Towards the end of our extended holiday in Sardinia, Marco and I decided to go on a little road trip. Not just any road trip, this was a wine focused ride – un giro di vino! Prior to arriving in Sardinia, I shared with Marco that I wanted to try as many Sardinian wine varieties and visit as many regions as possible. Marco was definitely up to the challenge and I was happy he still had a little something up his sleeve. Side note – a winemaker + a wine lover = a match made in heaven. I digress…
This Sardinian wine road trip took us from Sassari where Marco lives on the northwestern side of the island over to Olbia in the northeast. Then down the east coast to Ogliastra, further south to Jerzu, and finally back up the middle of bella Sardinia. All in Marco’s 2003 Fiat. And if road tripping in a tiny, two door manual Fiat isn’t an authentic Italian experience, then I don’t know what is! Here’s what went down on our three day adventure.
Day 1: Gallura
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Fueled up with our morning espresso and croissant, we hit the road and headed east along the SS127. We were happy to discover snow covered mountains as the windy roads climbed higher and higher in elevation. Enticed by the snow, we made a pitstop in a mountaintop village called Tempio Pausania. The rooftops of the buildings were dripping with water from the snow remnants melting under the sun.
I dodged a few, then was pelted by snowballs as Marco decided to have a go at me when we got out of the car. That was game on for the rest of the trip! We ducked into a bar and pizzeria – un caffè per marco e un macchiatto per me. When we left the bar refueled, the view of the nearby snow-covered mountain peaks was incredible. I had to grab a photo!
Descending from Tempio, we cruised further into gorgeous Gallura and I was awestruck! If you ever get the chance to visit Gallura, you will understand why. This region encompasses the northeastern corner of Sardinia and is completely green, but a green like I’d never seen. Not only green, but full of incredible granite rock formations and impressive mountains. The name Gallura even alludes to “stony area.”
The Wine Region of Gallura
Prominent Variety: Vermentino
In fact, the Vermentino di Gallura DOCG is Sardinia’s one and only DOCG.
You might be asking, what’s a DOCG? DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. Under Italian wine laws, this designation means there are more regulations on viticulture and winemaking practices in this area. Which in turn gives consumers an idea that higher quality can be expected from the region. Aka…this shit is good! DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) regions in Italy are a bit less regulated than DOCG regions, yet a higher quality wine can still be expected than say and IGT designated wine (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).
Vermentino di Gallura DOCG Regulations:
- Wine is made with a minimum of 95% Vermentino. The other 5% can be from a non-aromatic white grape variety grown in Sardinia. However, many wines tend to be 100% Vermentino.
- Dry still white wines must be a minimum of 12% alcohol. For the Superiore designation, wines must be a minimum of 13% alcohol.
- Maximum elevation for vineyards is set at 500m.
- Maximum yields for the vineyards are set at 100 quintels/hectare for the DOCG and 90 quintels/hectare for the Superiore designation. Or 10 tons per every 2.5 acres and 9 tons per every 2.5 acres respectively.
- Sparkling wines can be made via Charmat or Método Classico.
- Sweet wines can be made via Passito (dried grapes) or Vendemmia Tardiva (late harvest).
Sardinia’s other Vermentino appellations are the Vermentino di Sardegna DOC, which covers the whole island, and the Alghero DOC.
If you have only tasted Vermentino produced outside of Sardinia, then in my opinion you haven’t had a true Vermentino. Though quality Vermentino is grown throughout the Mediterranean in other areas of Italy and France, many believe Sardinian Vermentino to be the truest expression of this varietal. Prior to visiting Sardinia, I had only tasted Vermentino produced in California and maybe a bottle or two from somewhere on mainland Italy. None of which ever came close to the incredible freshness and blossoming aromatics found in the Vermentino di Gallura DOCG wines. We’re talking floral, zesty acidity, those elusive hints of minerality, and salinity like an ocean breeze. This Sardinian wine pairs perfectly with fresh seafood dishes and is often the perfect wine to drink for aperitivo.
Soil & Climate
The gateway to the famed Costa Esmeralda, the soil in Gallura is characteristically granite. The monumental granite mountains have been bleached white by the sun over the years and protrude proudly over the cork oak trees the region is known for .
Sandy soil is prominent here from the granite weathering over the years, thus the soil doesn’t retain water well. The region’s vicinity to the sea brings almost constant winds from the Mistral. Though the salty ocean breeze cools the vines and helps to prevent fungal diseases. In vineyards with high wind exposure, many vines are head-trained and grown as free-standing bushes in order to withstand the harsh Mistral. Vineyards planted at higher elevations tend to experience a beneficial day to night temperature difference.
