Discovering Vermentino di Gallura DOCG
Vermentino is one of the many different grape varieties grown on the island of Sardegna. Most of them are indigenous, and many are unique. However, the most widely grown grapes here are red Cannonau (Grenache), and white Vermentino. Consequently, these two have become the signature grapes of Sardegna, the Isola del Vento. Doubtless, Vermentino is capable of making exceptional white wines in Sardegna. Many of the top wines are from the Vermentino di Gallura DOCG.
The Vermentino grape
Vermentino is chiefly grown around the western Mediterranean, particularly the coastal areas of Italy and Southern France. The origins of this grape remain obscure, complicated by sea-faring trade since ancient times and with many competing claims. However, without going into detail, DNA testing suggests that it’s most likely to originate from either Corsica or Sardegna.
Italian regions that grow it besides Sardegna include Piemonte, Liguria, Umbria, Tuscany, Abruzzo, Lazio, and Sicily. Meanwhile, France grows it in Corsica, Provence and the Languedoc.
Vermentino has many names, with various biotypes adapted to local conditions. In Italy, it’s also known as Carbesso, Pigato, Favorita, Carica l’Asino Bianco, Bianca Antica and Arratelau. In France, the names include Verlantin, Varlentin, Rolle, Malvoisie à Gros Grains and Malvoisie de Corse. The full list of names is even longer.
Vermentino has become increasingly popular with winegrowers. They like its tolerance of dry climates and salt-laden winds. It also keeps its fresh acidity despite the Mediterranean heat. Fortunately, this has been matched by increasing popularity with wine-drinkers too, and with good reason; it can make excellent white wines.
Vermentino in Sardegna
These days, Sardegna is the largest producer of Vermentino. There are three appellations for it. Vermentino di Sardegna DOC covers the entire island and is the subject of separate articles. The small Alghero DOC on the west coast also caters for it, while some IGT blends include it too. Meanwhile, the Vermentino di Gallura DOCG is a separate region situated on the north-east coast.
Vermentino di Gallura DOCG
This DOCG is the only one on the entire island. That was awarded in 1996, upgrading the 1975 DOC. Vermentino di Gallura has some 1,100 hectares of vines, making 4.4 million litres of wine in an average year. Mostly it is a dry still white wine. However, there are sparkling versions made using Charmat and Método Classico. There are also sweet wines made, either by Passito (dried grape) or from Vendange Tardive (late harvest grapes).
There is no Classico zone, and the main DOCG rules are straightforward. Vermentino di Gallura must be a minimum of 95%, though, in reality, most are 100% varietal wines. The minimum alcohol for the still dry white wine is 12%. 13% is necessary for the Superiore designation, usually from later grape picking. In most locations, the wines easily surpass these levels. Maximum yields are set low, but often even those are hard to achieve. Irrigation is allowed because of the dry summer climate, but usually only twice per year. Curiously, the vines are only allowed below an altitude of 500 metres. Perhaps this is for conservation, protecting the Cork Oak forests that are still economically important.
Vermentino di Gallura terroir
The Gallura wine region is almost entirely within the province of Olbia. Here is the gateway to the wealthy coastal playground of the Costa Smeralda. It’s pristine aquamarine beaches are Europe’s most expensive and exclusive addresses. Think Aga Khan, wealthy celebrities, and George Clooney’s recent scooter accident.
But Gallura is much more than the Costa Smeralda. An area of great natural beauty, the terroir here has several distinctive characteristics. There are mountains of ancient Granite rock, shining white in the sun. The sandy soils from the weathered granite are poor and don’t hold water. Then there’s the proximity to the sea with that constant wind. Indeed, the briny breeze cools the vines and helps prevent fungal diseases. In exposed locations, the grapes are grown as free-standing bushes, known as albarello, to withstand the fierce Mistral winds.
Indeed, so salt-laden is the Mistral that salt deposits can form on the vine’s leaves. The Gallura hills give many different exposures and aspects, while those vineyards at higher altitudes benefit from day-night temperature variation.
