Carignano, Sardegna’s Noble Wine
Sardus Pater or in English “Sardinian Father” refers to the ancient mythological hero-god of the Nuragic civilization from the Bronze age, 18th Century BCE to the 2nd Century AD. According to the story, Sardus was generated by the Libyan Heracles and left with a multitude of men to occupy Sardegna. On the island of Sardegna, the second largest in the Mediterranean after Sicilia, over 7000 Nuraghe fortresses remain. The vine growing co-operative Sardus Pater is actually located on the tiny Isle of Sant’Antioco off the southwestern coast of Sardegna. The co-operative of grape growers was organized in 1949 and began to make wine in a shared facility in 1955. The 280 associates farm a total of 741 acres. Most of the vines are Carignano with an average age of 80 years, and some are as old as 150 years, all planted on their own roots instead of different rootstock, which is now the common practice internationally. Many of the vineyards are no more than 500 feet from the sea, where the soils are uniformly sandy. Italian wine guide “Gambero Rosso” describes Sardus Pater as follows: “The level of quality reached in recent years by Sant’Antioco based Sardus Pater is unbelievable.” Its flagship wine had been Carignano del Sulcis Arenas Riserva, which had received Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchieri award for three vintages in a row. But in 2012, the 2007 Carignano del Sulcis Superiore Arruga also received the Tre Bicchieri award and, more important, was honored as “Red Wine of the Year”. Since 2005, the consulting winemaker has been internationally recognized Riccardo Coterella.
Capichera’s history began in the early 20th Century when the grandfather of the current owners inherited 125 acres in Arzachena, located in the extreme north of Sardegna. Brothers Fabrizio, Alberto, and Mario Ragnedda, together with their sister Giovannella have increased the estate to 100 acres, and they are still planting additional vineyards, including the international varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The winery made its reputation with white Vermentino, which is particularly suited to this cool area where vigorous winds blow across the land. But the family also sources red grapes, especially Carignano, from the warmer southwest of the island. According to Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso, “Capichera is a great wine family and one of the most highly regarded estates on the island. The name is now a brand synonymous with skill and reliability in the world of Sardian winemaking.”
At the most southwestern part of Sicilia, Cantina Alcesti is located in Marsala in the province of Trapani. The Alcesti family has maintained vineyards there for generations but decided to establish its own winery in 2003 instead of selling the harvest. Gianfranco Palladino, his sister, and their parents share tasks at the estate, which covers 74 acres and includes the indigenous grapes Nero d’Avola, Grillo, Grecanico, and Perricone, as well as the international varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Merlot.
Italian Wines of the Month
Alcesti 2011 Isola dei Profumi Rosso
The Isola dei Profum, or “Island of Perfumes” in English, is a blend of the red grapes Nero d’Avola and Perricone. With medium body and just 12.5% alcohol, the wine is right for the season with freshly pleasing aromas and flavors, smooth tannins, and clean acid. Blueberry, plum, and cyclamen dominate the palate. The wine is aged in stainless steel tanks to enhance its fresh flavors. Serve at cool room temperature.
Alcesti 2012 Isola dei Profumi Bianco
This crisp and fragrant white is a blend of Ansonica, Catarratto, and Grecanico. Peach, pear, and apple share the nose and follow through on the palate, which is balanced and satisfying. Serve chilled with shell fish and with pasta, and risotto made with summer vegetables.
Sardus Pater 2007 Kanai Carignano del Sulcis Riserva
A Bronz Age artifact appears on the label of this elegant wine, which was made from Carignano grapes that were harvested from 80 year-old vines, located in the Sulcis area. The wine shows delicate garnet color, intense aromas, bright fruit flavors, and a velvety smooth texture. So as not to interrupt its bright flavors and aromas, the wine was aged only in stainless steel tanks. Serve at cool room temperature with lighter summer menus.
Sardus Pater 2008 Is Arenas Carignano del Sulcis Riserva
The 2006, 2007, and this 2008 vintage all received the highest Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) award from wine guide Gambero Rosso. The wine has deeper color than the Kanai and also more tannin texture from aging in oak barrels for ten months. Aromas and flavors are richer and spicier. Is Arenas is the Sardian term for “the sand,” which dominates the soil in these sea-level vineyards. Serve at cool room temperature with grilled red meats.
Sardus Pater 2011 Lugore Vermentino di Sardegna
The Sardinian term lugore refers to nights when the moon is full and the sea winds suspended. Made from 100% Vermentino di Sardegna, a particular clone of Vermentino that is associated with the island, the wine is especially aromatic. Since it has not undergone the secondary malolactic fermentation that converts malic acid into softer lactic acid, the texture is crisp and refreshing. Serve chilled.
