This week I am continuing my rare varieties adventure through Sardinia with one of the most widely cultivated red wine varieties on this Mediterranean island. Claiming around 3,000 hectares of vineyards, Monica is one of the longest standing varieties in Sardinia.
There are two theories pertaining to the origin of this variety. The first theory states that Monica was originally brought to Sardinia by French monks who enjoyed growing this variety around their monasteries. These were known as the monks’ grapes or uva dei monaci in Italian, then uva monica and eventually just Monica.
The second theory ascertains that the variety was brought to Sardinia when the island was under Spanish dominion. If you know anything about the history of Sardinia, you know that different countries and civilizations laid claim to the island at different periods in time. Supposedly, we can thank the Spaniards for bringing Monica with them.
Personally, I am more inclined to believe the second theory because there is some scientific evidence which leans in this direction. Monica has an extremely biodiverse genetic cluster, or family tree if you will. DNA research suggests a Spanish variety called Hebèn is the parent of Monica, though a definitive genetic link has not been illustrated.
Genetically speaking, Monica’s family includes Bovali Mannu (Cagnulari), Muristellu, and Mourvèdre. Monica shares the most genetics with these varieties. Monica then reached outside of this family cluster to cross with other varieties and produce Pascale di Cagliari, Gregu Nieddu, Nera di Oliena, Fiudedda, and Girò di Bosa. Further genetic research has shown that while Monica shares genetic connections with this mix of varieties, the closest connections are with Monica Bianca and Muristellu, two other Sardinian varieties. Though these connections aren’t clear. Meaning the researchers were not sure whether these varieties are parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, etc.
Furthermore, the following varieties share at least 50% of Monica’s alleles (44 total):
- Giro di Bosa – 29
- Gregu Nieddu – 28
- Monica Bianca – 28
- Axina de Francia – 27
- Mourvèdre – 27
- Nieddu Manu – 27
- Zirone Bianco – 27
- Albaranzeuli Bianco – 26
- Fiededdu – 25
- Pascale di Cagliari – 26
- Albaranseuli Nero – 24
- Monica Puntinate Falsa – 24
- Muristellu – 24
- Nieddu Procu – 24
- Bianca Rosa – 23
- Torbato – 23
- Nera di Oliena – 22
- Sauvignon – 22
This information comes from the Akinas book sited below and the extensive research of the author. While this might be getting a little too wine nerd for you, I wanted to include this information to illustrate the biodiversity of Monica’s genetics and how many varieties share traits with Monica.
Monica di Sardegna D.O.C.
The Monica di Sardegna D.O.C. encompasses the whole island of Sardinia. In order to bear this label, the wine must be made with a minimum of 85% Monica. The other 15% can be other non-aromatic red varieties of Sardinian cultivation. The vineyard yield is capped at 150 quintals per hectare. This D.O.C. includes dry, medium sweet, and lightly sparkling (frizzante) wines, all of which require a minimum of 11% ABV. For the superiore designation, the wine must be a minimum of 12.5% ABV and aged for a minimum of one year.
Monica di Cagliari D.O.C. was a second geographic indication covering this variety, but you are not likely to see to see this one as it is rarely used anymore.
When drinking a Mandrolisai D.O.C. wine, you are drinking Monica along with a couple other Sardinian varieties. The Mandrolisai D.O.C. calls for a minimum of 35% Bovale Sardo, 20-35% Cannonau and 20-35% Monica. A maximum of 10% other suitable grapes of Sardinian cultivation may be used. This D.O.C. includes rosato, rosso, and superiore wines. The rosato and rosso must be a minimum of 11.5% ABV, while the superiore calls for 12.5% ABV minimum. Superiore wines also require a two year aging process with one year minimum of barrel aging.
Monica in the Vineyard
Though grown throughout the island of Sardinia, this variety flourishes in deep, chalky soils and hilly zones that provide good sun exposure. Bud break tends to occur in the first twenty days of April with flowering following in the final ten days of May. Veraison occurs in the last ten days of July or the beginning of August. The growing season typically lasts until the final ten days of September or the first ten days of October.
Monica in the Glass
Typically, Monica shows medium to high intensity in the glass as a beautiful ruby red with garnet or violet reflections. You’ll find medium pronounced aromas of cherries, red berries, red fruit jam, and delicate spices. This variety typically offers medium acidity, light to medium body, light tannins, and a medium persistence.
Tasting Notes: Pala I Fiori, Monica di Sardegna D.O.C. 2018
- 100% Monica from 30 year old vines
- Beautiful ruby red color with violet reflections and medium intensity in the glass
- Medium intensity aromas of red berries, cherries, warm spices, and a vegetal note
- Light to medium bodied on the palate with medium acidity and medium persistence
- Light tannins, round and soft
- Not a whole lot of complexity on the palate
As a lighter body red, Monica would pair nicely with French onion soup, pork chops with a creamy dijon mustard sauce, chicken souvlaki pitas with tahini dressing, sausage stuffed mushrooms, or herb and butter basted roasted chicken with potatoes au gratin. When deciding what to pair with Monica, think of what you might enjoy alongside a Pinot Noir as the two wines are similar in body and some aromatics.
Akinas, Uve di Sardegna, Poliedro, 2017, Ilissio Edizioni, Nuoro