Italian Indigenous Varieties: Canaiolo Rosa, Canina Nera and Cannonau

These first two grapes that I mention in the title of this post are basically extinct except for a few rows grown for private use, the former in Tuscany near the town of Lucca and the latter in Emilia Romagna, near the city of Ravenna. Cannonau by comparison is a very widely grown grape on the island of Sardinia.

Cannonau is the most well known of Sardinian’s red grape varieties and produces a lovely fruity red wine with a slight bitter undertone. Related to the Spanish variety Grenanche, it is also called Alicante in other parts of Italy such as the Maremma. Cannonau was brought to Sardinia from Spain during the 1400s it is thought on a mercantile ship, during the period of Spanish domination of the island which lasted from the end of the 1300s to the 1800s first under the Crown of Aragon and then under a United Spain. The Kingdom of Sardinia passed into the hands of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI as part of the Wars of Spanish succession.

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Cannonau is used to make both still wines as well as some fortified wines. I have never tried one of the fortified wines but like many of those made in the still version. It’s hard to write about any Sardinian wine without mentioning one of the most famous wine families – Argiolas. I have written numerous posts on the family, among which this one when the family patriarch died in 2009. They are by no means the only winemakers on the island but they were instrumental in putting these wines on the map, certainly in the US. Additionally, the wines are widely available and easy to approach for those who aren’t familiar with Sardinian wines.


I haven’t been to Sardinia in over 10 years but I spent an incredible three weeks there in 2001 in the town of Poltu Quatu. I sailed J24s for one week and sailed around the Maddalena archipelago for another week, sailing through the straits of Bonifacio to Corsica. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life and the lunar landscape as well as the color of the sea is forever emblazoned in my mind. If you ever get the chance to go, jump at it. If not, drinking Cannonau at home can give you a glimmer of life in Sardinia.

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