A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Monica - Sardinia, Italy

Insularity is an interesting phenomenon.  We usually consider a group to be insular when they're tightly-knit and close with one another while being suspicious and closed minded about people and ideas that come from outside of their group.  Generally speaking, insularity is a bad thing since, at its worst, it promotes intolerance and distrust (think of cults or hate groups like Westboro Baptist Church).  Insularity is typically a result of some kind of isolation and for most of the groups that we negatively associate insularity with, ideological isolation is the root cause.  Ideological isolation typically occurs when a group shares a set of beliefs that is radically out of step with the culture they share a geographical proximity with (or are located within).  This proximity is key as insularity becomes a kind of defense mechanism to keep the ideologies of the group intact against the constant threat of other nearby groups or prevalent ideas within the community at large that are threatening to that group's own ideological base.  These constant threats can create aggression as the group seeks to protect their own beliefs through attack.  When you believe that you are surrounded and under attack, it often seems like the best defense is to come out firing.

But insularity isn't necessarily all bad.  In its more benign forms, insularity can act as a preservative for unique and interesting ideas or ways of life.  For this type of insularity, geographical isolation is the driving force.  Geographically isolated communities become insular by virtue of their distance from other groups and cultures which allows them to carry on their own traditions without much threat from outside forces or influences.  Rather than aggression, provincialism or parochialism seem to be the biggest drawbacks to insular communities formed in geographical isolation.

All of which leads us to Sardinia, which is literally insular, as the primary meaning of insular is "of, pertaining to, or resembling an island or islands."  Sardinia is located a little over 100 miles off the western coast of Italy, though it is less than ten miles from the French island of Corsica to its north.  Though it is surrounded by water today, millions of years ago it was connected to the mainland of Italy by a series of isthmuses.  It has been occupied by a laundry list of foreign powers, but never really been conquered.  The interior of the island is very hilly and most locals are content to farm and shepherd there.  Most occupiers were almost certainly more interested in Sardinia as a naval base and since the coastline was never a big part of Sardinian life, for the most part, it seems, each side let the other be.

Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea behind Sicily.  Like Sicily, Sardinia has its own local dialect called Sardo that may as well be a language unto itself.  Unlike Sicily, though, wine production in Sardinia is not that high.  Sicily tends to be near the top of Italian regions in terms of production and is responsible for about one-sixth of Italy's total output.  Sardinia, on the other hand, only produces about two percent of Italy's total (which amounts to only about 10% of Sicily's total) even though it is its third largest region by area.  The dominant agricultural crop in Sardinia was grain for many years and the focus on viticulture has really come around only in the last 60 years or so.  Wine has been made here for a long time, but for many years it was sweet and fortified wine, since their location made it necessary for them to produce wine that could survive travel well.  The focus on table wines for external markets is a very new phenomenon here, taking off really around the late 1970's.

Sardinia has a wealth of native grape varieties that aren't grown anywhere else on earth (part of geographical insularity and isolation is an abundance of unique native species, as any student of Darwin can tell you).  We'll get around to some of them (like Nuragus and Torbato) in later posts, but the grape in question today is the Monica grape.  Monica is native to Spain though it is seldom grown there today.  Conquistadors from Spain arrived in Sardinia around the 13th Century and hung around for awhile.  During their occupation many grape varieties were brought over from mainland Spain including Carignano (Carignan in France), Cannonau (Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France), Monica and Bovale which is primarily a blending grape.  Monica is widely grown on the southern half of the island, especially around the port town of Cagliari (pictured above) on the southern coast of Sardinia where it has its own small DOC area (there is a larger Monica di Sardegna DOC that covers the entire island as well).

If you are able to find Monica on American shelves, it is likely the bottling from Argiolas called Perdera.  I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2008 vintage of this for around $13.  This bottling is mostly Monica with some Bovale and Carignano making up the remaining portion.  I had thought that the blend was 90/5/5, but this is bottled as an IGT rather than a DOC, and the only explanation I can think of is that there is less than 85% Monica in the bottle, which is the minimum for the DOC classification.  If you go to the Argiolas website and read their factsheet, the wine is listed as a Monica di Sardegna DOC and a Google image search for the label seems to be split 50/50 between the two designations.  I would guess that depending on how their crops do, they have to adjust the blend from year to year and hope they can use at least 85% Monica.  The IGT listed is Isola dei Nuraghi which is a catch-all designation covering all of Sardinia.  The Nuraghi mentioned in the IGT name are ancient stone tower-fortresses that can be found all over Sardinia (there are over 7,000 of them).

In any case, the wine had a medium purplish-ruby color in the glass with aromas of stewed cherries and raspberries with a kind of musty, damp earth undertone.  It was on the lighter side of medium bodied with low tannins and medium plus acidity with tart cherry and stewed red fruit flavors.  It had some dusky chocolate and earth wet earth flavors and bit of a bitter cranberry tang to it on the finish.  This is definitely more on the Pinot Noir end of the spectrum than the Cabernet or Syrah end in terms of body and structure.  It's a simple, easy going light red wine that, like so many Italian wines, really seems to want some food to go with it.  Anything with tomatoes would be great here, as would some lighter meat dishes like turkey burgers or lean meatballs.

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