“What’s a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would still smell as sweet.” – Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
Well, if we were talking about this week’s rare variety and that rose were called Bovale, I have to agree. Though Bovale is by no means a sweet wine, it does taste just as delicious when called by any of the twenty four names the variety is known as in Sardinia.
Yes, you read that right. There are around twenty four other names for the same variety in Sardinia. I would imagine this is due to the various dialects of Sardo found throughout the island. Not only are Italian and Sardo spoken in Sardinia, but depending on the region of the island you are in, or perhaps even just the village, there are different dialects of Sardo spoken as well.
But don’t worry about learning all twenty four names of Bovale. You are more likely to see this variety labeled as Bovale or perhaps as Muristellu, which is the most widely used Sardo name for the variety. I will be using these two names interchangeably in this blog post just to keep you on your toes.
Now, this variety is not to be confused with Bovale Mannu a.k.a. Cagnulari, which is one of my favorite red Sardinian varieties and the topic for another blog post. The Bovale family of varieties has a very diverse genetic cluster. Following genetic research, Nieddu Polchinu and Monica puntinata falsa are thought to be the likely parents of Bovale, though the parental genetic connections are not clearly definitive. Muristellu also crossed with a couple of native Sardinian varieties to produce new varieties you are likely to only find on this Mediterranean island. The partner varieties and offspring are as follows:
- Combined with Monica Bianca to produce Fiudedda
- Crossed with Monica Bianca again to produce a different variety – Girò di Bosa
- Combined with Cannonau to produce Nera di Oliena
Genetically speaking, one of the most interesting aspects of Muristellu is that it is one of a handful of varieties in the world to have a distinctive genetic similarity to wild vines. If you really want to geek out, Muristellu shares the same allele with molecule 218 on the locus VVMDS. And it’s ok, I had no idea what this meant either. But just know this is very rare to find in domestically cultivated vines. Bovale is still a bit wild, just like Sardinia.
Bovale in the Vineyards
Bovale is cultivated throughout the island of Sardinia. However, this variety is mostly concentrated and grows best in the sunny zones of Mandrolisai in the province of Nuoro and in Terralba in the region of Oristano. When Bovale vines are young, they have very distinctive light, bright green leaves with red tips. Traditionally, Bovale is grown in the alberello Sardo vine training method, i.e. bush trained.
The growing season typically begins with bud break in the first ten days of April, followed by flowering in the last ten ays of May. Veraison, my favorite time of year in the vineyards, happens in the last ten days of July to the very first days of August. The grapes tend to be mature and ready for harvest during the first ten days of October.
Currently, there are two geographic indications which include this distinctive variety.
When you pick up a bottle of Manrdolisai D.O.C. vino, you are drinking a blend of Bovale, Cannon, Monica, and perhaps a splash of a little something extra. More specifically, this D.O.C. calls for a minimum of 35% Bovale, 20-35% Cannonau, 20-35% Monica, and 10% maximum of other suitable Sardinian cultivated grapes. The Mandrolisai D.O.C. requires wines to be made only in the provinces of Nuoro and Oristano and also requires the following:
- Maximum vineyard yield of 120 quintals per hectare
- Wine yield of 70% for red and 65% for rosé
- Minimum of 11.5% alcohol for red and rosé
- Minimum 12.5% alcohol for the red Superiore designation
- 2 year aging requirement with a minimum of 1 year in barrel for Superiore
Campidano di Terralba or Campidano D.O.C.
The main varieties under this geographic indication include Bovale Sardo and Bovale di Spagna. The latter of which came to Sardinia from Spain in the 1300’s but shows vast differences to Sardinia’s Muristellu. The Campidano D.O.C. also permits up to 20% of Pascale di Cagliari, Greco Nero and Monica. Grapes are required to be cultivated and wine produced in the province of Oristano. The other requirements are as follows:
- Maximum vineyard yield of 150 quintals per hectare
- Maximum wine yield of 20%
- 11.5% alcohol minimum
Bovale in the Glass
Wines made from Bovale Sardo are rich and bold, tending to be heavily extracted, high in alcohol, and complex in polyphenols. These are wines that do best with aging and deserve to be cellared for a handful of years. Expect a high intensity red violet color with violet reflections in the glass. Typically, Bovale shows low to medium pronounced aromas of spices, blue and red berries, florals, berry jams, and sometimes exotic fruits. On the palate, the wine will have a low to medium acidity, medium body, good structure, high alcohol, and a medium persistence.
Tasting Notes: Argiolas, Korem, Bovale Isola dei Nuraghi IGT, 2016
- Likely not 100% Bovale as this is an IGT wine, though I could not find the exact blend information online
- Ruby red color with medium intensity
- Medium pronounced aromas of blueberries, cassis, violets, roses, a touch of chocolate and macchia
- Aromas carry through to similar flavors on the palate, along with notes of vanilla and baking spices from 10-12 months spent aging in oak
- Balanced and round on the palate
- Medium bodied with a long persistence
- Not my favorite Bovale I’ve tasted, but might be suitable to the American palate because of the significant oak influence
La Giara, Bovale Isola Dei Nuraghi IGT 2016
This is a rich and powerful red wine with great depth and serious structure. A wine that could have aged at least 5 more years, but was still showing wonderfully with great complexity.
Bovale is a big, bold red wine, making it the perfect pairing for meat dishes and bolder flavors. Asian sticky ribs. Filet with balsamic reduction. Gorgonzola and radicchio risotto. Lamb kofte with tzatziki.
Akinas, Uve di Sardegna, Poliedro, 2017, Ilissio Edizioni, Nuoro