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Two Authentic Expressions of Native Grapes from Calabria and Sardinia

Calabria and Sardinia are in focus in the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel group this month, and that’s no April’s fool joke, but the truth. They are two very fascinating regions in Italy that are still a bit of hidden gems. Tourist destinations like Tropea in Calabria and the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, of course, get a lot of attention but there is so much more to these regions that are worth discovering. In this article, I will talk only about wine and, in particular, Magliocco and Cagnulari, which are a part of the two regions’ heritage.

In my preview article for this month’s theme, I did a general overview of the history and the wine landscape of Calabria and Sardinia. Read more about that in the article Calabria and Sardegna – All True, No April Fool’s Prank.

April with the #ItalianFWT

On Saturday, 1 April the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel group are focusing on the regions of Calabria and Sardinia. I will look closer at Acroneo winery from Calabria and Podere 45 in Sardinia which are both two smaller wineries that make artisanal wines.

Let’s Start by Looking into Two Native Grapes in Calabria and Sardinia

Magliocco

Magliocco is a grape that is grown all over Calabria and is an important part of the viticultural heritage in Calabria. There are two different varieties of Magliocco – Magliocco Dolce and Magliocco Canino – that are also grown in different areas of the region. Here, I will focus mainly on Magliocco Dolce as Acroneo winery is located in the Cosenza area where Magliocco Dolce is commonly grown.

It is a grape that just like many others in Calabria has Greek origin as a result of the Greek settlers who arrived already before the VIII century BC and who named the area Enotria. Even if it has a long history to fall back on it was registered in the National Grape Variety Register only in 2019.

Magliocco Dolce has often by mistake been called and compared to Guarnaccia nera, Greco Nero, and Gaglioppo but is in no way identical to any of those grapes but a variety all in its own. Magliocco Dolce is a grape with round berries and slightly conical-shaped, medium-sized clusters. It is a grape that ripens very late and often needs time on the vine in the autumn sun to fully mature. The tannins can be quite rugged and take a long to smoothen out.

It was often used as a blend in various wines, for example, in Terre di Cosenza DOC but in the last few years several producers have been making monovarietal wines with Magliocco Dolce. Alta Calabria, the northern part of Calabria, is the area where several smaller producers are making pure Magliocco wines.

Cagnulari

We now head over to Sardinia to look closer at the Cagnulari that had gone a bit lost for many years during the 20th century before it was re-discovered and recuperated in the last decades. Some of the reasons for this have been said to be its low yield and sensitivity to rot. Anyway, it has had a return to glory in the last few years even if there are still only about 260 hectares cultivated of this grape in Sardinia.

Cagnulari has also been called Bastardo nero, Caldareddu, Cada Reio, and Cagliunari. Even if it is an ancient grape it was first named in literature in 1877 by Di Rovasenda, according to Ian D’Agatha, and it was further considered to resemble Bovales and even Cannonau. These, however, turned out to be incorrect observations. Cagnulari is a grape with medium to large bunches, oval-shaped berries, and quite round leaves, that ripens late in October, just like Magliocco.

There have been discussions – and the research is still going on – whether Cagnulari should be considered a native grape to Sardinia or a traditional grape that has adapted to its surroundings over the years. This is because some research considered it identical to the Bovale Sardo and Graciano in 2007 but the study has not been seen as scientifically acceptable. In 2011, another research study argued Cagnulari was similar to Bovale Sardo but not identical. Another study in the same period concluded no similarities between Cagnulari and Bovale Sardo.

So far the two grapes are considered to have similarities in common but still be different varieties. D’Agatha put forward the theory in 2014 that Cagnulari might be a biotype of Bovale Sardo.

That said, Cagnulari is a very interesting grape and gives expression to the Sardinian identity, even if it might only be considered a traditional grape.

Let’s now look closer at two artisanal wineries in Calabria and Sardinia respectively.

A Winery with a passion for Archaeology in Calabria

Acroneo winery is a small artisanal winery located in Acri in the province of Cosenza in Calabria. The owner Gabriele Bafaro is an archeologist who has dedicated his research to ancient wine production methods and systems that were used in Enotria (Calabria’s ancient name) thousands of years ago. After researching ancient winemaking containers and systems during his academic career, he decided to start producing wines himself with grapes from the family vineyards. They have produced wine for their family consumption for generations, but it was only recently thanks to Gabriele’s decision that they changed direction. Their oenologist is Piero Artuso and the one who introduced me to this winery.

Gabriele says that the fundamental idea of his winery is to produce wines where they try to reproduce the ancient winemaking methods used in ancient time Calabria. He is also drawing on his research and experience of the amphoras that were used in ancient times. Here his studies have focused on both old Greek and Roman amphoras that have been the basis for the unique design he recreated and had custom-made locally. It was important for him to maintain the characteristics of the ancient amphoras channeled in a modern-day design, that will give an optimal result during the winemaking processes.

