Archive for the ‘Italy’Category

Sweetest season calls for wines to match

Prosecco with insalata caprese
North Americans used to love sweet wines. We used to love them so much that we became ashamed of our preference for residual sugar. For the last few decades, every casual wine drinker on the continent would insist, “Oh, I only drink dry wines”—as if that preference made them more sophisticated. Leaving aside the fact that residual sugar in a wine can be a highly subjective experience, anyone who always insists on bone-dry wines is really missing the boat.

So it’s a pleasure to see that Piemonte-based Italian wine giant Zonin (www.zoninusa.com) is bringing the full line of its Castello del Poggio wines to North America as part of its “Hello Sweet Life” campaign. Since Zonin took over the estate based in Asti in 1985, Castello del Poggio has maintained the high quality of its Barbera d’Asti and Dolcetto Monferrato while also developing a full line of red, white, and rosé sweet wines.

We gave a couple of the “Sweet Life” wines a try with dishes that take advantage of the fullness of summer. As you can see in the top photo, we have a delightful glut of ripe tomatoes. (Those with green shoulders are ripe—they’re just green-ripe tomatoes of a variety we grew from Spanish seed.) So we are in the midst of Caprese salad season. Since most of our tomatoes also have strong acid profiles, we wondered how they would fare with a Prosecco DOC demi-sec. Beautifully, as it turns out. The pronounced flavor of the Glera grapes in Castello del Poggio’s version really accentuates the milkiness of the fresh mozzarella. Retail is $10-$12.

Moscato a real peach of a dessert wine


Moscato with peach tartThe Asti region has been known for Moscato Bianco wines since at least the 14th century. And hip-hop clubgoers, we’re told, have made sparkling Moscato their drink of choice ever since Jay-Z launched a boycott of Cristal a few years back. Of course, Martini & Rossi long ago ensconced its Asti Spumante as a Christmas season sparkler.

The Castello del Poggio Moscato we tried was a still wine—rich with the Moscato flavor, about 7% alcohol, and markedly sweet. The Bianco version of the Moscato grape tends to maintain a pleasant acidity, even when fully ripe. The acidity gives the Castello del Poggio Moscato some presence; it’s not just a sweet and simple sipper. The wine also shows notes of nectarine, muskmelon, and dried apricots.

While we know from experience that a wine with that profile can be excellent with wintry roast meat dishes (sort of like a liquid chutney), we decided to try it with the other fruit in abundance right now: peaches. We made the simple peach tart shown here. The crust is about one-quarter almond flour and it has an almond-scented frangipane in the bottom. The topping is simply sliced fresh peaches with a light glaze. Almond and Moscato (or Muscat) are a classic pairing, and the juiciness and slight bitterness of the peaches only amplified the harmonies. Retail is $10-$12.

22

08 2017

Zucchi oils exemplify art of blending EVOOs

Francesca Tiberto and Giovanni Zucchi

To blend or not to blend? We’d like to believe that the world’s best olive oil is pressed in Jaén province in Spain from Picual olives. That’s the oil we like on a Caprese salad made with fresh mozzarella and garden tomatoes. But more than a thousand cultivars of Olea europaea trees grow around the Mediterranean basin, and most are used for making oil as well as for cured and brined olives. Which really are best?

Every Spaniard, Italian, Greek, or French person believes that the best oil comes from the family olive grove. They are right because it’s a matter of taste. Surprisingly, most olive oils are blends. They might be blended at harvest from groves with many cultivars. They might be blended after pressing. They might be blended from pressings of green and ripe olives picked from the same trees at different times. Or they might be blended from oils made in many different countries.

Learning to blend

Blending setup at Zucchi workshop

Historically, the master olive oil blenders have been Italian. One of those great companies, Oleificio Zucchi (zucchi.us), launched in 1810. Finally bringing its line of extra virgin olive oils to the U.S., the company is holding blending workshops to demonstrate its approach. We joined one last week at Mamma Maria restaurant (mammamaria.com) in Boston’s North End. Francesca Tiberto (top left), Zucchi’s taster and blend master, led the session. Giovanni Zucchi (top right), managing director and author of Olive Oil Doesn’t Grow on Trees, provided technical details.

The point of blending is to produce a consistent product with the same flavor profile year after year. To get a feel for the artistry involved, we tasted four samples of extra virgin olive oil from four different cultivars and three different countries. With Tiberto’s guidance, we scored each sample on its intensity of fruitiness, bitterness, and spiciness. We also ascribed other taste overtones—flowers, artichoke, green grass, apple, ripe fruits, sweet and bitter almond, and so on.

