Sardinia is known for its centenarians and the locals believe their wine holds the answer. Good Health!

Giovanni Loi sat at the front of the hall for the lecture by the learned professor. The subject was age, something Giovanni knows a lot about. He is 98, looks about 70 and is a fit as a fiddle. He walked up the steep hill to the lecture and was going to walk home afterwards. After all, he is almost a youngster when compared with others in his community in the hills of Sardinia.   113 years was the oldest person recorded here, but in the last 20 years there have been over 3000 centenarians, out of a population of just 1.6 million.

This has put Sardinia and in particular the mountainous area of Ogliastra on the eastern side of the island amongst the very few places in the world where people live significantly longer, healthier lives. This is known as a ‘Blue Zone’.

And the secret if their long life? Undoubtedly there are many factors, but Giovanni is convinced he knows the answer. It is the Sardina wine. ‘A glass of Cannonau every day is good, two are even better,’ he said.

Cannonau is the local name for the Garnacha grape. It is the same as the Garnacha of Spain, but it is believed that this particular variety is an ancient strain that over the centuries has adapted itself to the steep slopes, high altitude and particular climate of this island. It is dark in colour and high in polyphenols, especially when grown at higher altitudes and it is this factor which may have an influence on the longevity of the locals. The flavours change with altitude too. Lower altitude wines are lively, fresh and full of cherry fruit but at higher altitudes the flavours are deeper, more concentrated and structured.

Cannonau makes up almost 30% of Sardinia’s vineyard area with the majority grown on the hilly eastern side of the island but this is not a place of vast vineyards stretching over the horizon. Most grapes are cultivated by families who have a few hectares of vines as well as sheep, olives and other crops. Many send their grapes to be made into wine at the local co-operatives known as Cantina Sociale, but recently things have started to change. There is more focus on individual winemakers, smaller, well-equipped wineries and a definite drive to produce quality wines.

At Viticoltori Della Romangia there are just 10 members who have set up their own joint way of working. They have 58 hectares between them, so they can produce a reasonable amount of wine. By concentrating on quality, and avoiding oak which seems to dominate the fruit-filled flavours of Cannonau, they are making wines that demonstrate its vibrant red fruits, with touches of liquorice, spice and a structured yet soft finish. It is wines like this that go so well with the local food, roast lamb, barbecued sausages and pecorino cheese.

The co-operative in Jerzu is much bigger with 430 farmers sending their grapes to the winery but here too there have been changes. The old winery is still in place, its massive concrete heart transformed into offices and a rooftop tasting room, but there is a new winery with new tanks, and a new philosophy. Winemaker Renato Loss has gained experience around the world and he is convinced that the future of Cannonau wines is at the fruity, non-oak aged end of the spectrum, where the grape’s natural exuberance can shine out of the glass.

At the family-owned winery of Cantina Giuseppe Sedilesu situated in the blustery hills of Mamoida there is a sparkling new winery to handle mainly Cannonau but also some of the historic old grapes that are still being grown. Organic, and in some places, biodynamic viticulture is creating individual style and depth of flavour.

While Cannonau is the flagship grape of Sardinia and has been studied most, there are excellent wines made in the south west of the island from old Carignano vines. The wines are velvety soft, plum, black pepper and herbal notes. Try Carignano del Sulcis ‘Negrominiera’ from Field and Fawcett (£11.60).

There are excellent white wines too, in particular the refreshing Vermentino di Sardegna which is light and lemon-fresh and acts as a great aperitif. Try Nord Est Vermentino 2015 at Majestic (£7.99). Sardinia is also working on its sparkling wines. I tasted one that had been aged under the sea for 6 months in an experiment to see how the flavours develop. Whilst this is probably not commercially exportable, it does show that Sardinian wine overall is pushing forward with experiments in winemaking and developing new styles and flavours.

Sardinian Cannonau wine is still difficult to find on the shelves but most independent wine merchants in our region have at least one. Try Halifax Wine Co. for the excellent, cherry and blackberry style Cannonau di Sardegna ‘Tonaghe’ 2015 from Contini (£13.50) or the robust, deep flavours of Primo Scuro Mesa Cannonau 2015 from Roberts and Speight (£11.99). These give the true taste of this delicious grape. Who knows, if we all drink one glass of Cannonau a day, or maybe even two we may follow in the energetic footsteps of the many centenarians of Sardinia.

The best way to get a taste of Cannonau is to visit the island, and while the main holiday resorts are beautiful, if a little crowded in high summer, heading off the beaten track will reveal the true Sardinia, a little rustic, authentic and full of warm, generous people as well as glorious local food.

There are magnificent caves at Grotta Su Marmuri, with underground lakes, and vast 70 metre-high caverns. There is the history and culture of the region of Mamoiada with its carnival and masks and there are the ancient Nuraghi – tall stone towers from pre-historic times.

Best of all is the local food with spit roasted meats, hand-made pasta and an addictively good type of bread known as pane carasua made a little like a pizza, then split open into paper-thin leaves and served warm, tasting of olive oil and herbs.

About The Author

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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