Argiolas: ‘Cannonau is Sardinia’s Sangiovese’

Cannonau, the local Sardinian term for Grenache, has been hailed by winemaker Valentina Argiolas as the “king of the red grape varieties” on the island, with the potential to produce wines with the same ageing potential as Italy’s Sangiovese.

Valentina Argiolas holding a bottle of the Sardinian winery’s latest release, a bottle of sparkling wine called ‘Tagliamare’ brut made using the local grape Nuragus.

“Cannonau is the king of red grape varieties in Sardinia because it is the most important grape grown on the island with great potential in terms of quality and ageing,” Argiolas told dbHK.

The grand-daughter of Sardinia’s winemaking pioneer Antonio Argiolas, the first vintner to import modern winemaking technology into his wine cellar in Sardinia after a viticulture trip to California and Argentina in 1978, today Valentina is part of the third generation to run the family estate.

Indeed, the thick-skinned grape is the dominate variety used in the Argiolas family’s flagship wine ‘Turriga Isola dei Nuraghi’ from the Trexenta area. A collaboration between Valentina’s grandfather and renowned Italian oenologist Giacomo Tachis, using only indigenous Sardinia varieties, it would later become the benchmark of Sardinian red after its first vintage in 1988.

The grape, which usually makes up 85% of the blend, according to Valentina, is responsible for contributing to the wine’s complexity and body.

The remaining 5% Carignano (clone of Carignan), 5% Bovale (clone of Carignan) and 5% Malvasia Nera contribute to the wine’s elegance and colour, she added.

Another term for Grenache, Cannonau has over 8,400 hectares of plantings in Sardinia, accounting for 20% of the island’s total grape growing area. In addition to ‘Turriga’, the winery makes another Cannonau-dominant wine called ‘Costera’ from its Sisini estate in Trexenta.

“When the world was planting international varieties, we decided to focus only on traditional varieties. A brave decision at the end of 70s because nobody knew these varieties such as Cannonau and Bovale,” stated Valentina, when asked about the decision to use local grapes. The genteel vintner reveals that there are more than 20 varieties cultivated in Sardinia, but she estimates there are more than 100 varieties that have yet to be studied.

In addition to Cannonau, Carignano is another red variety that has gained prominence in Sardinia, especially in the sunny seaside area of Sulcis, where pre-phylloxera vines have survived, thanks in part to the region’s sandy soils that did not allow the insects to develop and attack the vines. The winery’s ‘Is Solinas’ wine is made using 95% Carignano and 5% Bovale.

Among white varieties, Vermentino is the foremost variety planted in Sardinia, and the winery alone is cultivating various clones in different sites in Sardinia to test its many expressions. Cultivated in Corsica, Liguara and Tuscany, Vermentino is planted over 3,000ha in Sardinia, which represents 70% of its Italian production, said Valentina. The winery makes a few wines using this grape from the more approachable, fresh whites of ‘Costamolino’ and ‘Merì’ to the more complex ‘Is Argiolas’, the latter using vines first planted by Antonio in the 1970s in southern Sardinia.

Nuragus is another white grape that has traditionally been used in Sardinia for sweet wine. Argiolas, however, is increasingly using this grape for dry white and even a sparkling wine called ‘Tagliamare’, which has a limited production of 2,000 bottles a year.

The winery also makes two wines – ‘Perdera’ and ‘Iselis Monica’ – using the Monica di Sardegna grape, a white wine called ‘Iselis Nasco’ using the indigenous Nasco grape and Koream from its Sa Tanca estate in Trexenta using 55% Bovale, 35% Carignano and 10% Cannonau. 

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