From Sardegna with love, Carignano del Sulcis
It’s hard enough to remember all of the most well known denominations of Italy, but even harder to keep track of smaller, lesser-known wines from this prolific wine-producing country. Yet, this past Valentine’s Day brought me a little love from Italy in the form of a delicious food and wine event at New York’s Eataly and an introduction to a new wine denomination even for me: Carignano del Sulcis.
Carignano del Sulcis (not to be confused with the Carmignano DOCG of Tuscany) is produced from the Carignano grape, known elsewhere, especially France, as Carignan (and in Spain as Cariñena). Most frequently, this variety is used as a blending partner, but the Carmignano del Sulcis DOC, established in 1989, requires a minimum of 85% of the Cargnano grape, giving it greater prominence that it has elsewhere. Moreover, many wines are produced with 100% of the variety. When blended, the balance is made up of local varieties such as Bovaleddu.
Carignano del Sulcis hails from the island of Sardegna (Sardinia), which is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, situated to the west of the Italian mainland. Located in the southern-most part of Sardegna, Sulcis is the oldest area of the island in geological terms. Here, the Mediterranean climate nurtures the Carignano grape, grown in sandy soils that do not require the vines to be grafted as they are in most regions of the world.
While the average age of the local vineyards are 60-70 years old, some vines are as old as 150, providing low yields, but extremely concentrated fruit. Significant sunlight means the grapes become very ripe, but the high winds and proximity to the sea keep the wines fresh. These are generally intense wines with firm tannins, rich red fruit aromas and flavors and smoky, anise and slight herbal notes. Nicely structured, these wines can be aged for a few years, giving the tannins time to soften.
The wines tasted at a recent winemaker lunch primarily ranged from $20.00-$30.00. The most expensive of the lot was priced at $65.00 and was a more modern-styled wine with darker fruit character and longer aging potential, having spent (comparatively) considerable time in new French oak. The luncheon included a tasting of wines from five different producers: Cantina Mesa, Calasetta, 6Mura, Sardus Pater and Santadi.
Despite their intensity, these wines are at home on the dining table and paired well with a Sardinian-inspire menu of Roasting Winter Squash with Pecorino and a Carignano Reduction, Malloreddus with Sausage and Tomato Sauce and Grilled Lamb Chops with Roasted Fennel and Potatoes.