In addition to cork oaks, the region is filled with Mediterranean scrub, wild herbs, fig and olive trees. Driving through Gallura, you will discover the beautiful cork oak trees have been sporadically stripped of their bark in order to produce corks for the wine we love. The vineyards in Gallura are permitted irrigation as water tends to be a scarcity here. Though when we visited the region was a lush green from unusual heavy rains in 2018.
At around 300m elevation, Siddùra is situated amidst granite mountains and cork oak trees. The winery was established in 2008 by German and Israeli owners who were inspired by the discovery of an abandoned old vineyard. They aimed to produce outstanding wines that represent the purity and simplicity of Sardinia. Currently planted to around 37 hectares, Siddùra is an absolutely gorgeous estate.
The winery itself is actually built underground beneath the rolling vineyards, making temperature control easy and efficient. Siddùra even has high tech equipment for the vineyards to monitor water stress and humidity on the vines for optimal irrigation.
We arrived at Siddùra without an appointment to taste and they were happy to accommodate us upon arrival. The tasting room was lovely and our host even spoke English, which was quite refreshing for me.
Since we were visiting during winter in the off season, they didn’t have any whites chilled for tasting. This was disappointing because we were dying to taste the Vermentino. In fact, Siddùra’s 2017 Spèra Vermentino di Gallura DOCG had actually already been awarded a Platinum 97 Points by Decanter in 2018 before the wine had even been bottled.
We decided to buy two different bottles of Vermentino to taste at home, which are hopefully still waiting for us in the wine cellar at Marco’s family home if his dad hasn’t drank them by now. 😉
Our host was kind enough to open a few bottles of red wine for tasting and the experience was memorable nonetheless. One thing I loved about Siddùra is the name of each wine has a significant meaning in either the local dialect of Gallura or in Etruscan.
- Spèra means ray of light
- Maìa means magic and refers to the magic the owners felt upon first visiting the abandoned vineyards that would eventually become Siddùra.
- Bèru [veru] is Etruscan and means noble or superior. The root word of Vermentino.
- Èrema is Etruscan and means small plant. This IGT Isola dei Nuraghi wine is a blend of 85% Cannonau and 15% Cagnulari.
- Bàcco means Bacchus, the Roman God of Wine. This is an IGT Isola dei Nuraghi wine of 100% Cagnulari. We chose to taste this wine because Cagnulari is one of my favorite varieties in Sardinia. Bàcco was very well-rounded with sweet tannins, good acidity and long finish. Prominent notes of cooked raspberries, blue berries, and currants. I could drink this wine every day. The God of Wine would be happy with this one!
- Fòla means fable or legend in the dialect of Gallura. This Cannonau di Sardegna DOC is 100% Cannonau.
- Tìros is Etruscan for wine. This IGT Colli del Limbara wine is 85% Sangiovese and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. We also tasted this one. Well balanced with concentrated flavors and round tannins. Notes of tobacco and sweet spices.
Located in Arzachena, more specifically in the Porto Cervo zone in the Chilvagghja locality, Vinge Surrau is one of the most beautiful wineries I have ever visited. Only a fifteen minute drive from the sparkling Costa Smeralda, the vineyards at Surrau experience a bit more of the marine influence. The winery is situated amidst its vineyards with impressive granite mountains setting a stunning background in the distance. Founded in 2004, the winery is named after the nearby valley between Arzachena and Palau.
The tasting room is absolutely stunning with an expansive seating area and floor to ceiling windows to take in the breathtaking view overlooking the winery’s 50 hectares of vineyards. I believe the tasting room serves food as well. There was a large selection of merchandise to choose from and the winery even features rotating exhibits by local artists.
Visitors can see into the tank room of the production area from windows in the tasting room. Vigne Surrau’s aims to offer a unique space and experience for guests to enjoy together. The tasting room which seamlessly integrates the winery into the gorgeous landscape of Gallura with winemaking areas accessible to the guest experience definitely accomplishes that.
Vigne Surrau uses three different methods for the vinification and aging of their wines – steel, cement, and wood. Large steel temperature controlled tanks are used for vilification and aging of both red and white wines. Small egg-shaped concrete tanks for vinifying and aging Vermentino. More recently, the winery has also started using amphorae on the Vermentino, too.
Mid-sized concrete tanks are used to refine and stabilize the red wines. Truncated cone Slovanian oak vats are used for the vinification and aging of Riserva wines. While medium-sized Slovanian oak barrels and French oak barriques and tonneaux are used for the processing and aging of other reds.
