Antonella Corda, Sardinia

Sardinian wines are rarely seen on UK wine shelves. Unlike its island cousin Sicily, further south and east, Sardinia has not yet penetrated the mainstream wine markete here, and indeed its wine production remains one of the lowest by area of all of Italy’s regions. The reasons are probably to do with the different cultures that have occupied, or attempted to occupy, this, the second largest island in the Mediterranean. Though these include Spain, Austria and France, all strong wine cultures, Sardinia has always resisted outside influence, and its relatively remote situation means that farming on the island is diverse, having one of the world’s highest densitites of sheep (around half of Italy’s total flock), as well as cattle, wheat, fruit, vegetables and olives.

The mix of grape varieties is unusual for Italy, with French varieties dominant: Grenache (known here as Cannonau), Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon, with Vermentino and Moscato for white wines. There are also plantings of a number of very localised varieties with unfamiliar names, including Niederra, Nuragus, Torbato and Nasco.

Agronomist Antonella Corda’s journey took her from Trentino back to the Island of Sardinia and her family estate in 2010. A 40-acre farm with 15 hectares of vines and 12 of olive trees, she set about transforming it into a wine producing estate. Lying around 12 miles north of the main port of Cagliari in the region of Serdiana, there are two vineyards, both managed in a sustainable and organic system (though not currently certified), one composed of sand, clay and loam with a significant limestone presence, the other plot richer in pebbles. Vermentino is the main focus, though Cannonau and the indigenous Nuragus are also cultivated.

It is a modern operation, designed and developed in Antonella’s time, with vines trained in the Guyot system and the small cellar housing stainless steel tanks and French oak barriques, but also clay amphorae, the latter used for the ‘Ziru’ blend tasted below.

I was delighted to have a chance to taste these high quality wines, which are brought into the UK by Liberty Wines, so there is some availability through independent wine merchants and Italian specialists.

White wines

(2020) From a a seven hectare vineyard sited at 200 metres above sea level, and planted on limestone soils, this is a powerful and intense white wine, yet fragrant too. A little talcumy, quite exotic perfume, almost Riesling-like, then orange peel and waxy lemon rind. In the mouth the substantial 14% alcohol shows in texture and palate weight, with very juicy peach and apricot fruit, a broad mouth-filling presence, sweet, but soon swept up in a rush of zesty citrus acidity. Maybe a meaty fish like halibut or monkfish for this one.
(2020) A new wine from Antonella Corda, Ziru is a skin-contact fermented Vermentino, aged in amphora for 10 months, with only around 3,000 bottles produced. The nose is truly distinctive: nutty and dry with notes like seeds and dried pulses, more nutty apple fruit, a hint of Acacia honey and lemon rind. In the mouth a rush of sweet orchard fruits, really quite juicy, the acidity saline and fresh, but the fruit drives the finish. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.
(2020) First tasting of the grape variety Nuragus for me, but apparently it is quite widely planted on Sardinia. Made in stainless steel with no skin contact, and coming from limestone soils, this is clearly intended as a fresh and direct white wine, and the bouquet is of fresh-sliced pear - not the pear drop notes of fermentation, but fruity and delicately summery. In the mouth this has the typical Antonella Corda intensity and concentration, a sweep of very mineral acidity punching through in a Chablislike style. Crying out for some seafood I think. Not in the UK at time of review.

Red wine

(2020) In some ways I enjoyed drinking this most of all of Antonella Corda's wines Cannonau (Grenache), here made in a very Pinot-like, soft style, the colour pale and warm on the rim and the aromas of sweet damp earth, tobacco spices and savoury dark fruits as well as a touch of pulpy strawberry adding to the charm. In the mouth the fruit is elegant and precise, with a good framework of spicy tannin and keen acidity, but again that open-knit, Pinot-like texture and overall character and balance, it is delicious and charming. Price and stockist quoted is for the 2019 vintage.

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