Tasting Cannonau at Vigne Surrau

* Observations from a sponsored press trip to the Gallura region of Sardegna, September 2015

Sardegna is full of things that draw you into the island’s untamed wildness.

Shepherd dogs herding sheep in the moonlight.

Age-old nuraghi, megalithic structures from ancient Nuragic civilization.

Cork forests where time seems to stand still.

Granite stone curiously shaped by wind, eyes of the island, watching everything.

Gallura, nuraghe

Absorbing Sardegna’s poem of powerful, mysterious, untamed wildness, goes a long way in listening for … and understanding … what Cannonau has to say.

On a recent trip to Gallura in Sardegna’s northeast corner, my visit to Vigne Surrau winery helped with the quality of that process.

Gallura, cork forest

Let’s begin by getting something sorted:

Cannonau is a synonym for Grenache, or Garnacha, if you are among the folks who believe that the vine was brought to Sardegna by the Spanish. The grape is also known as Alicante elsewhere in Italy. Cannonau is grown far and wide in Sardegna. In fact, the Cannonau di Sardegna DOC production zone covers most of the island, the vine having adapted well to the heat and dryness.

Now, how shall I say this politely … I have on other occasions tasted Cannonau that played second fiddle to the more preeminent wines of certain areas. So, regarding Cannonau in Gallura, one might naturally fear its role to be as an ornament in service to what many see as Gallura’s star DOCG attraction, Vermentino di Gallura.

Not so.

Gallura, granite

I found Vigne Surrau’s Cannonau wines to be neither self-conscious nor derivative alongside Gallura’s Vermentino tradition, able to communicate that dimension of untamed wildness and the island’s natural environment. The wines drank with an appreciated rusticity controlled with a dose of modern polish, rich, earthy, with evocative Mediterranean notes.

Surra Sincaru Sole Ruju

Sincaru 2013
Produced from Cannonau grown in decomposed granite soils. After vinification in stainless steel the wine spends several months in concrete tanks. Rich scents of wild berries, spice and black pepper, notes of Mediterranean bush. Svelte in the mouth, with a big yet supple structure, mineral sensations and great length. Sensational.

Sincaru Riserva 2011
Made only in the best vintages, after long maceration, spends 24 months in large oak. Powerful, intense, yet very smooth, this Riserva shows more nuance than Sincaru normale, a more jammy quality to the fruit, sense of forest floor, roasted meat, and a long, persistent finish. A stunning bottle of wine that sets a serious varietal benchmark.

Barriu 2012
A blend of Cannonau, Carignano, Bovale Sardo (Muristellu) and Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in French oak for twelve months and several more months in bottle. Full bodied and expansive with tons of plummy berry fruit, scents of Mediterranean bush, balanced notes of vanilla. Elegant, supple on the palate, and a persistent finish that ends with a pleasantly bitter note, courtesy, I suspect, of the Muristellu. Big personality.

Surrau 2013
A blend of Cannonau, Carignano, Bovale Sardo (Muristellu) and Cabernet Sauvignon. Vinified and aged in steel, three weeks maceration on skins. Spice and Mediterranean herbs against a bright, juicy core of fresh red berry fruit. Easy to drink.

Surrau Brut Rose 2010
100% Cannonau grapes produced using metodo classico, Surrau Brut Rose is held at constant temperature for 24 months for second fermentation, another 2 months in bottle after disgorgement before release. Light rose color like you’d see at sunset, elegantly perfumed, precise on the palate, with fine perlage. A classy, sophisticated wine.

Sole Ruju 2013
Produced with Cannonau and Muristellu (Bovale Sardo), grapes for this passito are picked during the last days of October and left to dry on trays. After fermentation is carried out in stainless steel, the wine is the aged in 500 litre oak barrels for several months. Deep ruby color, rich aromas of forest berries, fragrances that evoke the Mediterranean, and a finish that echoes on and on. A thought provoking wine of emotional intensity.

Related posts:
A Visit To Vigne Surrau in Sardegna’s Gallura Region
Vigne Surrau Winery: Fusing Nature, Art, Hospitality

Morellino di Scansano and Montecucco: Speaking Tuscan Diversity

It seems to me that the thing separating wine appreciation from mindless glass to mouth repetition is an abundant supply of drinker curiosity. For true lovers of wine, there are lines of interest to be followed, fascinations to be entertained.

That process of intelligent inquiry seems as important to any personal understanding of wine as does getting the juice into the glass.

Sangiovese … we might say the “many faces of Sangiovese” (not sure what writer first coined that phrase, but it wasn’t me) … captured my wine imagination early on. The varietal’s ability to transport me from one level of understanding to another and, on some occasions, from one state of mind to another, continues to make the Sangiovese topic one that prods my interest.

Morellino and Montecucco
A recent luncheon at Lincoln Center collaboratively hosted by Consorzio Tutela Morellino di Scansano and Consorzio Tutela Montecucco, recently allowed me an excellent opportunity to meet side by side two alluring “faces” of Sangiovese.

The luncheon format included a guided tasting and educational dialogue with producers, which helped to communicate the nuances between Morellino and Montecucco appellations in both taste and terroir.

Both Morellino di Scansano and Montecucco appellations share a unique territory in the southern coastal part of Italy, the Tuscan Maremma. While there are of course differences between the two appellations, they are connected by Sangiovese. What is so interesting here is that Sangiovese expresses itself differently within the two denominations, responding to the unique terroir of each territory.

