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The difficulty of mentally associating much of anything with Sardinia is understandable—it’s a distant and difficult to characterize place. Officially a province of Italy, Sardinia is the second island in the Mediterranean Sea. The Italian constitution gives Sardinian considerable liberty to run its own affairs.
Less than 1.7 million people live on its 9,300 square miles, scattered in cities and small towns. Sardinia’s weather is sometimes tropical; palm and olive trees grow there, and turbulent storms blow in from the sea. But snow also falls in the highlands. Film stars sometimes holiday on Sardinia’s beaches, but the island also is spotted with a slew of NATO bases and installations, to the ire of some locals.
The cultural is similarly hard to peg for outsiders. Italian is the official language and is widely spoken, but there is a native Sardinian language which is more Latin-esque, and comes in varying dialects. Spaniards, Italians, Greeks, and various Africans all have landed on the island over the centuries. Unlike neighboring nations, Sardinia is more matriarchal than patriarchal. Women tend to be more educated than men, but the residential literacy rate is nearly 100 percent.
One unsurprising fact about Sardinia is that it, like its continental neighbors, makes wine. Lots of it.
Yet, Sardinian wine can be difficult to find in the United States. That is because much of the wine made in Sardinia is sold there or in Europe. Palm Bay International of Port Washington, New York imports Sella & Mosca wines. And America’s strong dollar might well induce more bottles to our shores. Which would be a good thing, since the wines are good and the atypical grapes give the palate something new.
So, suffice to say that when I recently had the chance to sample Sardinian wine I had no idea what to expect. The omnipresent Cabernet Sauvignon grows there, but most of the wines came from grapes —Vermentino, Torbato, Carignano, Cannonau — that were at best vaguely familiar.
The eight wines…. Was it eight? Senator I cannot recall…. Anyhoo, the eight wines I tasted were produced by Sella & Mosca, Sardinia’s largest winery, which was founded a century ago. And I like everyone of them.
The two whites, La Cala Vermentino ($14) and Terre Bianche Torbato ($21) , were any interesting case in contrasts. La Cala has apricot and floral notes and was creamy in the mouth. Terre Bianche tasted of orange peel, apples, and was crisp. The latter was especially tasty with briny oysters.
The Sella & Mosca reds were very different from the fruit bombs one tends to find on American store shelves. A three-year old Terre Rare Carignano ($15) was a little dry, and showed blackberry and earth notes. Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva DOC was wonderfully musty—it was the taste equivalent of stepping into an old cellar where mushrooms were growing. Giovanni Pina, Sella & Mosca’s winemaker, outdid himself with Tanca Farra Alghero DOC 2011. This $27 bottle of wine blew me away as it balanced the rich fruit flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon against the earthy and leathery notes from the Cannonau grapes.
Finally, the high-end ($65 and up) Marchese di Villamarina DOC (2010, 2009, and 1999) offered a Sardinian take on Cabernet Sauvignon. Again, what one got was not the uber-tannic, fruit-forward cab model. Rather, the Marchese wines all showed modest fruit and interesting baking spices and tobacco notes. I was impressed, but I’m not the only one. Critics have deemed Marchese vintages excellent.
The next time you are perusing the drinks aisles or at a restaurant, look for one of these wines. I think you too will be impressed.
Wine is inextricably bound up with memory. This is partially because wine itself is memory—terroir is nothing but the circumstances of creation, like your parents’ blind date a dozen years before your birth. In this analogy the Clef du Vin is Match.com.
My weekday watering hole is a superlative hotel bar across the street from my office. In their denial of memory hotel bars are ideal places to drink—you will never meet these people again. And they are even better than pre-9/11 airport bars in that, while the prices also tend toward the exploitative, the quality of the booze and mixology is higher. Deb, my Stetson’s Sherpa, makes an Old Fashioned that will reduce you to tears. And they have an excellent wine list.
