Usini, Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardinia, Italy 2018
GRAPE: CAGNULARI [can-you-lar-ee]
Cagnulari may be indigenous to Sardinia, or genetically the Spanish Graciano… depending on who you believe. (The Sardinian red wines we’ve seen here in the US have mostly been limited to Cannonau, it’s good to see something different.) Ian d’Agata thinks the variety might be a biotype of the indigenous variety Bovale Sardo… or the more inflammatory Bastardo Nero. In any case, it’s very limited, only grown in a few hundred acres in Northeastern Sardinia. It’s very dark in color with extremely bright acidity, flavorful and fresh combining the wild herb aroma (called ‘garrigue’ in France, or ‘macchia’ in Italian) that is so common in Mediterranean wines with deep fleshy black fruit and wildflower aromas.
GROWER:Giovanna Chessa’s small family-owned estate is located in the remote north-westernmost corner of the rectangular island of Sardinia. They hail from the ‘Isola dei Nuraghi,’ named for the roughly 7,000 ancient conical stone tower “nuraghe” that have kept watch over the area since they were built between 1900 and 730 BC. The family has been growing grapes for over 60 years in these rolling hills, which crest to just over 800 ft above sea level. In this windy northern corner of the Med, the vines are rooted in calcareous-clay limestone soils, making this terroir unique in the island. Chessa stands out for their transparent winemaking style; elegant and transparent in the midst of a warm region that can tip into the overripe and over-oaked.
GLASS: Jubilantly fragrant violets and super bombastic black raspberry, this inky red plays tricks like it’s a black moscato with all of its abounding flower petals, talc and bergamot. So much opulent acid and texture, this is a big-bodied beauty with fruit for days.
Side Notes: SARDEGNA a la Española
Sardinia is as Mediterranean as it gets, smack dab in the middle of the sea with Iberia to the West, Corsica just 10 miles North, the whole boot in the East, and Sicily a skip to the South. And it’s been a trading hub since ancient Phoenicia, with relics all over the island like 4,000 year old stone hut ruins where grapes were crushed, so yeah, wine and Sardinia go way back. As the second largest island in the Med and a hotbed of agriculture and trade, Sardinia is a cultural melting pot with a pretty notable 400 years of Spanish reign from 1323-1720. Most of Sardinia’s native grape varieties, (and there are a lot!) are not truly sprung-from-the-soil indigenous, but Spanish cultivars brought centuries ago and adapted to the island’s hot and dry sun-soaked climate to become Sardinian staples. The island is a cornucopia of the Mediterranean diet; a smorgasbord of seafood of course (sardines, anyone?) lamb, olives, semolina, artichokes, and wine wine wine. Small family farms with wee vineyards often share in co-op wineries to make their own little production, making co-op bottlings the main wine to come off the island, affordable and delicious. In the last few decades though, more and more small producers have built their own wineries and ignited interest in world-class vino Sardo.