You may have heard about places in the world called Blue Zones. They're mostly isolated areas whose residents enjoy, overall, a higher-than-average life span, in addition to greater physical and mental health than the world at large. The relatively insular island of Sardinia, off the coast of Italy, is a Blue Zone and, along with having active sex lives, Sardinians credit their longevity to drinking lots of local wine.
Eamon Vasquez, wine director of NYC's Lupa, says that although traditionally people have come to discover Sardinian wine through a personal connection (a relative from the region or a memorable trip), the rise in popularity of the "Blue Zone diet" has led to increased demand. Of the 20 recognized Italian wine-producing regions, perhaps the one with the most fully formed independent culture is Sardinia. Due to its inaccessibility (nine hours by boat from the Italian peninsula), the winemakers have managed to incorporate both grapes indigenous to the area and worldwide varietals, such as Cabernet and Merlot. Here are some of our favorite grapes and bottles from the island.
Vermentino: This stony and slightly floral white is grown across Italy, a perfect match for the bountiful seafood that can be found around the country's long coastline. Though the Vermentinos of Liguria and Piedmont are nothing to scoff at, the offerings from Sardinia crank up the zippy acidity and add a slight lemon custard center that is a perfect foil for substantial meals. Sabrina Mazza, beverage director at Eataly Chicago, even posits that the mild suggestion of salinity in some of these wines makes them the truest and purest expression of the Italian coastline, ideal for briny mussels and clams.
An excellent affordable bottle is the Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna, which can usually be found for around $15. If you're into ratings, the most recent vintage (2014) picked up a tidy 89 from Wine Advocate.
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Cannonau: Cannonau is the grape most commonly associated with the Blue Zone diet, as it is rich in both anthocyanins and polyphenols, compounds thought to aid in heart health. Vasquez stresses the prevalence of Cannonau among the people who live and work in Sardinia, less as a separate wine culture than as a way of life: "If you're working in the vineyards in this region, you're eating a lot of beans and protein and drinking a lot of Cannonau. It's more for sustenance than anything else." Cannonau is essentially a local variation of the popular grape known as Grenache/Garnacha, albeit one that has more peppery spice.
As many as one in five bottles of wine produced by the island are Cannonau based, so the locals take this varietal seriously. Cannonau is generally medium bodied, with tangy raspberry and black pepper notes. It's an excellent companion for rustic beef or lamb dishes. Vineyard Sella & Mosca produces a great introductory bottle for under $20. For more intermediate studies, check out the Cannonau by Cantina Oliena.
Sardinian wineries also do great work with international grapes. The Agricola Punica "Barrua" is a standout that won't decimate your bank account. This deep-colored and complex blend of local favorite Carignano, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, marries toasty leather and tobacco to rich purple fruit and freshly clipped violets. This one is the real deal.
These are just some of the many exciting things happening in Sardinia's wine culture. Even if the people in this region didn't live between 90 to 100 years (on the average), the wines would still be something special. The fact that they contain the key to immortality is just a bonus.
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