Marco’s friend, Antonella, is the Assistant Winemaker at Vigne Surrau, so we were lucky enough to enjoy a tour of the winemaking facility, barrel room, and a walk out to the vineyards. However, the staff are happy to hosts guests on a tour of the facility upon request. The winery also has it’s own laboratory, bottling line, and a massive underground tunnel where sparkling wines are aged. We walked through the long tunnel to check out the gyro-palettes where the 2015 sparkling wines were currently being riddled. The original winery sits at the end of the long tunnel and is completely charming. The newer and much larger winemaking facility was established in 2009.
Vigne Surrau offers a wide selection of wines to choose from in the tasting room. We only decided to try the three Vermentino on our visit because when in Gallura!
- 2017 Branu, Vermentino di Gallura DOCG – Vinified in stainless steel and bottled very young. Tasted very fresh with great minerality.
- 2017 Sciala, Vermentino di Gallura DOCG Superiore – Vinified in stainless steel tanks then left on the lees (bâttonage). Aromatic with notes of florals and fresh fruits like pear and green melon.
- 2017 Sciala Late Harvest, Vermentino di Gallura DOCG – From the same vineyard as Sciala, but the grapes were harvested later. 50% of the grapes were fermented in large French oak barrels and the other 50% in a mixture of stainless steel and cement tanks. The wine was then blended on the lees in stainless steel and cement tanks for six months, followed by bottle aging for nine months before release.
For our final winery of the day in Gallura, we headed down to Oblia to visit Cantina Pedres. Marco’s friend, Antonio, works in the cellar so we got a behind the scenes tour. This winery is more industrial in character, but offers a tasting room and variety of wines to choose from. We got to taste quite a few wines from the tank, which is always an interesting experience. The Vermentino in tank intended for sparkling wine production was incredibly aromatic. The tanks were seriously massive!! We also tasted two bottles of the sparkling wine made from Vermentino produced at Cantina Pedres from previous vintages. One was a bit too sweet for my taste, but still aromatic with bright acidity. The other was dry with floral and citrus notes and quite aromatic as well. Seemingly from a bit of Moscato in the blend. Unfortunately, I didn’t grab photos of the bottles!
Gallura is definitely a region not to be missed when wine tasting in Sardinia. The stunning landscapes and variety of wineries to choose from are enough to excite any wine lover. Plus, the Vermentino produced here is one of the truest expressions of the variety available today.
day 2: Ogliastra
Friday, January 11, 2019
Following a fun dinner with lots of wine at Antonio and Antonella’s house in Olbia, Marco and I headed south the next morning to Ogliastra. In order to get to Ogliastra, we drove through Sardinia’s highest mountain range and were greeted by falling snow! I couldn’t believe it was actually snowing on this Mediterranean island, but the white mountains were absolutely gorgeous.
First, we met up with Marco’s best friend, Gianpiero (also a winemaker…seeing a trend here?), at a small winery he is currently consulting. Marco and I were so enticed by the view as we entered Ogliastra we had to pull over and take a picture.
I was definitely not prepared for the beauty that is Ogliastra! Gianpiero told me this is his absolute favorite region in all of Sardinia and it is easy to see why. Breathtaking Ogliastra is located in the middle of Sardinia’s east coast and this region truly has it all. Wild olive trees abound from epic mountain ranges perfect for the outdoor enthusiast, stunning beaches and seascapes to discover, and plenty of vineyards and wineries in between. The views in Ogliastra definitely rival that of the most impressive coastal views of the famed Amalfi Coast in Italy. Only Ogliastra is more untouched and all the more beautiful for it. Ogliastra is the least populated province in Italy, so be prepared to be surrounded by brilliant nature. This region also has the most centenarians in the nation! Though if I was kicking it in Ogliastra sipping on incredible wine with gorgeous views like this, I think I’d live until 100, too. 😉
The Wine Region of Ogliastra
Prominent Variety: Cannonau
Though the Cannonau di Sardegna DOC covers the island in its entirety, Ogliastra is said to produce the best Italian expression of this variety. The truest expression of this variety should be found in Sardinia because Cannonau originated on this special island. For many years Cannonau was thought to have been brought to Sardinia by the Spaniards. However, in more recent years in Borore at the Duos Nuraghes archeological site, Cannonau seeds dating back to 1200 BC were discovered. Meaning the Nurgahic people back in the Bronze Age, almost 3200 years ago, were drinking Cannonau! This makes Cannonau one of the most ancient wines in the world.
Cannonau di sardegn DOC Regulations:
- Rosato and Rosso – Made from a minimum of 85% Cannonau and 15% other local varieties. 12.5% minimum alcohol level. Minimum 2 months aging for Rosato and 5 months aging for Rosso.
