Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sardegna and wine - a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

By chance, I’m sitting in a restaurant and nearby me is a table of four. Urban dwellers, well-traveled, by the looks of their garb and little snippets of conversation that float into the dining room for all to hear. One in the group starts talking about wine and Italy. The usual suspects are cited – Rome, Florence, Venice, The Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre. And then someone mentions Costa Smeralda in Sardegna. By this time the wine has been flowing, social lubrication amplifies the voices and one in the group states, for all to hear, “I love the Costa Smeralda, the beaches are great, the seafood holds a candle to no one and the people are friendly. But honestly, I don’t get Sardinian wine.”

It was one of those moments. In a busy dining room it was as if time had stood still. A conversational lull in the room had occurred at that time, and the last statement, “I don’t get Sardinian wine” bellowed throughout the room and careened off the walls. Had the wine gods issued a dispatch?

Moments later, the room returned to normal, the tiramisu and volcano cakes arrived and the table was on to the subject of Turkey and whether Istanbul or Izmir were the better destination. And I, as well, settled back into conversation at my table and didn’t give Sardegna any further thought.

Days, even weeks later, the subject of Sardegna and their wines came up in a conversation among friends. I recalled that moment in the restaurant, almost by chance, as we were also talking about how Italian desserts in America had become a bit of a caricature lately. It was if the gods were pulling me back into the “I don’t get Sardinian wine” discussion. And quite honestly, it’s not as if I haven’t wrestled, from time to time, with this region, their people and ultimately the wines.

In the many years I have been going to Italy, I have been everywhere. Except Sardegna. And I love islands. Been to Pantelleria twice. Salina twice as well. And Sicily too many times to recall. But Sardegna, for some reason that boat has passed me by.

For one, I’d like to go with someone who really knows the island. Not a canned tour. The language is different; the customs are foreign to me. As one of my mainland friends once said, “Those islanders, they’re different.”

Those islanders, they’re different – four words that mean so much and so little at the same time. It recalls that oft quoted phrase, “A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” From where I perch, Sardegna is all of that.

And I think that is an apt description of the wines. Whereas Sicily is a cornucopia of flavors and styles, the Sardinian wine that does escape the island and come to other ports seems restricted and even more conservative. One or two red grapes and one or two white. Maybe three. Sicily and most of the South have this varied palette of grapes and flavors, maybe too many, maybe too confusing to the average Joe. But exciting and interesting to those of us who see it as an adventure, not a chore. I like the diversity. But I don’t see that in wines from Sardegna, in my experience. I see a little of the Tuscan influence, but is that a good thing? Again, this is a view from a distance. I’m not issuing an indictment against all wines from Sardegna; perhaps I, as well, don’t get Sardinian wines.

I know from people who come from there that there is wildness to the island that time hasn’t eroded. There is also the fact that parts of Sardegna are the playground of the billionaire club. Perhaps for those folks, a Super Tuscan or a wine made in Sardegna by an important Tuscan producer is the perfect complement to a day at the beach followed by a platter of roasted meats. I’m willing to see the benefits to having a scenario like this.

I guess what I am saying is that I need to take a look, a bit closer and deeper, and see for myself, if there is something about the wines of Sardegna that can be, to me, as compelling as the wines from Sicily, from Campania, or anywhere in the South.

Maybe one of my next trips to Italy should include Sardegna. I’ll keep an ear to the ground for possible communiqués from the wine gods.

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