Posted by: tomciocco | May 3, 2011

CANNONAU – THE ORIGINAL NAME FOR A GREAT INTERNATIONAL GRAPE?

The Sardinian people are an exeedingly proud one. Architectural mysteries like the nuraghi (and our wine’s producer’s namesake too, by the way) document a culture that preceeded the earliest proven Carthagenian settlements that were thriving before Rome even existed. These are a people who have historically been wary of outsiders who arrived there over the millennia with regularity, and rarely with good intentions. Carthagenians, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Genoese, Catalans (Catalan is still spoken in the town of Alghero) – all (nominally) controlled the island, and all left pieces of their respective cultures, but these pieces merely became embedded but never fully absorbed into the extremely ancient  and obdurate indiginous Sardinian cultural bedrock.

And just like the Sardinians have always claimed Sardinia (or Sardegna in Italian, and Sardigna in Sardo, which is a distinct Romance language) as the location of their nation, so do they with Cannonau, a very ancient grape variety which is known worldwide by some permutation of the spelling “Garnacha” –  Grenache, Garnatxa, Granaccia, etc. This grape with the big, affable nature can be found extensively throughout Spain, a bit in Portugal, nearly all of southern France, and pockets on the Italian mainland, but via a knotty but fairly convincing battery of items of evidence, (one of which is its unique Sardinian name) some Sardinian scholars have put forth a solid case that the Catalans disseminated it around the Mediterranean beginning in the late Middle Ages via their powerful merchant navy, but that their ususal claim to it as being indigenous to the Iberian peninsula is erroneous. This whole matter can get pretty heated, and very speculative as well, but that said, if Cannonau was indeed brought to rather than from Sardinia, it was well over 500 years ago, and the unique character of the wines made from this grape on the island clearly demonstrate that the vine has uniquely adapted itself to this terroir.

This wine got drunk with a first course of gnochetti with a tomato/pepper/herb sauce, and then lamb polpette (burgers) with mint, onions, egg, garlic, etc., and a contorno of chickpeas stewed in white wine and tomato paste with saffron, red pepper flakes, and onions.

Il Nuraghe Cannonau di Sardegna “Nero Sardo” 2008

Slightly browned and clouded just barely transparent purple/garnet color. Effusive nose of spicy cherry, violets, roasted nuts, smoke, sea spray, and dusty country air. In the mouth the wine is medium-bodied, smooth and sleek, with an intense core and ethereal edges throwing off flavors of strawberry and myrtle fruit, savory notes of salami and leather with a great, juicy acid/tannin balance.  Finishes warm, soft, and long. A very successful synthesis of rusticity and elegance.

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