I have tasted two different vintages – 2021 and 2020 – of their Vino di Raffaele which is 100% Magliocco and their Creta Vino Rosso 2019 which is 100% Aglianico fermented and matured in amphora. Vino di Raffaele matures in barrique and it is a wine where you feel the particular character of the Magliocco and the local Calabrian territory. It has nice notes of dark fruit, earth, maquis, local field herbs, and very present tannins. The oak from the barrique is quite present in the 2021 and to a certain extent also in the 2020, I think it needs more time to smoothen out. It would be interesting to taste older vintages.

It will be very interesting to taste their Vino dell’Archeologo which is Magliocco 100% fermented and matured in amphoras underground. Here, I think it will make the Magliocco much more elegant and give it finesse, at the same time as it adds structure and complexity. At least, I believe it will.

Creta Vino Rosso 2019, their Aglianico made in amphora stored underground has a fascinating structure and complexity, giving it a full texture as well as elegance. I enjoyed it very much and as it opened up it continued to evolve. Both wines needed some time to open up. They are both wines to be enjoyed with food to appreciate them to the fullest.

A Young Vintner Giving a New Interpretation to Native Grapes in Sardinia

Gianpiero Saccu of Podere 45 is a young vintner located in the northern part of Sardinia in the La Nurra area, between Alghero and Sassari. They have about two hectares of vineyard plots where they grow Vermentino, Cannonau, and Cagnulari on poor clay soil rich in iron. The soil also has a thick structure with calcareous sublayers. Gianpiero set up the winery a couple of years ago when they divided up the vineyard plots within the family. Gianpiero’s plan is to add another couple of hectares step by step in other areas close by.

I visited Gianpiero last autumn when I was in Alghero for a couple of days, so I got to see the vineyard up close and taste both tank samples and the wines he has bottled since he started a couple of years ago. I believe his first vintage on the market was in 2020.

Gianpiero says that his philosophy is to make pleasurable, easily drinkable wines yet complex and elegant. It is furthermore very important for him to make clean wines, I fully share his view and I can attest that his wines have lovely freshness, cleanliness, and linearity.

He still has made very few vintages but what I have tasted are very enjoyable wines. The Vermentino is fresh, with the right amount of sapidity, and a nice minerality. Here, I will focus more on the Cagnulari wine that I tasted both as a tank sample and the vintages 2020 and 2021 in the bottle. The 2020 has a beautiful freshness and it almost feels younger than the 2021. Gianpiero explains that 2021 was a complicated year with the frost in the early spring and then a very warm end of summer where the grapes turned overmature.

I asked Gianpiero about the characteristics of his Cagnulari wines. He says that his Cagnulari has good acidity even though he is not in a cool area and typically has lots of colour. The aromas are between fruity and herbal in his area, and he stresses that he likes Cagnulari wines with lots of fruity notes, such as plum and red fruit. I tend to agree with him, his Cagnulari wine is fruit-forward, with hints of field herbs, maquis, and it is very fresh and clean.

Acroneo and Podere 45 are two wineries to follow and look closer at in the coming years. They are both young wineries and they are making wine with native grapes where they try to give an expression to the local territory.

Have you ever tasted Cagnulari or Magliocco wine?

Jennifer from Vino Travels shares “Antonella Corda: Mother of the Sardinian Vines

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm reports about “Planning a Trip to France with our Son from Germany while Sipping a Wine from Sardegna

Gwendolyn from Wine Predator shares “On Italian Island Time: Vermentino and Cannonau di Sardegna with Pecorino and Fish Stew

Camilla from Culinary Cam cooks “Mirto di Sardenga-Kissed Braised Ribs”

Cindy from Grape Experiences shares “Spring in Sardinia: Surrau “Branu” Vermentino Di Gallura DOCG with Spaghetti con le Vongole (Spaghetti and Clams)”

Andrea from The Quirky Cork is “Exploring Sardegna through Vermentino & Monica”

Robin from Crushed Grape Chronicles features “Monica and Fregola – a bit of Sardegna at the table

And, your host Katarina from Grapevine Adventures shares about “Two Authentic Expressions of Native Grapes from Calabria and Sardinia”

Katarina Andersson

Seen often at wine events streaming live, Katarina is a wine writer, wine educator, social media strategist, and translator. She is the founder of WinesOfItaly LiveStream. She has been a guest at The Cellar, hosted by Richard Glover, at Wine Two Five, a podcast hosted by Stephanie Davis and Valerie Caruso, and at the Twitter chat #WiningHourChat founded by Li Valentine.

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