Away from the jagged coastline, the countryside retains its unspoiled wildness, and there are three National Parks. Switchback roads climb through miles of unbroken Cork Oak forest. Towering granite outcrops, olives, and fig trees act as punctuation. The thorny Mediterranean scrubland is a riot of colour, herb scents, and cacti. Views of the sea are never far away, and roaming sheep far outnumber people.
Water is a scarcity here. Unusually, this summer was green after extraordinarily heavy rains. In marked contrast, 2017 had torrid heat spikes and prolonged drought. Consequently, the 2017 vintage was particularly challenging. The small harvest was made up for by excellent grape quality.
Vermentino di Gallura profile
A typical dry white Gallura wine has a yellowish colour and fresh, snappy acidity. Typical aromatics are of fresh herbs and white flowers such as Hawthorn. Flavours range from delicate pear, grapefruit and citrus to bolder tropical fruits such as pineapple. Higher alcohol levels bring power, but this is no deterrent as long as the wine is balanced. The majority are fermented in stainless steel and see no oak. However, some examples are fermented and matured in barrique, as Vermentino does show an affinity for wood. Stylistic differences depend on winemaking and terroir. However, there should always be a distinctive flavour of almonds and a moreish salty kick.
Consequently, Gallura can be drunk as an aperitivo but is particularly at home with food. Not surprisingly, this wine has a natural affinity with the sea, so all manner of fish and seafood work well. Sardegnan Bottarga, “the caviar of the south” is a classic pairing, whether with bread, pasta or risotto. Bottarga is the salt-cured, pressed and dried roe of Mediterranean fish such as mullet or tuna. But there is no need to restrict it to seafood. Simple Fritto Misto has a wow factor. Soft or young cheeses and white meats are good too. Gnocchi and pesto will delight vegetarians.
The Vermentino di Gallura wineries and their wines
Below are 12 selected wineries, with 25 examples of Vermentino di Gallura from around the region. Most producers also make other wines, including various reds, which are also worth exploring. All the wines below are dry white wines produced in stainless steel unless otherwise indicated. Each winery is shown on this clickable Google Map.
There are also UK availability and retail prices. If the wines are not in the UK, then an indicative cellar-door price is given.
Cantina Sociale del Vermentino-Monti
This cooperative winery dates from 1956. Today it has 300 growers with 600 hectares of vineyard, half of this being Vermentino.
Funtanaliras, 2017. 13%. With 700,000 bottles, there’s plenty to go round. Despite this, there’s no better introduction to Gallura. White flowers on the nose, pear and citrus palate, almonds and salt on a persistent finish. Textbook stuff and sharply priced. GP Brands, £13.45
Aghilóia, Superiore 2016. 14%. 200,000 bottles, from old albarello bush vines. A step up in power, much softer and broader, velvet texture. Big Williams Pears, less briny than some, but all of a piece. N/A UK, €9.00
Tani is in hilly country, 15 km from the coast at Olbia, established in 1980. The 90-hectare estate grows mostly Vermentino and Cannonau. The vineyards alternate with pastures, rock and scrub. There’s also an Agriturismo and a restaurant.
Meoru, 2017. 13.5%. 50,000 bottles. Zingy, tangy, pear fruit and a welcome lightness and delicacy. Vinissimo, £16.95
Taerra, Superiore 2017. 14%. 35,000 bottles. Later picking means more sugar and less acidity. Hence this is much rounder and silkier, with elegance and finesse. Big mineral streak from the nose to the finish. Delightful. Meanwhile, the 2008 vintage had developed honey and butter notes, acacia and beeswax. Vinissimo £20.15
Cantina Un Mare di Vino
The Gioacchino family has 8.5 hectares, planted in 1949 on the northern slopes of Monte Limbara. This is a steep area that exposes the vines to full sun and the Mistral.