On a recent Thursday I found myself on a stool soon after open, alone save a refugee from an orthodontic conference at McCormick Place. He made a poor first impression, with an explicit joke about the stages of marital sex to the assembled throng of bartenders, hostesses, and managers, some of them young and female. The rank smell of good old boy; he turned out to be from Dallas. I’ve lived in Dallas, and this is a terrible sign.
But we were alone at the bar, and I was only pretending to edit a 600-page data dictionary. What could I do? I put my papers away and sidled next to him, Deb’s Old Fashioned in hand. He was drinking Budweiser and preparing to order a steak, well done (shudder). We began discussing Dallas strip clubs, which are legendary.
Then he ordered the sublime bottle of wine that is the subject of this review, and after it was delivered, opened, and poured he alternated swigs of Bud all the while. This is a story of redemption, but I’ll never forget him going back and forth between this $92 bottle of wine (~$44 retail; Excellent) and the long tall pint of the crappiest beer on Earth. The conversation shifted to my new marriage, then the poetry of country music, then his shocking admiration for hiphop, for Kanye West.
He called for Deb to pour me a glass from his bottle. I told him about my novel. He told me about the death of his teenage son. I could fairly see the bouquet rise from the glass. Life with his wife has become unbearable in the aftermath. Cloves, coffee, cinnamon, Earth. The love of a good woman. The feeling in the mouth of endless ascension. Tannins like silent fireworks.
I had forgotten how great a great California Cab can be. Still two generations on the locus of wine’s central debate/complaint, and I think my position is well known. But this past cannot blind us to the present. We tottered off our stools and I embraced my new friend. And he retired to his room, staggering only slightly, and holding the last glass in the bottle.
Kosher wine has a mediocre reputation in the United States. If asked to name a Kosher wine, inevitably most people immediately say “Manischewitz” and are not able to name another brand. In my experience, when you mention to people that Kosher wine does not have to be sweet or made from concord grapes, they are often surprised.
In the past several years, a few American wineries have been making dry Kosher wines and Israeli wines have become more common in many wine retailers.
While Manischewitz and other sweet wines will continue to be associated with Jewish rituals and family dinners, I am on a quest to try more Kosher wines and try to sway friends away from always using sweet wines for ceremonial purposes. Instead of pouring “ceremonial” wine, why not choose something that can be used both for ceremonial purposes and also as a complement to the dinner menu?
On a recent trip to visit family, I had just such an occasion. We had a large group for a dinner of prime rib and I found a good looking bottle of 2009 Tabor Winery Galil Cabernet Sauvignon in my father-in-laws liquor cabinet. Here was a chance to serve a wine that would complement the food and could be used for ceremonial purposes.
A light garnet in the class, the wine had a classic cab profile on the nose. While the wine was a little thin (probably because it was so young), it had flavors of black cherry and dark chocolate throughout. Unlike other cabs, it had almost no tannis, suggesting that it was not aged on oak for very long, and weighed in at a reasonable 13.9% alcohol. (Rating ***1/2)
Every once in a while, we have the opportunity to order wines that are not available locally. About a year ago, we had the Wine Garage in Calistoga, CA send a replenishment of James Creek Cabernet to my parents house and we also ordered a few other bottles from their inventory. Two of those bottles came from Sparrowhawk Vineyard in Healdsburg, CA. Both were Cabernet Sauvignons, one from Sonoma County grapes and one from Napa County grapes. We opened the Sonoma County wine a few days ago.
This wine is big, bold, and young. Made with 84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Malbec, the wine is a deep red color with an interesting ripe, red fruits on the nose. On first taste, the wine is very closed with spice and cherry the predominant flavors. After sitting out for a little while, the spice of the Malbec became more apparent. While it paired well with dark chocolate, this wine needs a little more bottle aging before it is ready to drink on its own. I look forward to comparing these notes against the notes form the Napa Valley Cabernet in a future posting. Approximately $25 from the Wine Garage. (Rating ***)