Al proprio gusto

pouring olive oil after blendingIn a more challenging test, we then used a graduated column to make individual blends of the samples. By blending small batches to start, we could experiment until we found a blend that suited us. Our final 250ml bottle contained 50 percent Cerasuola oil from Sicily, 20 percent light Koroneiki oil from Crete, 20 percent soft Arbequina oil from Cordoba province in Spain, and 10 percent sharp Hojiblanca oil from Estepa in Spain’s Sevilla province.

We like the blend just fine, but we tasted Zucchi’s line of oils with Mamma Maria dishes, and all four (Sinfonia, 100% Italian, Sweet and Fruity, and Organic) were more nuanced than our product. The lesson here is that it takes a master blender to make a master blend. At this point, Zucchi oils are available at Big Y supermarkets (bigy.com) in the Massachusetts and Connecticut, King Kullen markets (kingkullen.com) in New York, and Dave’s Fresh Pasta (dfp.website) in Davis Square in Somerville, Mass. Retail is $11-$12 per 500ml bottle. When our garden tomatoes arrive, we plan to try the Organic Extra Virgin on a Caprese salad—the ultimate test.

Zucchi olive oils

27

06 2017

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano re-emphasizes terroir

bottle top of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Judging by the wines from the nine producers who visited Boston, Montepulciano winemakers have returned to native Tuscan blending grapes. DOCG rules permit up to 30 percent non-Sangiovese grapes in Vino Nobile. In truth, more than half the wines I tasted were more than 90 percent Sangiovese. And those producers blending in other grapes have largely stopped using Merlot. Instead, they opt for Canaiolo (which softens the acidity of Sangiovese), Colorino (which provides color and structure), and Mammolo (which gives a velvety violet note).

Since each producer presented three to five wines between the technical tasting and a dinner, my full tasting notes would be overkill here. Suffice it to say that Montepulciano superstars Boscarelli (poderiboscarelli.com), Dei (cantinedei.com), and Poliziano (www.carlettipoliziano.com)—along with Antinori-owned La Braccesca—continue to define modern Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Each presented a Rosso di Montepulciano with the spicy, fresh strawberry notes of young, unoaked Sangiovese, a voluptuous Vino Nobile with overtones of prunes and mulberries, and a muscular Riserva that added tobacco and leather notes to the full fruit.

But two less heralded producers surprised me with wines that showed greater fruit concentration and sharply defined flavor profiles that seemed to vault them into another category altogether.

Looking over Montemercurio vineyards to Montepulciano

Montemercurio fulfills founder’s vision

Operated by three young Anselmi brothers (aged 28, 30, and 33), Montemercurio (montemercurio.com) sits in the northern sector of the region. The aerial view above looks back toward town over the winery’s vineyards. It is the model of romantic Tuscan wine country. The first three hectares of vineyards were planted by grandfather Damo in the early 1960s, and they represent a field blend of mostly Sangiovese with some other Tuscan grapes (including a bit of Barbera). Another seven hectares have been added in the decades since, including some vineyards of white varietals for making Vin Santo.

Damo Anselmi passed on after the harvest in 2006. The family established the winery the following year and named its flagship wine after the founder. It is treated as an elite wine from the outset. The oldest vineyards are hand-picked, and destemmed and sorted by hand before being placed in small open vats for spontaneous fermentation. The skins remain for a minimum of 18 days to a maximum of 28 days, depending on the harvest. Racked off the skins, the wine is transferred to 1,000 liter Slavonian oak casks for two years. It is coarsely filtered but not clarified before bottling. It continues to age at least a year in bottle before release.

At about $50 per bottle, this wine is a steal. The nose explodes with intense blackberry and blackcurrant aromas and just a hint of violets. More full-bodied than many Sangiovese wines, it has a luscious structure with fully ripe tannins. Open early to let it breathe, and set out a plate of roast boar.

Starting last fall, Montemercurio also makes a stupendous olive oil—grassy and brassy with just a touch of bitterness like a good southern Spanish oil.

Salcheto sets sustainability benchmark

Those clouds lying on the dormant winter vineyards of Salcheto (salcheto.it) provide the blanket of moisture that the tuff-clay soil holds for the growing season. For the rest of the year, the climate is dry and well-ventilated. Salcheto adds no sulfites during vinification and the entire operation has been biodynamic since 2009. (It is not Demeter-certified, but is one of a dozen Montepulciano producers certified as organic.) Salcheto takes sustainability two important steps further. It generates all its own power for the winer, and recycles and manages its own water supply.

