With most of my days spent in front of a screen lately – for work and study – it felt great to be back amongst the vines. This time in Sardinia. After judging at the Concorso Enologico Nazionale “Vermentino” alongside the very talented, Susan Hulme MW, we visited the only DOCG on the island: Vermentino di Gallura DOCG.
About Vermentino di Gallura DOCG
A little bit of background. Vermentino is grown across Sardinia, but the grapes used for the production of Vermentino di Gallura DOCG must come from the territory of Gallura, in the north of the island, which includes the municipalities:
- Golfo Aranci,
- Loiri Porto San Paolo,
- S. Antonio di Gallura,
- S. Teodoro,
- S. Teresa di Gallura,
- Tempio Pausania,
- Trinita d’Agultu, in the Province of Olbia-Tempio, and
- Viddalba in the Province of Sassari.
This is quite a list. Yet Sardinia is an island with a long viticultural history. The Sardinian people I met had an intense sense of their locality and community. I was pulled aside a couple of times about how they speak not just a dialect, but a completely different language.
Will the real Vermentino, please stand up?
Awareness of locality is fantastic for wine-making but it can be tricky to judge Vermentino from Gallura against other Vermentino from Italy, such as Liguria or Tuscany. They are quite different.
At the tasting, there was much discussion about the different expressions of Vermentino from different parts of Italy. One of the issues was that some were “too Sauvignon Blanc”. It was explained that semi-aromatic Sardinian Vermentino was the real Vermentino, and Vermentino could not be too aromatic.
I had no issue with the idea of judging a wine on franchezza (frankness), or talking frankly, for that matter. But, for me, the differences only shows the versatility of the Vermentino grape. Vermentino from Sardinia may not have intense aromatics but it is a benchmark style and the Gallurese have every right to be proud of their wine.
What is the style of Vermentino di Gallura DOCG?
I do understand the frustration by some producers. There appears to be confusion on some sites and in the press to what makes Vermentino, well, Vermentino-ish. I’ve seen Vermentino categorised as an aromatic variety. Outside of its traditional European areas, Vermentino can be more aromatic in style. But this is not Vermentino di Gallura DOCG from Sardinia.
Vermentino from Gallura is fuller-bodied and semi-aromatic. The best have a straw yellow colour with greenish reflections, which can be dry through to sweet, with sometimes a slightly bitter aftertaste. The good examples keep the alcohol in check without the flavours becoming too overblown. This is quite a feat in the face of the heat; some vineyards had not had rain since January – nearly 9 months.
A Short History of Sardinian Wine
Vine culture in Sardinia probably dates back to the 8th century BC when groups of Phoenicians, especially Carthaginians, settled in the coastal areas where they founded Coralis, while the Sardinians retreated inside the island. Later, Romans took the trouble of landing in Sardinia by planting their farm-villas, equipped with wine cellars. To find traces of wine in Sardinia after the barbarian invasions and the obscure period of the High Middle Ages, one has to wait for the times of Eleonora d’Arborea, author of the Carta de Logu (1395). Most importantly in the Oristano area, viticulture had a significant boost with laws introduced forbidding poorly-kept vineyards.
In the modern era, having missed the phylloxera epidemic at the end of the nineteenth century, Sardinian viticulture had its biggest increase since the 1960s thanks to the efforts of the private company in Alghero, Sella & Mosca, founded by two Piedmontese pioneers in 1899, and various works done by the Agricultural Development Agency of Sardinia.
Vermentino and Food
The fuller-bodied style of Vermentino from Sardinia is perfect with the heavy dishes from Monti, such as Zuppa Montina (above), which is a deliciously soupy cheese dish. It tastes a lot better than how it looks. Closer to the sea, there is fresh fish and calamari dishes from Olbia, which also work well with this food-friendly white wine.
However, it wasn’t until we got to Cagliari that I really understood how Vermentino fits in with the night, cheese and food. Cagliari is a must-visit once the tourists depart on their cruise ships and the island becomes off-season and quiet again. The little bars up from the harbour are run by people who are passionate about smaller producers in wine and cheese, if they are not moonlighting in the bar themselves.
This is a refreshing trend to see wines that are not from the larger co-operatives. It may be easier to book a trip to Cagliari and go to 7diVino bar than to find a bottle of Meigamma on the shelves outside of Sardinia. Thankfully, you can find plenty of decent Vermentino in the UK and US, too.
I visited as a guest and judge of the Concorso Enologico Nazionale “Vermentino” 27th and 28 October in Sardinia.