Sardus Pater 2008 Arruga Carignano del Sulcis Superiore
Arruga in the Sardian dialect means “road” and refers to the road that leads to the vineyard. The Bronz Age coin on the label was found at one of the many Nugaghe fortresses scattered across the island. Wild strawberry, myrtle, juniper, and mastic bushes cover the landscape and incorporate themselves into the flavors that the old Carignano vineyards produce in Sant’Antioco. Aged in French oak barrels for 12 months, this Arruga is now six years old but retains its jammy and spicy qualities. The 2007 Arruga, won Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri award and was chosen “Red Wine of the Year” in 2012.
Capichera 2007 Mantenghia Rosso
Made from Carignano grapes, harvested from a 100 year-old vineyard in the Sulcis area, the wine is an explosion of complex aromas and flavors with nice acidity and a long finish. The Mantenghia Rosso was aged for 15 months in French oak barrels and is the last vintage to be produced from these old vines, which were producing so little fruit that the Ragnedda family decided to replace them with new plantings. Decant and serve at cool room temperature.
Italian Region of the Month
Facing Spain to the west, Lazio to the east, and the island of Corsica a stone’s throw to the north, the island of Sargegna is still mostly undeveloped. The rocky Costa Smeralda in the north draws tourists to its resorts, while the island’s agriculture and viticulture dominates the south where its capital city and major port, Cagliari, is located. The rugged Gennargentu Mountains, the lair of legendary bandits, provide sweeping views to the east. Throughout Sardegna, the prehistoric nuraghi towers made of stones still inspire the curiosity of scholars who are unsure of their origins or purpose.
In the 8th century BC, Phoenician traders influenced wine making in Sardegna, and much later in the 13th century, the Spanish conquistadors brought Iberian grape varieties to the island. Today, these Spanish grape varieties, Vermentino, Cannonau, Monica, and Carignano, among others are the most widely planted on the island. But the indigenous Nuragus, named after the nuraghi towers, is the leading white variety and occupies as much as 1/3 of vineyard space. Described by outsiders as having an antiseptic quality, the wine seems to appeal mostly to Sardinians. Sweet wines are also traditional in Sardegna.
The older vineyards have traditional head-pruned arberello vines, whose leafy canes bend to the ground. Such vines are lower and less influenced by the winds from the sea. The newer vineyards are likely to be trained on vertical trellises and planted in locations where they are protected from winds by hills or trees. While the most respected wines are produced by estate wineries, most Sardinian grape growers sell their grapes to cooperatives where the wine is made and sold.
Some say that today, Sicilians have less Italian blood in their veins than Phoenician, Greek, Arabic, Norman, Spanish, or French. Because Sicilia is on a crossroads between Europe and Africa, it has been overrun by many different cultures, which have left their traces on this beautiful island, the largest in the Mediterranean. The Greek cities of Sicily flourished during the 6th and 5th Centuries BC, and their ruins are some of the most impressive outside of Greece, especially the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento. The Romans took over in the 3rd Century BC, followed by the Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Byzantines. The Arabs ruled from the 8th to the 11th Century, although not much has survived from their rule. The Norman era began in 1060, and the cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalu are their brilliant achievements as is Santi Peitro e Paulo outside Taormina. The 17th and 18th Centuries saw the accomplishments of the Spanish Viceregal court, especially the palaces and churches of Palermo.
Nature also has its achievements in Sicilia, its magnificent beaches, remote hill towns and plains, its mountain ranges, and spectacular Mount Etna, one of three active volcanoes, which has rendered the land immensely fertile. In fact, Sicilia has more vineyards than any other region. The western province of Trapani alone produces more wine than the entire regions of Toscana or Piemonte, most of which is Marsala, one of Sicilia’s proudest wines despite decades of degradation when it was flavored with various sweeteners. The English created Marsala in the late 18th Century and made Sicilia its prime source. Marsala, as well as Moscato and Malvasia, rank with the best fortified wines of Europe. But in the last 20 years, a new generation of Sicilian producers has realized the full potential of the island’s climate, ancient grape varieties, and fertile soil. Thus DOC wines have greatly increased to 23 with one DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria
Today, Sicily is the leading wine region in Southern Italy, its wines garnering many awards. Mt.Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, is one of the most exciting vineyard locations in Italy, and is attracting much attention and investment. The white Bianco d’Alcamo and the red Cerasuolo di Vittoria show notable class. Increasingly prominent are the fruity aromatic whites, Inzolia, Catarratto, and Grecanico. Native reds have also achieved prominence, such as Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, and Perricone. The newly introduced French varieties, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah are also producing exciting results.