Bentu Luna of Sardinia

Gabriele Moratti’s involvement in wine has centred around his Castello di Cigognola estate in Oltrepò Pavese in the north of Italy. But this new venture takes him to a very different Italian region, the island of Sardinia, and a start-up venture called Bentu Luna. The new operaton accesses very old vines from the Sardinian hinterland, using only vineyards between 35 and 115 years of age.

Sited in an area of mixed agriculture and listed in the National Register of Rural Landscapes of historical interest, Bentu Luna say the land use here has not changed for 200 years. Vineyards are located on a plateau ranging from 350 to 700 metres altitude, composed mostly of granite and sand. They are protected by mountains to the south, whilst benefitting from the constant mild breezes from the surrounding ocean. Temperatures range from around 10º C in winter and generally stay below 30º C in summer.

The wines come from the area of DOC Mandrolisai, based on three main red wine grapes: Bovale Sardo (Graciano), Cannonau (Grenache), and indigenous speciality, Monica. Several other varieties are planted, and Bentu Luna also makes a white wine from Vermentino. However, in this region of ancient agricultural tradition, mixed vineyards are common with co-planting of varieties. They joke that it is a “Jurassic Park of viticulture.”

A New Way of Working

The project began after discussion with farmers and locals, aimed at saving a unique ampelographic and wine heritage. Vineyards risked being abandoned because they no longer created sufficient income. Bentu Luna operates on a system of shared management of vineyards – not buying them, but renting them, so they stay in family hands. The idea is to integrate local farmers and workforce, employing them and bringing investment and technological knowledge. In-house winemaker is Emanuela Flore, but various other experts are involved, like Federico Staderini who consults about spontaneous fermentation, and Beppe Caviola who is responsible for blending.

A new winery has been built using sustainable solutions and ensuring minimal environmental and social impact. Windows only on some sides of the building save energy, natural cork is used to insulate, and waste water is cleaned and reused in the fields.  In the vineyard, no tractors or machines are employed: all work is by hand, and grapes are foot-trodden before vinification in concrete tanks with spontaneous fermentation. Each ferment is begun by a ‘Pied de Cuve’ – a system where a small amount of grapes ferment in the vineyard, and the yeast that develops acts as a starter for the rest of the fermentation. Use of oak is limited to second or third-fill barriques and even the bottles are lightweight. Recycled, tape-free cardboard packaging is used for transport and cork is sourced from local forests.

This tasting of the current Bentu Luna portfolio was led by CEO Gian Matteo Baldi. It’s impossible to review these wines without mentioning the alcohols which, for the reds, range from 14.5% to 15.5% declared on the labels. That’s a product of the climate and these Mediterranean varieties and may be problematic for some, but as always, alcohol is only one part of the picture, and more important is whether the wines are balanced.

The Wines

At time of review the wines are imported by Passione Vino of London.

(2021) 100% Vermentino from a small vineyard on the Oristano coast at less than five metres above sea level. Soils are loose sand and clay and the wine is made in concrete and clay amphora. It opens with real energy and freshness, a burst of floral-touched, succulent pear and citrus, a suggestions of mineral salts too. In the mouth there is a deal of initial fruit sweetness, again fresh and bursting citrus flavours, hints of juicy watermelon perhaps, but that distinctive saltiness to the acidity kicks in. It's a concentrated and powerful wine with lots of drive and saline character into the gastronomic and dry finish.
(2021) 100% Cannonau, or Grenache, whole berries undergo a slow ferementation with natural yeasts before eight months ageing in second use barriques. Crimson in colour, though not too opaque or saturated. There's a touch of leather and earthiness, but definite red fruit character then a more floral aspect emerges. The palate is weighty and textured, a cetain rusticity adding grip and a sense of bloodiness that is gastronomic and feels very authentic. There is plum and cherry skin grip and juiciness in a wine that reveals sweet mid-palate fruit more slowly, and is quite different from Mari or Stobi in its power and rustic grip.
(2021) A Mandrolisai DOC wine made from 35% Bovale sardo, 35% Cannonau and 30% Monica. The wine is aged for six months in large, second fill oak barrels. What a lovely nose here, the perfume lifted again, with plenty of cherry and brighter raspberry characters. Such sweet fruit, but again retains that element of natural, mouth-filling rusticity. Fine sour cherry acidity, lots of spice and grip here too, chewy tannins, but the edge of firmness to the fruit and lightly saline acidity gives great freshness.
(2021) Made from 30% Bovale sardo, 35% Cannonau, 20% Monica and 15% Carignano and Barbera, vinification is similar to Susu, though the eight months of ageing is in larger oak barrels. Similarly vibrant but medium-density crimson to Susu, more floral aromas, a little more light and a little more perfume, the florals accentuated and again red berry fruit. The palate too has a more vivacious character, bright and edgy cherry fruit, fine acids and very tight tannins
(2021) This is made from whole berry and whole bunch grapes, 35% Bovale sardo, 35% Cannonau and 30% Monica, and it comes only from bush vines that are 115 years old, with production limited to 1200 bottles. It ages eight months in second-fill barriques. There's a creaminess here, a soft opening and very unforced feeling, the fruit reminiscent of sour cherries and juicy plums, a touch of balsamic and graphite here too, in a complex wine. There's a bloodiness and very tangy character here, a touch of ferrous and meat-stock quality that sits beautifully, and again some briny, saline character. It's a big wine, but has length and layers of complexity. £18 unda £25 Mari £35 Sobi £70 Sus £140 Luna

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