Giovanni Montisci Cannonau di Sardegna "Barrosu" 2017
Sardinia is one of Italy's largest regions, just barely smaller than Sicily which is the biggest one, and like most of the rest of Italy is fairly covered in vines but it's wines are easily the least known of the great wine growing regions. While there are a few large estates on the island, the vast majority of vineyards are tiny plots. Something like 25,000 hectares worth of vines owned by over 30,000 small farmers. Most of the production is sold off to larger entities or contributed to number of excellent co-ops on the island but a handful of these micro estates grow and bottle their own wine. One of them is Giovanni Montisci who with just 2 hectares of old vine Cannonau - aka Grenache - is making the single best wine on the island.
Giovanni made a living as a mechanic, farming a small plot of vines inherited from his wife's family on the side, until he decided to take the plunge and start bottling his own wine around 20 years ago. His wine didn't take long to earn a cult following among wine writers and collectors in European wine circles and with such small production it just stayed under the radar. Giovannis vineyards are located in Mamoiada, the highest altitude vineyard site in Sardinia, which is considered the "grand cru"site for Cannonau. This is the rugged, mountainous interior of the island some 60 miles from the coast with warm days and chilly nights slowing down the ripening process and preserving the fruit's acidity.
Unlike volcanic Sicily and Italy in general, Sardinia is one of the oldest geological formations in Europe with rock dating back 500 million years to the Paleozoic era and the decomposed, sandy granite here is perfect for Cannonau. Giovanni farms naturally without chemicals for really low yields with these old vines yielding something like less than half a bottle's with per vine. Winemaking is natural with everything being done by hand including punchdowns during the 20+ day maceration period during and after fermentation. The wine is aged in giant old botti for one year before being bottled unfined, unfiltered and practically unsulfured.
It's difficult to sum this wine up with a tasting note full of descriptors, there's just too much going on in such an expressive wine. At 15.5% alcohol you might be expecting a huge, Amarone like punch of fruit but this one is disarmingly light on its feet. There's a lovely warmth with a captivating perfume of tiny red berries, spice and incense lifted by balsamic notes of la macchia, the scrubland biome of Sardinia and Corsica where it's called maquis, a thick growth of sage, myrtle, juniper, holm oak etc. Fairly delicate on the palate with ripe but not jammy fruit and plenty of minerality. Persistent but not cloying. This would be a great pairing with braised lamb shanks or with a pungent cheese course of sheeps milk blue but this is one of those very few wines I think I might prefer on its own, a true vino da meditazione. Very little exported, just 12 bottles available.