- Classico – Made from a minimum of 90% Cannonau while the other 10% can be other local varieties. 13.5% minimum alcohol level. Minimum 2 years aging with at least 12 months in barrel. Classico can only be produced in the provinces of Nuoro and Ogliastra.
- Liquoroso – Made from a minimum of 85% Cannonau and 15% other local varieties. 16% minimum alcohol for Liquoroso Dolce and 18% for Liquoroso Secco. Minimum aging is 1 year with 6 months in barrel.
- Passito – Made from a minimum of 85% Cannonau and 15% other local varieties. 13% minimum alcohol level. Minimum 1 year aging.
- Riserva – Made from a minimum of 85% Cannonau and 15% other local varieties.13% minimum alcohol level. Minimum 2 years aging with 6 months in barrel.
Soil & climate
The wines of Ogliastra are very dynamic due to diversity in soils and elevations throughout the region. Near the mountains more calcareous, sedimentary soils can be found. Sedimentary soil means the soil has mineral or organic compounds which have been deposited from the wind, water, or even ice over time. Lower elevation vineyards near the sea tend to have more granite based soils, some tending towards the similar sandy granite found in the Gallura region. For this reason, Vermentino is typically planted at lower elevations in Ogliastra. Some areas even have volcanic and sandstone based soils. The regions soil diversity means that you will find a wide variety of wines produced in Ogliastra.
As can be expected, the vineyards planted at higher elevations benefit from a significant day to night temperature difference meaning longer hang times for the grapes. While the lower elevation vineyards near the sea receive the cooling sea breeze. Ogliastra, like many other regions of Sardinia, is also covered in macchia, the wild scrub, plants, herbs, and trees that are part of the terroir and believed to influence the aromatics and flavor characteristics of wine grown in the region.
Tenute Il Vigneto
Tenute Il Vigneto was the first winery we visited on a sunny Friday in Ogliastra. As I previously mentioned, this is the winery where Marco’s best friend is consulting. Tenute Il Vigneto is managed by two delightful Italian men who have other careers, but have a passion for wine. They decided to direct this passion toward producing Cannonau that is a reflection of the gorgeous region which they call home. The small cantina is located in the first floor of one of the owner’s homes which is perched up on a mountain with a breathtaking view of the coast and Tyrrhenian Sea.
After being introduced to the owners, we tasted everything from the 2018 vintage that was still in tank. This included a couple of different Cannonau and a Cannonau vinificato in bianco, meaning a white wine made from the juice of red Cannonau grapes immediately pressed from the skins. The Cannonau were progressing nicely with the berry, plum, herb and spice notes to be expected of the variety. The white Cannonau was super interesting with great texture and body not regularly found in your typical white wine.
The owners were kind enough to send us off with a couple bottles of wine each. They recommended we go to a nearby agrotourismo for lunch called Bosco Selene and even footed the bill! So generous. Bosco Selene is located up in the mountains at Lanuse and after driving up the windy roads, we were happy to find snow still on the ground near the agrotourismo. For lunch, we had the traditional dish of Ogliastra, culurgiones, which is a handmade pasta filled with potatoes, pecorino cheese, mint, garlic, and nutmeg. Absolutely delicious! Then it was time for my revenge on our way back to the car….another snowball fight with Marco!
Azienda Agricola Puzole
Following lunch we headed down the mountain to a vineyard in Lotzorai to meet Gianpiero’s friend, Roberto Puzole, the winemaker and founder of Azienda Agricola Puzole. First, we walked through his Vermentino vineyard, which was on level ground and quite close to the sea gaining that coastal influence. Roberto explained he planted Vermentino here because of the sandy granite soil similar to the soils of Gallura. The air was crisp, the sun was shining, and I could not believe how lucky I was to be standing in this little slice of heaven.
As we drove up the street to visit the winery, we drove past his vineyard of Cannonau as well. This vineyard was backed by stunning granite mountains and was just as beautiful as the first even though both vineyards were in winter dormancy and completely bare.
Azienda Agricola Puzole is a small winery tucked away in Lotzorai just a quick 10 minute drive from the coast. The winery is a small, one man operation managed solely by Roberto. He has 4 or 5 small tanks in a cellar literally an arms width wide. Quarters were tight with the four of us in there tasting from tanks. But you don’t need much to make great wine that is representative of place and that’s what Roberto’s done. From tank, we tasted a Vermentino, a rosato of Cannonau, and a Cannonau. The Vermentino had spent some time on the lees so it had an interesting texture and mouthfeel. And the rosato had bright acidity and was quite dry, which I love in a rosé.