Terra e Mare, 2016. 13%. 25,000 Bottles from young vineyards planted in 2012. A terrific nose of garrigue, including thyme. More delicate and spare than some, perhaps that’s due to altitude. Very fresh and good value. Davy’s £13.95
Biancasmeraldo, Superiore 2015. 14%. 8,700 bottles. Older vines without irrigation. Harvested in triage, with several passes to get the ripest grapes and with up to two years on the lees. Greeny-yellow colour, salinity upfront that gives way to thyme and pears. A delicate honeyed quality makes this complete. Should age well too. Davy’s £20.50
Cantina Li Duni
Cantina Li Duni is in Badesi, in the far west of Gallura. Their 20 hectares of vineyards grow on sand on to the shoreline of the Asinara Gulf. They are unprotected from the Mistral, sun and waves. So sandy is the soil that the vines are ungrafted and they get covered in salt. Such factors make the wines here are a very different expression of Vermentino. Indeed, this beach location is extreme winegrowing.
Renabianca, Superiore 2017. 15%. 13,000 bottles from four hectares of old vines a few metres from the seashore. Bone dry, massive, yet somehow delicately balanced. Runs the tightrope between being a monster and a ballerina at the same time. Williams Pears and a mega-saline kick. Tannico, £16.46
Nozzinnà, Superiore, Amabile 2017. 16.5%. 6,700 bottles from a two-hectare plot. Vendange Tardive and tiny yields, with the wind meaning that botrytis never develops. Highly unusual, this is a massively powerful wine for meditation, made in an off-dry style. Will evolve for many years; the first release from 2002 is still fresh, with honeycomb and butter. Sip it with a book. It’s a fabulously different, boundary-pushing wine. Nozzinnà means “nothing like this”. That’s right! Tannico, £21.64
The Mura estate is a family company established in 1975. The estate is 20 hectares, near Olbia at 150 metres altitude, on flattish land. Vermentino represents 80% of production.
Cheremi 2017. 13.5%. 18,000 bottles. From their youngest, 15-year-old vines. Golden yellow, white flower nose, saline undertow, focused acidity, pear fruit. Textbook stuff. N/A UK. €12.00
Sienda, Superiore 2016. 14% 15,000 bottles. Later harvest and older vines. Deeper golden yellow, garrigue herb nose. Pears and grass on the palate. Soft acidity and with broad mouth-filling acidity. Delicious almond and salt finish. N/A UK. €12.00
A family-owned estate with 30 hectares of vines. Started in 2011, at 470 meters altitude near the Limbara Regional Park. As well as olives and Cork Oaks, the mountains are home to Golden Eagles. Vermentino accounts for 85% of production.
Rías, 2017. 13.5%. 30,000 bottles. Lemons to the fore, high acidity and minerality and a silky texture. Saline bite on the finish. N/A UK €9.00
Selenu, 2016. 14.5%. 7,000 bottles. More body, green fruits and tropical pineapple notes. Broad, with almonds featuring prominently. Salty undertow. N/A UK. €11.00
Situated in the heart of Gallura at around 300 metres and surrounded by Cork Oak. Siddùra took over an abandoned old vineyard and replanted its 22 hectares of vines in 2008. It’s on the cutting edge, with an underground winery and beautiful rolling vineyards. High tech equipment monitors vine humidity and water stress for optimal irrigation.
Spèra, 2016. 13%. 70,000 bottles. Grown at 250 metres. Fresh and punchy lighter style. Pineapple, lemon and a salty persistency. Secret Cellar, £17.50
Maìa, Superiore, 2016. 14%. 20,000 bottles. Higher vineyards at 300 metres. Later harvest wine, so riper and mellower. Seems to have an almost Riesling-like kerosene note on the nose. Juicy Mirabelle plums, a hint of apricot and a mineral and almond finish. Magic indeed. €18.00
Bèru, 2014. 14%. 5,000 bottles. Barrel fermented and then matured using 10% new French oak for 12 months, with lots of lees stirring (battonage). Bottle ageing should smooth things out, but it does blot the varietal character. Like pears in cream. Ambitious winemaking and those liking wood influence will love it. €30.00
Surrau was founded in 2004, taking its name from a valley between Arzachena and Palau. The cutting-edge winery dates from 2009. The vineyards here are a few kilometres from the sea in eastern Gallura. The estate covers 50 hectares, including 35 hectares of Vermentino.