Salcheto is relatively young. It was founded in 1984 and produced its first wine in 1990. Since 2003, it has been consolidated under the multinational Lavinia corporation but is still operated by former owner Michele Manelli, who has made the wines since 1997. The capital injection helped create a strikingly elegant winery and turned the 13th century farmhouse on the estate into a nine-bedroom B&B.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Salco from SalchetoAll that is just window dressing. The real story is the wine. Salcheto’s basic red, a Rosso di Montepulciano called “Obvius,” is a big, brash young wine. It is saucy and tart and full of fruit. Salcheto boasts that it is made with fruit and nothing else—no added yeasts or even water. It’s fermented in steel and sold after months in the bottle. It shows what biodynamic farming can accomplish with the grape—and it commands a high price for Rosso, about $13.

Salco sets a high standard

Salcheto tends to over-ripen its Sangiovese, even partially drying part of the harvest. They don’t take the practice to an extreme, so the wines have none of the cooked grape caramel of Amarone, for example. But the flavors, sugars, and acidity are all concentrated in the Vino Nobile wines. My favorite is made with grapes selected from the Salco vineyard, which is planted in an early-ripening clone. (The vines are tied up with willow branches. “Salice” in Italian, the willow is “Salco” in the local dialect.) Listing around $35 but projecting a cellar life of 12-15 years, this is a must for any serious lover of Sangiovese. The nose is full of fresh herbs, mint, and wildflowers. The taste is full-bodied fruit with overtones of blueberries and black raspberries. The finish is smooth and elegant.

Reassessing rich reds of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Vineyards surround hill town of Montepulciano in Tuscany
Less oak, more Sangiovese. In a nutshell, that’s the good news about the latest releases of Vino Nobile di Montepulchiano. Having just celebrated the 50th birthday of the D.O.C., the wine makers of Vino Nobile are converging toward a distinctive modern style. Nine leading producers visited Boston on a tour just ahead of ProWein in Dusseldorf and Vinitaly in Verona. Following on the heels of glowing coverage in Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator, it was a chance for the small region to shine without the distraction of comparisons to Tuscany’s other major Sangiovese areas: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and even Morellino di Scansano.

Sangiovese grapes in Montepulciano in Tuscany
Traditionally known in the Montalcino area as Prugnolo Gentile, the Sangiovese grape is almost ideally suited to the clay and sandy soils of the hills around the beautiful medieval Tuscan city. (Montepulciano played a supporting role in the films Under the Tuscan Sun and The English Patient.) Typically planted in tiers following the contours of the slopes, the vineyards sit at 250 to 650 meters above sea level.

Montepulciano embraces Sangiovese roots


The Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (consorziovinonobile.it) has always permitted the addition of other grapes, including many minor white varieties once used to stretch the crop. And like so much of the world, Montepulciano embraced international varietals and new oak barrels in a big way in the 1980s. That trend has turned. In recent years, growers have embraced traditional red blending grapes (Canaiolo and Mammolo) in place of white varietals, and have replanted vineyards with more Sangiovese than ever. Slavonian oak is more prominent than French of American, and most producers use very little new oak.

“We finally realized that good Cabernet and good Merlot grow lots of places,” explained Silvia Loriga of the consortium. “But no one can grow Sangiovese like Montepulciano.”

(Photos courtesy Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano)

Radicchio di Treviso: sweet winter crunch

Lucio Torresan of Tenuta al Parco golds a sheaf of field-grown radichhio
We’ve written about the beautiful Venetian city of Treviso as a center for Prosecco DOC and the birthplace of tiramisù, but it’s also home to one of our favorite winter vegetables. Radicchio Rosso di Treviso IGP is the blanched winter chicory indigenous to the region.

Treviso radicchio generally comes in elongated, slightly pointy, tightly packed heads. But as Lucio Torresan of Park Farm (actually, Azienda Agricola Tenuta al Parco) shows above, field-grown radicchio looks little like the market product. Those big red and green weeds he’s holding “are so bitter that even the goats won’t eat them.”

Workers at the Tenuta al Parco farm trim Treviso radicchioWhen Torresan and his workers get done with the field-grown plants, though, they will be tender and sweet, with just a slight residual bitterness.

Magic in the dark

“You must force it in cold water in the dark,” he explains. “It becomes a completely different vegetable.” His barn includes a room-sized refrigerator stacked high with field-harvested radicchio. From October into the winter, his workers pull up the plants by the roots, removing the top half of the leaves with machetes. With part of the root still attached, the plants hold in cold storage for a month before they are replanted in water for forcing.