Then we headed to his barrel room which housed about 8 barrels in total. There we tasted tasted two Cannonau which had been aging for 2 and 4 years in barrel. Tasting Cannonau from the most recent vintage right from the tank and then tasting Cannonau that had spent some time in barrel was interesting. I could clearly taste how time spent in oak really benefits this variety. When reductive winemaking techniques are used, meaning the wine was produced in the absence of oxygen i.e. in steel tanks with the help of inert gases, Cannonau tends towards aromas of eggs, skunk, rubber, etc. These aromas come from the presence of volatile sulfur compounds. Cannonau improves in oak because the micro-oxygenation helps to get rid of the reduced characters Cannonau can have while enhancing the berry and macchia aromatics.
Following our barrel tastings, we headed outside to check out the pigs! Roberto also makes prosciutto at Puzole and has a whole farm filled with pigs on the property. Though they are bound to be turned into an Italian delicacy, they are definitely living a good life in Lotzorai.
Antichi Poderi Jerzu
To finish up the day, we drove south to Jerzu to visit Cantina Sociale di Jerzu. Antichi Poderi di Jerzu is a cooperative winery or cantina sociale with around 450 wine grower members. The winery was originally founded in 1950 with 45 members working the best and oldest Cannonau vineyards in Jerzu.
Jerzu is a village in Ogliastra perched on a mountain 500m above sea level and a zone recognized for producing high quality Cannonau. Marco’s friend, Biaggio, is the winemaker here and I was looking forward to a tour of the massive winery. Unfortunately, after racing up winding roads we arrived after dark and were unable to tour the facility. We were able to taste a few wines in the tasting room though. One such wine was a founder wine, the Josto Miglior Cannonau di Sardegna DOC Reserve 2015. Aptly named after the winery’s founder, this Cannonau had fresh acidity, refined tannins, red berry notes and spicy aromatics. I definitely want to go back to Antichi Poderi for a tour of the impressive facilities and to taste more wine!
We left the Cantina Sociale di Jerzu and headed to Biaggio’s favorite local bar where we switched things up and started drinking beer. Apparently, Sardinia is just as well known for producing quality craft beer as it is incredible wines! We drank quite a few unfiltered Ichnusa beers, which are named for the ancient name of the island, while being entertained by the hilarious local regulars. After soaking up the alcohol of the day with some pizza, we headed to Arbatax to crash for the night.
Day 3: Hiking Supramonte di Baunei
Saturday, January 12, 2019
The next morning Marco and I decided we needed some exercise and fresh air after two days of wining our way down the east coast of Sardinia. When we woke up in Arbatax we headed to the coast to see Rocce Rosse, a beautiful beach with an incredible red rock formation.
Then we drove to the village of Baunei to hike Supramonte di Baunei, the massive mountain range around the village. We stopped in the mountaintop village at a bar for coffee to fuel our trek. Then we entered the park and took a couple of wrong turns on the off road trails trying to find the one we were searching for. Eventually, we found the trail head that would lead us down to the most beautiful beach, Cala Goloritzé. As we were driving down the path to park, we were greeted by two adorable donkeys. So, of course, we stopped to feed them some fruit.
If you plan to hike the trail down to Cala Goloritzé, I would definitely recommend good hiking boots or tennis shoes at the very least. I only had my monochrome white Converse All-Stars and the soles were definitely not thick enough to protect my feet from the limestone rocks covering all of the trails. But I powered through!
The trek to Cala Goloritzé beach starts on an uphill climb and then descends steeply downward towards the sea. Surrounded by giant limestone mountains and cliffs, beautiful greenery, and the sounds of bells ringing around the necks of the goats traversing the mountain range, this hike was absolutely gorgeous! Not to mention the view of the sea and the breathtaking beach to enjoy once you get to the bottom of the mountain. As we were there in winter, we didn’t stay too long to enjoy the beach at the end. However, I definitely want to do this hike again in summer! There were even rock climbers ascending the 143 meter peak of the giant karst above the beach. They made it to the top while we were there, so incredible!
Following a long climb back up the mountain, we headed back into the village just before sunset. We warmed up with hot tea at the bar just as the village was heading to the Saturday evening church service. All of the older women were dressed in all black and Marco explained there is a Sardinian tradition in which a widowed woman wears black for the rest of her life after her husband dies. So sad and beautiful at the same time!
Our three day giro di vino was a road trip I will cherish forever. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to Sardinian wine and I’m excited to return to the island for further exploration. Getting to experience wine regions first hand and taste varieties grown in their ideal terroir is my favorite way to learn about wine. My experiences with wine and travel are inspiring ideas for my future business and this blog, too! I can’t wait to see where this journey will lead me and I’m loving every step along the way. Cheers!