 hectares in all of Italy in 1970. Now it boasts a strapping 143 (!), of which Sella & Mosca controls 100. It makes a delicate white, a touch shy until it has a chance to breathe a bit, when it begins showing more forward floral and mineral qualities. Some lunchers tasted white fruit in it, but I was more struck by its flinty qualities, perhaps the result of its ancient-marine-sediment vineyards. An intriguing white wine, and one that may reward aging.

Sella & Mosca wines

Caviola then moved to the reds:

  • 2007 Terre Rare (100% Carignane)
  • 2008 Cannonau Riserva (100% Cannonau)
  • 2006 Tanca Farra (50% Cannonau, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • and a mini vertical tasting of 2004, 2005, and the Tre Bicchieri-winning 2006 Marchese di Villamarina (all 100% Cabernet sauvignon).

The Villamarina, as the Tre Bicchieri award might indicate, is the showpiece of the Sella & Mosca line. The firm made a serious commitment to Cabernet some decades ago, and it has followed up with meticulous vineyard care and attention in the cellar: small French oak casks for 18 months, then a year in larger oak, and then another 18 months in bottle before release. Villamarina is expensive (about $75) but worth it: All three vintages showed soft tannins, with an excellent balance of acid and soft, dark fruit. They also displayed cedar elements in the aroma and on the palate, reminding me of good red Graves – which is distinctly a compliment. I am no great fan of Italy’s versions of French varieties, but this one is very well done, with a nice blending of Bordeaux and Mediterranean qualities.

The ’06 Tanca Farra was for me the least successful of the reds. The combination of Cannonau and Cabernet seemed to my palate simply to emphasize the tannins of both. Maybe these will soften with time in bottle, but at the moment they seem to me excessive. The 100% Cannonau had no such problems. It was very true to the variety – Cannonau is what the Spanish call Garnacha and the French call Grenache – and fine: Earthy, mushroomy aromas preceded similar flavors on the palate and a fine, sapid finish. Interestingly, the grape – long thought to be native to Spain – may well have originated on Sardinia.

The ’07 Terre Rare was a DOC Carignano del Sulcis, which leads me logically enough to the second luncheon and its impressive line-up of five different producers’ Tre Bicchieri winning Carignano del Sulcis:

  • Cantina Mesa’s Buio Buio (Carignano del Sulcis Isola dei Nuraghi IGT 2011)
  • Calasetta’s Tupei (Carignano del Sulcis DOC 2010)
  • 6Mura’s Rosso (Carignano del Sulcis Vecchie Vigne IGT 2008)
  • Sardus Pater’s Is Arenas (Carignano del Sulcis DOC Riserva 2008)
  • Santadi’s Terre Brune (Carignano del Sulcis DOC Superiore 2008).


Carignane is a variety that almost everywhere except Sardinia is used for blending. Only in the island does it get the kind of attention it deserves. The Sulcis zone comprises the south-eastern corner of Sardinia plus a few tiny offshore islands. Here, Carignane seems to do better than it does anywhere else in the world (there is in fact a chance that the variety originated here about 4000 years ago). Because there are so many sandy soils, Carignane here often grows on it own roots. And because of the very dry, hot summers and the strong winds, it is almost universally grown as alborelli – short, upright bushes – rather than on wires.

The producers vary enormously, from co-ops like Sardus Pater and Santadi to large firms like Sella & Mosca and small ones like 6Mura. But the wines they make share many similar characteristics. Carignane in the Sulcis zone makes a paradoxical wine: It is at the same time soft and also lean and muscular, simple and rustic at first and increasingly elegant and complex as you sip.

The first three wines at the Eataly lunch – Buio, Tupei, and the 6Mura Rosso – all stressed smoothness and depth, with dark earthy flavors and long-lasting finishes. Sardus Pater’s Is Arenas differed in displaying more obvious acidity, leanness, and muscularity, while Santadi’s Terre Brune showed the most complexly of them all, with dark fruits, nuts and earth first appearing in the aroma and then increasing in intensity and complexity right through to the finish. Interestingly, while all the other wines were vinified from 100% Carignane, this wine – on whose creation the almost legendary master blender Giacomo Tachis, of Sassicaia fame, has consulted for years – blends 5% Bovaleddu. That grape may be the same as the Spanish Graciano, which once upon a time was very important in Rioja blends, and might just be contributing that extra little touch of complexity to Santadi’s Carignane.

Sardinia’s wine production is amazingly varied – these two tastings presented just a fraction of it – and well worth exploring, before it attracts more prizes like the Tre Bicchieri and the price rises that inexorably follow them. This is not a case of caveat emptor, but of carpe diem – to speak in almost-Sardinian.

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