Branu, 2017. 13.5% 120,000 bottles. Surrau calls this their “easy to drink” wine and it certainly is. Young vines, close to the sea, exuberant. Hawthorn aromatics, peach, grapefruit and mineral bite. Vini Italiani £14.00
Sciala, Selection Superiore 2017. 14%. 80,000 bottles. A real terror expression. Greenish glints, a grassy nose with aniseed, a powerful salty tang undercuts pineapple fruit. Terrific. FortyFive10 POA. €15.00
Founded in 2004, Tondini has 26 hectares, mainly of Vermentino. About 25km inland but the sea breezes still reach it. They are dedicated to low-yield wines that express their terroir.
Karagnanj, Superiore 2017. 14.5%. 90,000 bottles. An early harvest to keep freshness in a hot year. A little tannin and leesy flavours. Ital Sardo £18.50
Katala, Superiore, 2016. 14.5%. 8,000 bottles. From an older single vineyard of two hectares. Deep yellow colour and some tannins. Full-bodied, with leesy flavours alongside citrus and peach. More intensity. One for keeping. Sardinia Wine Ltd POA, €20.00
Tenute Ólbios is a family run winery, 45 years old, on low-lying flat coastal land close to Olbia airport. They farm their 60 hectares sustainably. Their wines are Vegan, use no irrigation, are low in sulphites and they use glass stoppers.
Lupus in Fabula, Superiore 2016. 13.5%. 40,000 bottles. Aged on the lees for nine months. Silver yellow with a nose of garrigue and salt. Very fresh with citrus and quince. Long finish, with a saline kick at the end. I returned to this wine again and again. Ital Sardo £21.50
In Vino Veritas, Riserva 2007. 14.5 %. 10,000 Bottles. This is a late harvest (Vendange Tardive) wine, fermented to dryness. 5% is aged in barrique, with a little deliberate oxidation for extra complexity. Glinting golden colour. A powerful meditation wine, yet you can’t feel the alcohol, due to the exquisite balance. Bone dry and silky, apricot fruit follows a saline nose before a long almond finish. A bargain! Bellavita £20.00.
Bisso, Método Classico Brut Spumante pas dosage, 2012. 12.5%. Only 6,000 bottles are made, with 27 months on the lees and no filtering or dosage. Extra Brut style, greenish tint, marzipan and herb-scented before a salty finish Razor-sharp. Terrific fizz. N/A UK
Sella & Mosca (Gallura vineyard)
My article about Sella & Mosca is here. While based near Alghero, further south, they also own a Vermentino di Gallura vineyard near Olbia.
Monteoro, Superiore 2017. 14 %. 80,000 bottles. A glinting green, full-bodied, with lemons and pears. Amazing nose of garrigue; anise, rosemary and myrtle. Lemon and pear fruit, grassy undertow and an almond finish. Delicious. Alivini £15.47
Atlantis Terre de Sardegna
Atlantis is a family-run business in Berchidda. Their 16 hectares of vineyards are at 250 metres altitude with exposure to the salty sea winds. They recommend the bottles are kept for a few years to give of their best.
Crizia, Superiore 2017. 13.5%. 35,000 bottles. Rounded, slightly buttery. Pears and lemons. Young and fresh and needs time to develop. Amazon £12.65
Crizia Collezione Oro, Superiore 2016. 13.5%. 7,000 Bottles. This is a selection of their best grapes given extra ageing in stainless steel and in the bottle. More intensity and volume, yet not more alcohol. Salty grapefruit. €16.00
These Vermentino di Gallura wines show startling quality right across the board. In short, each and every one of them will bring a great deal of pleasure. They all demonstrate the excellence of Gallura. Choosing between them is only down to personal preference. If you twist my arm, I will choose Lupus in Fabula (Tenute Ólbios), Maìa (Siddùra), and Monteoro (Sella & Mosca). However, your choice might be different and tomorrow I might choose a different three!
Olbia is rightly an increasingly popular destination for tourists. If you go, why not take this article with you and look out for these wines and others at wineries, restaurants and bars? Vermentino di Gallura is a wine region to discover, savour and return to. Whether there or in the UK.
With thanks to all the wine producers I met, the Vermentino di Gallura DOCG, and especially to Agenzia Laore for their organisation.