The Mediterranean island of Sardinia may be best known for its beaches and sailing opportunities but its wineries are giving the world markets a run for their money. The viticultural tradition on the island can be traced back hundreds of years to 1392 when the reigning Sovereign Elenor mandated the planting of vines in uncultivated areas. Sardinia has been slow to capitalize on this ancient tradition in terms of producing quality wines but things are changing at a brisk pace. The island can be divided into three principal areas: the north is characterized by the areas around Alghero and Sassari, the center around the towns of Oristano and Nuoro and the south around the city of Cagliari.
I had the opportunity to interview and met Valentina Argiolas, of the Argiolas family a number of times. She represents a new generation of the Arigolas family in Italy, young and female. The family Patriarch Antonio is 101. He has two sons who work in the business and they in turn have three daughters and a son. The family owns some 250 hectares of land in Sardinia and produces over two million bottles of wine a year. This makes the Argiolas winery the second largest on the island. Sella & Mosca is the largest winery in Sardinia and one of the largest in the world. The Arigolas have worked with the famous enologist Giacomo Tachis for many years. In addition to his consulting, the Argiolas’ have Mariano Murru as their enologist on a daily basis. I had the pleasure of meeting Murru at Vinitaly in April. He was incredibly generous with his time and passionate about the Argiolas wines.
The Argiolas winery located in Serdiana near the city of Caligari lies at the south eastern tip of this Mediterranean island. The winery is typical of new trends in Italy towards technological innovations and the use of indigenous grapes. Founded by Valentina’s grandfather in 1918, the original winery used many types of grapes including non-indigenous ones until the 1970’s when the European Union (at that time the European Community) incentives called for the grubbing up of many of the older vines. Quality wines were the exception not the norm at that time because of the extensive quantity of poor grapes being produced. During the 1980’s the family decided to restructure the winery and the first indigenous grapes were planted in 1991. Valentina describes the winery as using innovative techniques and processes married to the traditions of the island and its indigenous grapes such as Vermentino, Cannonau, Nasco and Nuragus. Argiolas’ efforts have paid off and their famed wine Turriga and a number of others have been widely acclaimed for many years.
Sardinia has just one DOCG, the premium category for Italian wines, Vermentino di Gallura which must be made from 100% Vermentino grapes and can be aged up to three years with an alcohol level of 12% and the reserve or Superior version can rise to 13%. Sardinia is also home to numerous DOC wines. Cannonau is the second grape which is most widely seen as a future entrant to DOCG status. Turriga, the Argiolas’s premium wine is made from 85% Cannonau and 15% Malvasia Nera, Carignano and Bovale Sardo.
The Argiolas’ family exports to some 50 countries including the United States where they are represented by Winebow. As with other wineries trying to make a splash on the international market, the Arigolas family has well defined characteristics that they intend to emphasize. “We are interested in promoted the region of Sardinia through the use of local varietals.Vermentino for example from Sardinia is unique,” Valentina notes. “ We want people to buy our wines because of their quality.”
Like many women who work in wine marketing, Valentina also sees that women bring a special quality to the world of wine. “Women are very attentive to all of the details of the product from the image to the packaging to client welfare when they visit the winery,” she notes. “Women have a native sensibility and intuition that they learn at home.”
I once again tasted through the Argiolas wines at the Winebow tasting in New York earlier this year. I was very impressed and pleased to hear that Valentina is expecting…Auguri.
S’elegas DOC 2007
This wine is made from 100% Nuragus. It was fresh and fruity with some floral and mineral notes. Perfect for seafood.
Costamolino DOC 2007
This was 90% Vermentino and 10% other varietals. It was a great example of Vermentino and had its subtle floral and fruit notes with nice acidity. An easy drinking wine, I happen to be partial to Vermentino.
Is Argiolas DOC 2007
This was a bit more complex. It is 100% Vermentino and the grapes spend an extra 10 days on the vine so the fruit is much richer and more tropical, mangos, honey and nuts.
SerraLori Rosato 2007
This is a blend of Sardinian red grape varieties including Cannonau, Monica, Carignano, and Bovale Sardo. It undergoes partial carbonic maceration and spends 3-4 hours macerating on the skins and is filled with red fruits -strawberries and raspberries abound.
Costera ICT 2006
This blend of 90% Canonau, 5% Carignano and 5% Bovale Sardo had nice fruit, good tannins and pepper, and cedar notes.
Perdera IGT 2006
I like the Monica grape very much. This wine was one of my favorites with 90% Monica, 5% Carignano and 5% Bovale Sardo. It had good tannins, ripe red fruits, lead pencil and tobacco notes. I thought it was persistent and of medium + intensity.
Korem IGT 2005
This wine has an interesting story and a lovely label, that of a Greek coin found in the vineyards on the Arigolas property. It is made from 55% Bovale Sardo o Bavaleddu 35% Carignano and 10% Cannonau. I found it very well rounded with beautiful fruit and cedar, chocolate and tar notes. It spends about one year in French barriques and six months in the bottle. Valentina told me at Vinitaly this year that this was a more female wine as opposed to the very muscular flagship wine Turriga. I loved them both.
85% Cannonau, 15% Malvasia Nera, Carignano and Bovale Sardo. This spends up to two years in barriques and about 12-14 months in the bottle and can age beautifully. It was layered and nuanced with fruit, spice and oak notes coming in waves followed by leather, tar, tobacco and chocolate flavors.
Tremontis Mirtu NV
I also tried this Mirtu, a Sardinian digestif. I like Mirtu and this was an interesting one. This is made from 40 different herbs. Mirtu is an acquired taste I find and once you get hooked, its all over.
At Vinitaly I also tasted:
A blend of Nasco and Malvasia, this was a great late harvest wine. Nasco is an interesting indigenous variety.
I tasted this wine which is a celebration of the Patriarch’s first 100 years. I don’t think it id imported but if you are in Italy, try to get some. It is made from cannonau and malvasia nera which was left to raisin on the vine. It is wonderful and would be amazing with chocolate. It is rich and deeply satisfying.