A Cradle of Wine in the Heart of the Mediterranean | Sardinia | Italy / by Manuel Cazzaniga

Manuel Cazzaniga grew up on bread and travel. He has spent his adult life organizing a variety of tours and then he discovered Sardinia. He relocated to the island and established Gaveena, a company dedicated to the promotion of Sardinia.

Orune by Aurelio Candido

Imagine an island in the middle of the western Mediterranean Sea, some 200 miles west of Italy. Then imagine spectacular coastlines, turquoise sea, delicious food and a friendly, welcoming population. It’s a place with nearly 7,000 archaeological sites, possibly the highest concentration in the world.  This island also has a 3,000-year-old wine-growing tradition.

This is not some fantasy. It is the island of Sardinia, which, despite its distance from the mainland, is actually a part of Italy.

Casa Bramassa Algherio | Photo Credit: Ezioman

Casa Bramassa Algherio | Photo Credit: Ezioman

Archaeologists recently discovered Sardinian grape seeds dating back to 1000 BCE, when the mysterious Nuragic civilization inhabited the island. So we know that cultivation of vitis vinifera dates back to the classic era, and millennia of skilled growers have exploited the island’s perfect growing conditions to produce one of world’s most popular beverages.  Despite the long winemaking history, Sardinia remains one of Western Europe’s lesser-known wine producing regions.

Here's a quick overview of the main wines produced in Sardinia’s sun-kissed vineyards spread from the coast to the mountain areas inland. These wines are certified as “DOC” (controlled name and origin) following specific procedures for vine growing and wine production; Vermentino di Gallura is the only grape with “DOCG” certification (controlled and guaranteed name and origin), with DOC parameters applied in a restricted territory in northeast Sardinia.   

Cannonau (DOC) is the most popular Sardinian red and considered a symbol of the island. It is grown almost everywhere, but the highest concentration is between the hills and mountains of central Sardinia.

Traditional Wooden Masks at Sardinia | Photo Credit: Ezioman

Traditional Wooden Masks at Sardinia | Photo Credit: Ezioman

Carignano (DOC) is an “indigenous” red wine grape introduced millennia ago by the Phoenicians. It is exclusively grown on the southwest Sardinian coast, where it benefits from an abundance of sun and cooling sea breezes.

Vermentino (DOCG and DOC) is Sardinia’s most popular grape variety. It is grown all over the island, but its highest concentration is around Gallura in the northeast. Intense fragrance,  a bright golden color and fresh minerality are the main features of this special wine.

Wild Donkeys at Asinara | Photo Credit: Ezioman

Wild Donkeys at Asinara | Photo Credit: Ezioman

Vernaccia (DOC) is used to make Sardinia’s oldest and most unique wine. The amber-colored Vernaccia di Oristano is produced from white grapes in the area surrounding the Tirso River on the western side of the island. It is produced similar to Sherry and aged in barrels for three or four years, which gives it a rich amber color and slightly bitter, fruity taste.

Malvasia (DOC) was introduced during the Byzantine era and is used to make an elegant fortified wine. It’s produced in the hills surrounding Bosa, a charming town on Sardinian’s west coast and the Cagliarithe area in the south.

SOME OF THE MUST-SEE REGIONS

NORTHEASTERN SARDINIA

This part of the island is best known for the upscale Costa Smeralda and for wines made from the Vermentino grape, the most popular Sardinian white wine. The archipelago embraces the coast and offers a number of romantic hidden coves and unique coastal scenery. You can escape the rich and famous crowd, but still take in the spectacular seaside, by moving a few miles north of Costa Smeralda. Here you can enjoy the less glamorous but equally breathtaking La Maddalena and Caprera archipelago.

The region offers the perfect climate and soil for growing Vermentino, with a hilly countryside surrounded by marvelous natural granite sculptures. Here, you’ll discover charming villages and many prehistoric sites where the nuragic culture had its ancient roots.

Cannonau Grapes | Photo Credit: Regione Sardegna

Cannonau Grapes | Photo Credit: Regione Sardegna

NORTHWESTERN SARDINIA

The most interesting spot on the northwest side of Sardinia is certainly Alghero, the ancient coastal town with a Catalan soul. The locals speak both the Sardinian language and an ancient tongue spoken primarily in Barcelona and the Balearic Islands. This area has a fascinating mix of history and nature, as well as a great environment for wine growing.  The Alghero plain is host to Sella & Mosca, one of Europe’s largest wine producers, with nearly 550 hectares of vines.

While exploring this area, one shouldn’t miss the majestic cliffs at Capo Caccia with the spectacular Neptune's Caves. Nature lovers will also enjoy Asinara Island National Park or Porto Conte Natural reserve. Wine lovers will find two indigenous wines of this area, the white Torbato and red Cagnulari. You will also be able to experience the other Sardinian flagship wines -- the red Cannonau and white Vermentino.

Another pearl in this area is surely Bosa, a colorful riverside town situated under the shadow of a medieval fortress and surrounded by Malvasia vineyards. In this area, Sardinian fortified white wines have been produced for centuries.

CENTRAL SARDINIA

Rugged mountains dominate the central part of the island. It’s here that you’re most likely to encounter true Sardinian culture and traditions. This particular alpine environment, just a few miles from Mediterranean Sea, is where visitors will find intense red wines made from Cannonau, the pride of Sardinian winemakers. The main town of Nuoro is the ideal starting point to explore a region dotted with charming mountain villages and discover interesting—and regionally unique—traditions, costumes, handicraft, delicious food and friendly people.

SOUTHERN SARDINIA

Southern Sardinia has its soul in Cagliari, the main city on the island and a must-visit for the food and wine traveler aiming to taste regional delicacies. When visiting Cagliari, literally built in layers over several centuries, you will wander the narrow cobbled streets, scenic urban paths and colorful markets. On the outskirts, a generous countryside with picturesque vineyards will invite you to enjoy the melting pot of traditional Sardinian food and flavors brought to the island by conquerors and visitors from all over Mediterranean. 

Vineyard in Oliena | Photo Credit: Aurelio Candido

Vineyard in Oliena | Photo Credit: Aurelio Candido

During your stay, a visit to the San Benedetto market is an absolute must. It’s a picturesque array of colorful and tasty food. You will also want to experience the award-winning Argiolas Vineyards and a relaxing walk at Poetto, considered the longest urban beach in Europe. If your interest is archaeology, the mosaics of Nora, the ancient roman settlement a few miles west of Cagliar, should also be on your to-do.

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TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS

AIR

The most comfortable way to reach Sardinia is by air, exploiting connections from the main Italian and European cities to one of the three Sardinian airports in Cagliari (CAG) in the south, Olbia (OLB) in northeast or Alghero (AHO) in northwest.

FERRY

As an alternative you may enjoy a night on a ferry connecting the main ports of Sardinia Cagliari, Olbia/Golfo Aranci and Porto Torres, with Genova, Livorno (about 90 km from Florence) or Civitavecchia (70 km from Rome).

AFTER YOU ARRIVE

The best way to visit the island is certainly by car, because it will allow you to reach many of the interesting spots not connected by public transportation. When planning a drive, bear in mind that the island is fairly large—about 250 km (155 miles) from north to south and 150 km (95 miles) from east to west. In addition, the island is composed primarily of hills and mountains, so additional driving time must be allowed. Of course, you should consider the incredible number of panoramic spots that will demand stopping to admire the breathtaking scenery.