Completely stripped of their outer leaves, heads of Treviso radicchio soak in cold water before being packed and shipped.Torresan sets the field-harvested plants into indoor shallow tanks fed with a constant flow of spring water. Under the low light, tender inner leaves begin to grow at the heart of the plant in about 10 days. After another 15-18 days, they are ready to harvest. Workers strip the outer leaves, leaving the tender hearts. The market vegetable has burgundy-red leaves with white ribs. Once the tanks are clear, the process repeats with more plants from the cooler. This system produces delicate radicchio di Treviso until early May.

The farm store at Tenuta al Parco is open daily at Via San Martino 24/B, Morgano (+39 042 273 9028).

Both tasty and lovely

Venetians go wild over Treviso radicchio, preferring it to its softball-shaped cousin, radicchio di Chioggia. (The latter is the bitter variety grown in the U.S.) Restaurateurs serve it in risottos, chopped into a raw salsa for steak tartare, and roasted and drizzled with vinegar. Portions are usually small, since the intense flavor can be sharp. My favorite treatment was duck ravioli with radicchio-chestnut sauce. It’s a seasonal specialty at Graspo de Ua, a tiny hotel restaurant in Venice. The restaurant has excelled at traditional Venetian fare since 1860. It’s on Calle dei Bombaseri not far from the Rialto bridge (+39 041 520 0150, ristorantealgraspodeua.it/en). The following recipe is adapted from their version, as shown below.

RADICCHIO AND CHESTNUT SAUCE ON RAVIOLI


The traditional Venetian dish uses ravioli stuffed with duck and spinach. Ground pork ravioli or mushroom ravioli can substitute.

Serves 4

Radicchio and chestnut sauce on ravioli as served at Ristorante al Graspo de Ua in Venice, Italy.Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
4 heads radicchio di Treviso, chopped
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 7-ounce can of Italian chestnuts, drained and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 lb. fresh ravioli
2 ounces Gran Padano cheese, coarsely shredded
1 small bunch Italian parsley, minced

Directions

Bring large pot of lightly salted water to a boil for pasta.

In 10- to 12-inch frying pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and cook 2 minutes until soft. Then add radicchio to pan and cook, stirring frequently, until it wilts (7-10 minutes). Add vinegar, sugar, chestnuts, and sea salt and continue to cook until radicchio is almost melting.

Meanwhile, cook ravioli al dente. Drain and keep warm.

Divide ravioli evenly onto four preheated 10-inch plates and top with sauce. Sprinkle with shredded cheese and minced parsley.

17

01 2017

Limestone mountains loom over Jerzu vines

Jerzu and Antichi Poderi winery
Famed for its local strain of Cannonau, the vineyards of Jerzu grow in a massive natural amphitheater scooped out of the side of a limestone range. The basin ascends from sea level to 750 meters, and the soils are all a mix of soft limestone and crumbly schist. The photo above shows the ridge and the hillside village of Jerzu. The industrial site in the foreground is the Antichi Poderi Jerzu cooperative (www.jerzuantichipoderi.it/en/), which produces 1.8 million bottles a year.

The predominance of limestone subsoil at Jerzu means that the vines have to live with scarce water that drains away underground. This drainage carves out great cavern systems for spectacular spelunking. On the outskirts of nearby Ulassai, the Grotta di Su Marmuri (www.grottasumarmuri.it) is open April through October for €10 guided tours. The journey takes about 90 minutes, including the time to climb a steep 100 meters up the mountain to the mouth of the cave. The descent of about 50 meters into the main chambers is much easier. Formed by water erosion during the Jurassic period, the cave system consists of several high-vaulted rooms with marvelously abstract stalactite and stalagmite formations.

Antichi Poderi Jerzu

Antichi Poderi winesThe limestone basin has been known for a thousand years or more as a good place to grow grapes. Records from A.D. 1103 show the people of Jerzu paying tribute to the papal legate in wine rather than gold. Eighteen owners of the oldest vineyards launched the Vitivinicola Antichi Poderi Jerzu wine-grower’s cooperative in 1950. (“Antichi poderi” translates as “ancient estates” or “ancient parcels.”) Now boasting 430 members, this powerhouse cooperative also carries out extensive historical and technical research on Jerzu winemaking.

