Cagliari is the administrative center of Sardinia, whose provinces include Nuoro, Oristano and Sassari. The region ranks 3rd in size (24,090 square kilometers) and 12th in population (1,654,000).
Sardinians have sharply reduced vineyards and volume of production recently while notably improving the general quality of wines. Among DOC wines, whites prevail by nearly two to one over reds. The island’s most productive vineyard area is the Campidano, the fertile plains and low rolling hills northwest of the capital and major port of Cagliari. The varieties grown there, Girò, Malvasia, Monica, Moscato, Nasco and Nuragus, carry the name of Cagliari in their denominations. The wooded slopes of the northern Gallura peninsula and the northwestern coastal area around Sassari and Alghero are noted for premium whites. Vermentino dominates the dry wines, notably in Vermentino di Gallura DOCG, though the Torbato under Alghero DOC can be equally distinguished. Vermentino, a variety also planted in Liguria and parts of Tuscany, makes a white of winning style in the Gallura hills, though it can be produced throughout the region under the Sardinia DOC.
Moscato can be either still or sparkling, but it is always sweet, notably from Sorso and Sennori and the Gallura hills and the town of Tempio Pausania in the north. Malvasia may be sweet, but is perhaps most impressive dry from the town of Bosa and the Planargia hills on the western side of the island, as well as under the Cagliari DOC. Still another refined sweet white is Semidano, which has a DOC for all of Sardinia, though it is most noted from the town of Mogoro.
The most individual of Sardinian wines is Vernaccia di Oristano. From a vine of uncertain origin grown in the flat, sandy Tirso river basin around Oristano, it becomes a Sherry-like amber wine with a rich array of nuances in bouquet and flavor.
The most popular white variety is Nuragus, which is believed to have been brought there by the Phoenicians. Its name derives from the island’s prehistoric stone towers known as nuraghe. Nuragus is the source of a modern dry white, clean and crisp, if rather bland in flavor.
The island’s important red varieties are Cannonau, a relative of the Granacha brought from Spain, and Carignano and Monica, also of Spanish origin. Cannonau and Monica can be dry or sweet, though trends favor the dry type toned down in strength from its traditionally heroic proportions. Vineyards in the rugged eastern coastal range around Nuoro are noted for rich, red Cannonau. Wines of note comes from the towns of Oliena, Jerzu and Dorgali and the coastal hills of Capo Ferrato. Cannonau also makes a fine sweet wine, which can be reminiscent of Port.
A rising star among red wines is Carignano del Sulcis, from the southwest, where certain wineries have emerged with notable style recently. A curiosity among the reds is the moderately sweet Girò di Cagliari. In addition to its 20 wines of DOC and DOCG, Sardinia has 16 IGTs, the most of any region.