I arrived from Sardinia via Rome in the afternoon on December 11th. After a long trip from California, I needed to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. So my boyfriend and I headed to Alghero, one of the cities in Northern Sardinia, to walk around a bit before heading to Marco’s family home in Sassari. Sardinia definitely has the Italian vibe, but also is completely original in its own right. Since we are here in winter, the island is definitely quieter with fewer people out and about as we are not in the peak season of summer.
Sardinia is peaceful, tranquil, and completely gorgeous. Rolling green hills covered in tons of trees, many of them olive trees, vineyards all over the place, plateaus off in the distance, and limestone peaking out from mountains and cliffs. Though the sun has yet to show itself since I arrived, I can still see hints of blue and green glistening out of the sea when we drive by the beaches. Makes me excited to visit Sardinia during summer for beach season!
Anyway, after walking around Alghero we headed home to the Sanna residence to meet Marco’s parents. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. I don’t speak Italian, though I can understand a little, and his parents don’t speak English. It’s been awhile since I had to “meet the parents” in general and I had no idea how this was going to go since we can’t even easily communicate. Turns out, his parents are the sweetest people in the world. They both cried from happiness when we met. At least I think from happiness, that’s what Marco said anyway. 😉 We hugged, we kissed, I got a tour of their beautiful home, then we headed downstairs to the kitchen.
As can be expected in an Italian home, the kitchen is where all the action is at. Where the family spends a lot of their time together. And as can be expected from a winemaker’s family, the first night involved welcoming Nikki with a lot of wine! Plus, delicious homemade food. Mom and dad busted out homemade olives, pickled lima beans and artichoke hearts, salame, ricotta mustia, ricotta fresca, and traditional Sardinia bread called pane carasau. Everything was homemade and everything was incredibly delicious! And all of this was just appertivo which was then followed by homemade ravioli and salad fresh from the garden. The ravioli where unbelievable but the salad really amazed me, too. The leafy greens tasted so sweet and flavorful, nothing like lettuce from the grocery store in America.
As for the wine, we started with a bottle of Vermentino, then moved on to Cannonau, then to Vernaccia di Oristano D.O.C., and finished up with some grappa. Again, all made at home, except for the first bottle of Vermentino. I’ve had Vermentino before, but Sardinia is known for Vermentino. The island itself is actually a D.O.C. for the variety. So tasting Vermentino in Sardinia is a whole different experience than tasting Vermentino anywhere else. You can taste the mix of herbs and shrubs that make up the Sardinian landscape and even some salinity from the surrounding sea. Very aromatic and herbal with notes of lemon-lime citrus.
I never tried Cannonau before coming to Sardinia, though Marco told me a lot about this variety as it is his favorite. Cannonau is the Grenache of Sardinia. A full-bodied red with medium acidity and notes of raspberry, strawberry, sweet spices, and even a bit of floral aromatics. The Vernaccia di Oristano D.O.C. was the most interesting wine of the evening. Again, a variety I never previously tasted. Vernaccia is a white variety whose indigenous yeast is flor – the same type of yeast used in the production of sherry. In this way, Vernaccia is unique because it can benefit from and withstand exposure to oxygen during the aging process in barrel. A bit of headspace is left in the barrel so there is room for oxygen to be present and interact with the flor. The flor forms a layer on top of the wine which actually protects the wine from oxygen while contributing nutty, spicy aromatics.
On my first night in Sardinia, we tasted a 2017 Vernaccia di Oristano and my boyfriend’s homemade Vernaccia which he has been aging in a tiny barrel in the family’s wine cellar at home for the past seven years. Honestly, I preferred my boyfriend’s over the Vernaccia di Oristano. Marco’s was more concentrated, focused, and full-bodied with incredible notes of warm spices like nutmeg and clove, a touch of sweetness, and a long lingering finish. Wow!
Then the homemade grappa came out and it’s safe to say I was feeling no pain by then. The grappa had delicate spice and though potent, there was no lingering burn. In my opinion, food and wine alway have the ability to bring people together no matter where people are from and whether or not they speak the same language. In this case, that was definitely true. Marco’s dad was telling me stories about his time in the military in Rome and his childhood. He even started talking about love and giving us relationship advice! Which, according to Marco, is something he’s never done before. I only understood about a quarter of the conversation, but enjoyed it all nonetheless. Mama Pina, Marco’s mom, was a bit shy to talk to me directly at first and insisted on using Marco as a translator thinking I couldn’t understand anything. Once she realized I can understand a little, she started trying to speak with me more. Despite the language barrier, the welcome I received from Marco’s family was spectacular and my time in Sardinia was off to a great start!