The cooperative makes Cannonau wines in several styles and price points. Its basic young Cannonau di Sardegna, called Marghia, sells widely in the U.S. for less than $10. It is a bright young wine with raspberry notes and very soft tannins—easy-drinking red. The base riserva, called Chuerra, is made in much the same manner, but receives six months in large oak barrels and a year in small barrels before bottling. The combination of Slovenian and French oak imparts more structure to the tannins as well as pronounced cedar and eucalyptus herbal notes.

Josto Miglior Cannonau di Sardegna DOP Riserva Antichi PoderiThe Josto Miglior riserva, named for a famous Jerzu doctor, is a more bracing version of Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva. I had the chance to taste a 2013, which was still very closed. The wine was elegant, but the tannins were so pronounced that they were like steel bones sticking out of a tuxedo. Then I tried a 2010, which was smooth and supple. The tannins and fruit were in perfect balance. Clearly, this wine rewards the patient buyer. It retails in the U.S. just under $20.

Lorenzo Pusole

Roberto and Lorenzo Pusole operate their family estate in Baunei, well north of Jerzu in a different range of hills. Located near Tortoli, their vineyards are planted in alluvial soils of mixed sand and stones. But the vines are very old. (The youngest were planted in 2004.) The slopes range 30 to 150 meters, and the brothers grow the white Vermentino grape on the lower reaches.

I’ve rarely met wine growers who have gone so all-in for organic production. “We live in the vineyards,” explained Roberto. “A healthy environment is essential to our well-being.” In addition to grapes, the brothers raise semi-feral Razza Sarda pigs and grow heritage varieties of grain and olives.

The Pusole brothers make two versions of Cannonau di Sardegna. Both are fermented in stainless steel without temperature control using wild yeasts. Both wines remain on the skins for about 12 days, or until the initial fermentation subsides. In spring, spontaneous malolactic fermentation softens the wines.

The version bearing the family name, Pusole, is aged 10 months in stainless steel and three months in bottle. It is a lusty Cannonau with pronounced dark berry fruit, hints of leather and anise, and a nice herbal finish.

Spectacular Sa Scala

The version labeled Sa Scala is not registered as a riserva, but it does spend 16 months in small French oak barrels and a year in bottle before release. Made only in limited quantities (2,200 bottles last year), it’s expensive for Cannonau di Sardegna DOC, retailing around €50. (It’s not yet available in the U.S.) The complexity is remarkable enough to justify the price. With a comparatively low 13.5 percent alcohol and little residual sugar, it nonetheless boasts ripe and supple tannins. The fruit is elegant instead of jammy. The nose is so redolent of classic Mediterranean scrub, that you can almost hear the bees buzz as they gather their nectar.

14

01 2017

Mamoiada and its wines evoke primal power

Francesco Sedilesu in Ballu Tundo vineyard near Mamoiada
The little community of Mamoiada sits at the foot of the two highest mountain ranges on Sardinia, the Gennargenti and the Supramonte. It is known for two powerful forces: ancient vines of Cannonau and atavistic carnival masks.

The most famous masks are the Mamuthones, shown here. The pre-Christian figures perform in ritual ceremonies that mark the turn of the agricultural calendar from the dark of winter toward the season of spring growth. The parade through Mamoidada predates Lenten carnivals. Men dressed in these shaggy black sheepskins with primitive wooden black masks dance slowly through town, each laden with more than 30 kilos of bronze bells. The figures appear first on January 17, the feast of Sant’ Antonio Abate, when the people of Mamoiada dance around bonfires lit on the town squares. They reappear in processions on the Sunday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Mamoiada’s museum building includes an archaeological museum that’s tough to grasp unless you already know a lot about Nuragic culture. The same structure also contains the Museo delle Maschere Mediterranee, or the Mediterranean Mask Museum, which explains a bit about the Mamuthones tradition. It’s at Piazza Europa 15 (+39 0784.569.018, www.museodellamaschere.it). Admission is €5.

About the Mamoiada wines

100 year old Cannonau vine in Mamoiada With vineyards located between 600 and 900 meters above sea level, Mamoiada can boast some of the oldest Cannonau vines still producing. Almost all the grapes are grown bush style, and the vines are cut back annually to train them in the “goblet” style. The vine in the photo to the left was planted in the early 20th century, and it still yields a few clusters of grapes each year. The prevalence of such old vines tends to give Mamoiada wines an unusual depth and complexity. The region had a cooperative winery that flourished from 1950 until failing in 1980.