Morellino Barrel Room
Morellino di Scansano, first awarded DOC status in 1978, was promoted to DOCG beginning with 2007 vintage. Territory elevations range from 550 meters in the interior to just a few meters above sea level as land slopes toward the plain of Grossetto. The area’s high daytime temperatures are mitigated by sea breeze, softening the mildly grippy tannins that characterize Morellino di Scansano wines. The three production styles of Morellino di Scansano are generally meant to be consumed young, the cellaring window for basic Morellino being 2-3 years and 2-5 years for the more full-bodied and Riserva styles.

Montecucco, situated between 150 and 450 meters above sea level on the slopes of Mount Amiata, was first granted DOC status in 1998. Montecucco, however, has already achieved in 2011 DOCG status for its Sangiovese wines (minimum 90% Sangiovese) and a new specification for Rosso category (minimum 60% Sangiovese). The soil of Mount Amiata, an extinct volcano, is rich in lava composites which confer a degree of minerality upon the wines. Marked daytime / nighttime temperature changes corresponding to the appellation’s hilly terrain contribute to enhanced aromatic complexity.

Montecucco Mt. Amiata

Inasmuch as the unique territories of Morellino and Montecucco denominations share Tuscany’s Maremma, wines from both appellations tend to present similarities: good underlying acidity that helps keep the wines alive, a sensation of minerality, and a characteristic elegance typical of Sangiovese.

Both denominations do each bring something new and unique to the discussion, but just as a point of reference, for me, Morellino seems to draw somewhat on the Chianti tradition of freshness, openness. Morellino’s proximity to the sea brings a roundness of tannins and good acidity. Montecucco, on the other hand, owns an intensity and dustiness that I find reminiscent of the Brunello tradition, yet the Montecucco wines still communicate freshness and allow an appreciation of wood and longevity.

Market-wise, it is an interesting point that consumers in their 20’s and 30’s, many of whom recognize brands like Chianti and Brunello, are not necessarily jazzed about drinking wines they identify as “dad’s” wines. Existing consumer awareness of Chianti and Brunello brands, however, represents a great opportunity for both Morellino and Montecucco to introduce themselves to that 20’s / 30’s consumer segment with messaging that says, “Hey guys, give Morellino / Montecucco wines a try…they are not Dad’s wines, but they are speaking the same language as Chianti and Brunello, the language of Tuscany.”

Gravy: Morellino di Scansano and Montecucco wines remain economically relevant in comparison.

In summary, the wines of Morellino and Montecucco present another side of Sangiovese in Tuscany, one that is not Chianti or Brunello or Montepulciano, but rather two unique expressions of Sangiovese that speak of Tuscan diversity.

Here is a list of wines tasted and producer references which you may find helpful:

Erik Banti “Ciabatta”, Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2012
Fattoria Mantellassi “Mentore”, Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2012
Vignaioli Morellino di Scansano “Vigna Benefizio”, Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2014
Conte Ferdinando Guicciardini Massi di Mandorlaia “I Massi”, Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2013
Terre Di Fiore, Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2014
Val Di Toro “Riviresco”, Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2013

Basile “Ad Agio”, Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva 2011
Compinuovi, Montecucco Sangiovese 2013
Collemassari, Montecucco Rosso DOC 2012
IL Boschetto “Botte 11”, Montecucco Rosso Riserva DOC 2011
Ribusieri “Chiaranotte”, Montecucco Vermentino DOC 2014
San Gabriele Archangelo “Pavone”, Montecucco Rosso DOC 2013

The Grandi Marchi Experience: Symphonic

The Grandi Marchi – visionary winemakers from across Italy – are here today at Del Posto Restaurant in New York City to lead attendees through a seminar and guided wine tasting of some of Italy’s best terroirs.

Like the Philharmonic minutes before a concert, the “orchestra” Grandi Marchi, is tuning up.

As Grandi Marchi members take their seats, tasting glasses clink and jangle, papers rustle, polite chatter and excuse me’s whispered one after another.

Audience iPhone camera shutters clllick away.


What follows is to be an immensely informative seminar, with each producer/representative speaking with subject matter expert authority about their respective regions, production methods, and unique terroirs.

I won’t kid you – the tasting segment is ridiculously pleasant. And massively instructive. The elegance, vigor, joy and pleasure of Grandi Marchi wines is remarkable.

But, for anyone who is familiar with the Grandi Marchi – member names that include the likes of Gaja, Masi, and Antinori – icons of fine Italian wine – that much is not unexpected.

What has so impressed me at this Grandi Marchi tasting – more so than any single wine or producer – is that, as a group, the wines braid together 13 different appellations and 15 wineries in a way that speaks so vividly, so sonorously, of Italy’s rich and diverse wine tradition.

To put it another way, perhaps in musical terms, the Italian wine tradition is composed not of a single tone, but from many different tones which, as in good music, allow us to experience the symphony.

There are no short cuts to understanding Italian wine. There are, however, some very good places to begin the Sassicaiajourney. Grandi Marchi wines represent a point of departure that grant you exposure to a highly relevant cross-section of Italy’s most important grape varietals and regions, act as model reference points for what wines ought to be like within their respective categories, and help to communicate the cultural values and traditions that unite them.

For more information about the Grandi Marchi, I recommend you to follow the link to Grandi Marchi Institute of Fine Italian Wines.