Sardinian Wine: CanGarGren

At the annual Italian Wine Week, held in New York and Chicago in February, there is so much to taste and learn, you hardly know where to start. The New York Wine Week seminar on Cannonau, Sardinia’s Noble Red is a case in point. You may know this grape variety by it’s other names, Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France.

The Spanish have long claimed to be the home of Can…uh, Gar… I mean, Gren..Oh, hell, let’s call it CanGarGren so everyone will be happy. But the Sardinians also make a case for this varietal’s origin. The theory is that CanGarGren goes back some 2,000 years, perhaps coming from as far east as the Caucasus region around the Caspian Sea in what is now Georgia (not the one that’s on your mind).

Somehow, no one knows for sure (the Phoenicians may have had a hand in it), the grape evolved and made its way to Sardinia. Unlike other parts of Italy, Sardinians resisted Greek and Roman settlements, which may have helped to promote the growing of CanGarGren, instead of Italian or Greek varietals.

The Sardinians say that CanGarGren made its way to Spain sometime between 1297 and 1713 when Sardinia was under the rule of the kingdom of Aragon in northeastern Spain. From there it eventually wound up in the  southern Rhone Valley of France where it is a mainstay of Cotes-du-Rhone and other southern Rhone reds.

I’m a big fan of CanGarGren, no matter where it’s grown–there are also some terrific ones from Australia, especially from Clarendon Hills winery–because of its rich flavor, dark color and compatibility with food.

At the Cannonau seminar in New York, there was a wide range of styles, from light and fruity to dark and tannic. Here are my two favorites:

    • Cannonau di Sardegna “Carnevale” 2007 Giuseppe sedilesu. Dark and ripe with a pleasant oak influence, this wine showed juicy berry and cherry fruit, good structure and good acidic balance.
    • Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva “Viniola” 2006 Cantina Dorgali. A somewhat lighter style though still with good richness and tannic structure. A bit softer than the Carnevale, it lays nicely on the palate.

At the tasting I sat next to Megan Price, whose family imports 11 Sardinian wines (www.selvatica.com). I was impressed with the two reds Megan sent me from the 2006 vintage. The Saint Elena ($21), made of  100% Cannonau, is rich and smooth. The Fogu ($49) contains 5% Muristella (I’ve also seen it spelled Muristellu), a ancient grape whose origins are murky. This wine had more depth and power with a nice balance of ripe fruit mingled with earth and chocolate notes. Overall I’d say it would give my two top wines above a run for their money.

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