Since then, a few producers have consolidated holdings of older vineyards and have begun vinting their own wines. Most growers follow organic and even biodynamic practices, and most are certified organic. These high-altitude Cannonaus need to stay on the vine a long time to fully ripen the tannins. As a result, many show an alcohol content up to 15.5 percent.

Cantine Giuseppe Sedilesu

Giuseppe Sedilesu winery in MamoiadaThree children of the founders operate this winery that was created in 1981 to fill the gap left by the coop’s failure. The entry-level Cannonau called “Sartiu” is a pleasant young red that shows the youth of the vines (3-15 years) in its comparative lightness. The flagship “Mamuthone” comes from older vines (15-50 years). Sedilesu ferments this wine in stainless steel and ages it briefly in large Slavonian oak barrels. Spicy notes of wood, anise, and eucalyptus grace an otherwise elegant, rich grapiness.

Sedilesu also makes two distinctive riservas. One is named for an ancient circle dance of Barbagia, “Ballu Tundu.” At the top of this post, winemaker Francesco Sedilesu is standing in the vineyard where the grapes grow. The vines range 60-100 years old. This wine ferments for four to six weeks in big conical vats with manual punch-down. (Fermentation is spontaneous, depending on wild yeasts.) The extraction from the skins is extreme, resulting in a very deep color and tannins that stand up to the 15.5 percent alcohol. All the aromas in the Mamuthone are present, along with leather and tobacco. On first taste, it is very spicy with a long finish.

Best of the best

Francesco Sedilesu sips his riservaThe other riserva is named for founder Giuseppe Sedilesu. Only grapes from the lowest yielding plants in the highest parts of the oldest vineyards are selected for this Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva. The winery only makes it in the best vintages. This is the big brother to Ballu Tundu. It is fermented the same way, and also aged in big oak barrels and in bottle before release. Tart cherries, bramble fruit, and elderberries come to mind on the nose and first taste. As it opens up, this riserva blooms into a complex glass of fruit and herbs with notes of almond and hazelnuts. Although it is great with roasted meats, Francesco (above right) considers it a wine for musing.

The winery is located in the center of Mamoiada at Via V. Emanuele II, 64 (+39 0784.567.91, www.giuseppesedilesu.com).

11

01 2017

Design and wine shine at Hotel Su Gologone

folk art at Su Gologone
Hotel Su Gologone is a destination for design fans as well as wine-lovers. The whitewashed stucco walls and terracotta floor tiles serve as a blank canvas for an explosion of color. Potted geraniums and bright folk art dot every corner of the sprawling property. Bougainvillea crawls up the walls, its blossoms dangling overhead. Immense fig trees provide shade to outdoor patios and dining areas. The guest rooms, which range €121–€287 per night, are virtual galleries of local crafts—hand-loomed bed coverings, ancient pottery, brightly glazed ceramic folk art, furniture fashioned from local juniper wood, charmingly naïf paintings.

double room at Su GologoneSu Gologone began in 1967 as a small restaurant serving food next to the mountain spring by the same name. Since the location was remote, the family opened a small hotel that has grown over the decades into a designer destination. All the connected buildings cling to the topography of the hillside, creating multiple indoor and outdoor steps and staircases to access all the wings. The interiors overflow with folk art. (See the sitting area at the top of this post). Typical of the region, the hotel has no useful address. (You can send mail to Loc. Su Gologone, 08025 Oliena, Sardegna, Italia.) Reservations can be made by phone (+39 0784.287.512 or +39 0784.287.552) or at the multilingual web site (www.sugologone.it).

Showcase of different Cannonau styles

Su Gologone provides such an artistic atmosphere that many of the Cannonau producers like to use it to showcase their wines. The wine list in the restaurant is almost encyclopedic, and the producers frequently host potential distributors at the hotel. My little group organized by Renzo Peretto and Donatella Muscianese of Laore met with a handful of producers during our stay to sample some of their wines.

Sella & Mosca

Sella & Mosca (www.sellaemosca.it) began in 1899 as a vine nursery to help rebuild the Sardinian wine industry after the scourge of phylloxera. As such, the company takes a leadership role in rehabilitating some of the island’s indigenous grape varieties, most notably Vermentino among the whites and Cannonau among the reds. The main plantings in Alghero encompass 550 contiguous hectares (1359 acres), one of the largest vineyards in Europe.

The company makes three levels of Cannonau, including a very simple fruity style and a spicy “Dimonios” label made entirely for the domestic market. I recommend trying it in Italy. The low-yield grapes from old vines are fermented and aged in huge oak barrels and concrete. Its very spicy nose is followed by a velvet feel in the mouth and bright raspberry afternotes.

