Torbato was one of my favorite rare varieties I discovered while living in Sardinia. Besides the fact that Torbato produces an elegant still white wine with beautiful body and a gorgeous bouquet, this variety makes a seriously impressive sparkling wine. We’re talking bright, crisp, mouthwatering acidity, refreshing aromatics, and a fine persistence.
So, how did this variety end up in Sardinia? First, Torbato landed in Spain in the wake of the Carthaginians and Phoenicians, who came from the Aegean Sea basin. Torbato was later brought to Sardinia by the Spaniards, the Catalans to be exact. During the 300-year Spanish dominion over the island, the variety was increasingly cultivated throughout Sardinia, though the majority of Torbato wine was exported to the court of the King of Aragon for consumption in Spain.
Following a decline in plantings in the 20th century, Torbato saw a revival due in large part to Sella & Mosca, a pioneering Sardinian winery founded by two Piedmontese men that has become one of the largest wine estates in Europe. Today, Torbato is grown solely in a small 900 hectare zone of Alghero, a region of northeastern region of Sardinia still rich in Catalan history. Sella & Mosca was thankfully fascinated by this variety, studied it for many years, and was the first winery to produce a single-varietal Torbato wine.
Though we know the variety arrived in Sardinia from Spain, genetic research has found a close genetic connection with the indigenous Sardinian variety Monica Bianca. The research also shows that Torbato shares at least 50% alleles with the following Sardinian varieties:
- Baraidu (24 of 44 alleles shared)
- Galoppu (23)
- Girò di Bosa (23)
- Monica (23)
- Monica Bianca (23)
- Nieddu Procu (23)
- Pascale di Cagliari (23)
- Albaranzeuli Nero (22)
Torbato is also cultivated in Catalonia, Spain and Roussillon, France. In Roussillon, you may find this variety under the name Malvoisie du Roussillon. However, the term Malvoisie actually encompasses a family of often unrelated full-bodied, aromatic white varieties. Nevertheless, the Malvasia family of varieties likely originated in the Aegean Sea basin where Torbato is thought to have come from as well.
Alghero Torbato D.O.C.
This geographic indication calls for a minimum of 85% Torbato and allows for a 15% maximum of other non-aromatic white grapes of Sardinian cultivation. The zones of production include Alghero, Ittiri, Olmedo, Ossi, Tissi, Usini, and parts of Sassari. Vineyard yield is capped at 140 quintals/hectare. The D.O.C. covers both still and sparkling styles with a minimum alcohol requirement of 11% for still wines and 11.5% for sparkling wines.
Torbato in the Vineyard
A variety that is markedly difficult to grow, Torbato loves hot climates, relatively lower elevations, and the clay, calcareous soils found in Alghero. The vine produces medium sized bunches that are cylindrical or cylindrical-conical in shape. Bud break typically occurs within the first ten days of April, followed by flowering in the last ten days of May. Veraison will start showing up in the vineyard around the middle of August with the grapes mature and ready for harvest during the second ten days of October.
Torbato in the Glass
Torbato is known to have medium to high acidity, one of the main reasons I love this variety. Expect a pale yellow to medium straw color with gold reflections in the glass. This variety often showcases aromas and flavors of juicy pear, chamomile, florals, green apple, and other stone fruits, plus an undertone of minerals. This is a bright and refreshing wine that is lively on the palate and can range from medium to full bodied with an exceptional persistence.
Poderi Parpinello makes my favorite sparkling Torbato and this is a bottle we bought to celebrate every special occasion while in Sardinia. This sparkler was produced in the Charmat method with secondary fermentation on the lees in pressurized tanks. In the glass, the wine is a pale straw yellow with greenish hues and a fine, persistent perlage. Medium pronounced aromas of green apple, juicy pear, and minerals with an astoundingly bright and lively acidity.
Sparkling Torbato is especially delicious as an aperitif to wet your appetite before a meal. This wine also pairs wonderfully with fresh seafood dishes like oysters, calamari citrus ceviche, seafood bruschetta, octopus salad, or halibut in a lemon butter sauce. Savory bites like fresh caviar, salty green olives, and cured salami would all be delicious pairings. The high acidity also makes this wine a great complementary pairing for rich bites like foie gras or triple-cream brie cheese.
Akinas, Uve di Sardegna, Poliedro, 2017, Ilissio Edizioni, Nuoro