The wine widely available in the U.S. is Cannonau di Sardenga DOC Riserva. Retailing $16-$18 (in Massachusetts), this wine has everything you might ask of a food-friendly Cannonau. The brilliant ruby color and nose of violets and raspberries give way to a plummy mouth-feel flavor with hints of anise and rosemary. There’s just a touch of oak in the finish for an aristocratic balance.

Cantina Santa Maria la Palma

By contrast, Sella & Mosca’s neighbor in Alghero, Cantina Santa Maria la Palma (www.santamarialapalma.it), is a cooperative of about 300 members. In the 1960s, the farmers were all granted uncultivated land near the city to plant Vermentino and Cannonau. The winery’s principal production is Vermentino—it’s the largest in Sardinia—but it also makes two levels of Cannonau. The basic level, called “Le Bombarde”, is an easy-drinking young wine priced under $10 in the U.S. Its Cannonau di Sardenga DOC Riserva is less widely available but worth seeking out. For starters, it’s unusually low in alcohol for a Cannonau (13 percent), yet the tannins are fully ripe. It’s also a rarity among Cannonaus for using a substantial portion of American oak in the aging. This gives it a more pronounced vanilla note, but does present a smooth and elegant finish.

Viticolori della Romangia

This relatively new cooperative of 10 members formed in 1996. It is based in Sorso, in the far northwest corner of the island. Soils here are a hodge-podge of sand, clay, and limestone and the vineyards lie near the sea in the rain shadow of a high ridge. As a result, strong downdrafts and updrafts keep the vines well-ventilated. Although young, the cooperative’s “Radice” (a Cannonau di Sardegna DOC) seemed to really speak of its terroir. The fruit is very deep and clean—like an especially ripe Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The nose is closed, as you might expect from young vines, but the wine blossoms with food.

Cantine di Orgosolo

Representing 19 small growers in the Locoe and Sorasai valleys, Cantine di Orgosolo (www.cantinediorgosolo) makes a entry-level Cannonau called “Neale” (meaning “honest man”). The blend includes 15 percent Bovale, which is immediately apparent on the nose by the aroma of leather. The taste, however, is bright raspberry and cherry. The winery’s “Luna Vona” organic wine is fermented on the stems with wild yeast. It has some slightly green tannins that pair well with robust meats. The flagship wine of this young cooperative (formed in 2006) is the most interesting. Called “Urùlu” after the archaeological site near the vineyards, it presents with a bold, sweet nose of raspberries and roses. Grown on granitic soils at 400-600 meters above sea level, the blend includes tiny percentages of some of Sardinia’s other indigenous grapes. Urùlu is said to be a sacred spot for the ancient Sardinians, and the wine has a certain sacramental quality.

09

01 2017

Camisadu farmstay in heart of Cannonau country

Agriturismo Camisadu
Exploring the Cannonau wine country means spending at least a few days in the mountains of Sardinia. That’s hardly a hardship. The scenery is beautiful and aromas of the Mediterranean scrub hang in the air. This macchia Mediterranea, as it’s called, consists of myrtle and strawberry trees with an undergrowth of yellow-flowered gorse and mastic, a shrub that bleeds a gummy sap. In the heat of the Sardinian sun, they smell like a resinous cache of rosemary, bay, and wild thyme. Stands of cork oak and groves of evergreen holm oaks punctuate patches of machhia. Sheep graze in the few open meadows. Pigs forage for acorns in the oak forest.

One of the simpler lodgings I experienced was a farmhouse just outside Oliena. Agriturismo Camisadu offers a farmstay in six guest rooms, two with en suite bathrooms with bidet and shower. Rough-hewn wooden beams cross the ceilings, and terracotta tiles cover the floors. Whitewashed walls are decorated with country artifacts—baskets, old saddles, woven bags, painted wooden shelves. But the interiors are really only for sleeping. If you’re here, you’ll want to be outdoors. The grounds are landscaped with pomegranate trees and prickly pear cactus. The farm offers cooking classes and excursions to gather wild herbs.

Tasting the countryside

Making bread at Camisadu The basic stay at Camisadu includes a Sardinian country breakfast of fresh bread, jams and coffee. But the farm stay also offers lunch and dinner with local vegetables and roast meats. The staff make the Sardinian crisp flat bread called pane carasau. Rolled very thin, it puffs up when cooked in a brick oven burning oak logs.

roasting meat at CamisaduThe cooks also roast pork and lamb on vertical metal skewers in front of a roaring fire in a shallow wood fireplace. I was with a group organized by Laore Sardegna, which provides technical assistance to Sardinian agriculture. So we began an afternoon feast by standing around sipping a crisp Cannonau rosé and eating hot carasau and appertizers of pecorino sardo. In this case, the cheese consisted of balls of soft, fresh cheese rolled in grated aged cheese (below). The salty, piquant cheese was a perfect foil for the fruity wine. Later, we moved on to fire-roasted pork with Cannonau wines from the Cantina Oliena (see previous post). It was hard to move on….

Overnight rates at Camisadu vary by season, but rarely exceed €65 per night with breakfast. The web site (agriturismocamisadu.com) is severely dated, so the easiest way to arrange a booking is by email at camisadu@email.it. Agriturismo Camisadu is about 1 km outside Oliena’s town center on the Strada Vecchia Oliena-Orgosolo. Phone service is spotty, but the number (a cell connection) is +39 368.347.9502. Alternately, book through Sardegna.com or Booking.com.

Pecorino sardo and rose

07

01 2017

High-altitude Cannonau wines exude lush fruit

Mountain vineyards near Oliena
Nearly three-quarters of Sardinia’s Cannonau vineyards grace the steep slopes of Nuoro province. These half-wild uplands are a world apart from the sybaritic beach towns along the coast. They’re also vastly different from Sardinia’s lowland vineyards famed for the white Vermentino

Oliena mountainsRemnants of the Nuragic culture from the Bronze Age persist in the hills, including two dialects of the ancient Sardinian language, which edges out Italian as a first language in some villages. The archaic Sardinians (1800bc-ad200) were adept architects, erecting more than 1,000 tall stone towers. Judging from the archaeological evidence, they also made wine.

Rome never conquered Sardinia beyond the coast. Cicero called the mountainous interior “Barbaria.” In Sardinian, it’s Barbagia. With vineyards as high as 700 meters, Barbagia is home to the most powerful and complex Cannonau wines. They are literally barbarian wines, though the term hardly does justice to their finesse. The winemakers of Cannonau di Sardegna DOC have put together a touring itinerary called La Strada del Vino Cannonau (www.stradadelvinocannonau.it). It covers most of the landmark churches, tiny museums, and points of sale for Cannonau. Marked by the sign at right showing a roadway and a goblet of red wine, it even includes a few wineries.

Cantina Oliena

Cantina di Oliena muralThis cooperative producer reflects one strain of Cannonau winemaking. Most growers are too small to make their own wine, so they band together as cooperatives. Cantina Oliena has about 100 members and produces about 350,000 bottles of top-flight wines. In addition to a sparkling Charmat-technique rosé, the cooperative makes three wines from Cannonau—all of them called “Nepente di Oliena.” Just to add to the confusion about Cannonau, the grape and the wines made from it near Oliena are called Nepente—a reference to the ancient Greek “medicine for sorrow,” also known as the “drink of forgetfulness.” Since the wines contain a minimum of 14 percent alcohol, careless drinkers will feel no pain (until the next day). The showroom is open Monday-Tuesday and Saturday mornings (Via Nuoro 112, Oliena, +39-0784-287-509, www.cantinasocialeoliena.it).

About the wines

Cantina di Oliena bottles The base Nepente di Oliena comes from vineyards at 200-300 meters. The grapes are hard-harvested in small buckets so they don’t crush each other. The cooperative makes this wine with 10-12 days of maceration on the skins, then ages it in concrete tanks before bottling. The resulting young wine is bright red tending toward purple. The nose contains pronounced notes of tart cherries and hints of roses and violets. The acidity is high and the tannins soft. It’s terrific with pizza and Pecorino di Sardo, the region’s characteristic sheep’s milk cheese.

The top of the cooperative’s Cannonau line is Irilai Nepente di Oliena Classico. It made from grapes grown at 300-400 meters given more than two weeks maceration. The wine ages in in large Slavonian oak barrels for at least a year, then another year in the bottle. Alcohol tops 15 percent, but the fruit concentration, the acidity, and the tannic structure keep the wine from tasting “hot.” The growers never have trouble producing fruit with a high concentration of sugar. But Cannonau’s polyphenols—i.e., the tannins—take a long time to ripen. This wine is strong and elegant with jammy cherry and blackberry fruits. As it opens on the palate with food, it gives off marvelous resinous scents of rosemary, eucalyptus, and wild thyme. It is spectacular with roast lamb.

04

01 2017