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Amphora Rosso by Vino di Anna

I’m on a bit of an authentic wine craze at the moment. There’s something liberating and feel good in the down to earth aromas of place, in the sharpened edges of tannin and acidity and in the weightless purity of fruit that can only be achieved without the cumbersome burdens of excessive sugar and thick new oak.

I’m not saying oak is bad. Clearly it isn’t. But when used excessively alongside super ripeness it more often than not leads to uninteresting wines. Add to this the nuts and bolts of industrial wine making and it all becomes a bit of a turn off.

Do you have to get through some volume before this becomes relevant on the palate? I’m not sure. Maybe it is an issue rarely noticed by casual consumers. For my part, I have dispatched that volume and served my time; now organically or biodynamically produced wines seeking to let nature take its course (as far is viably possible) are an absolute breath of fresh air.

My deep inhale has come from Vino di Anna’s Amphora Rosso, of which just a mere 1800 bottles were produced. This truly is low production, hand crafted wine if ever such a definition could exist.

Bunch pressed Nerello Mascalese (which adds a streak of green) is fermented in large but old oak 15 hectare litre barrels (low surface area ratio ensure little oak flavour) for about 6 weeks. The wine is left to its own devices during this period so as not to overdo extraction.

In typical Italian fashion, the resulting wine is brimming with fresh cherries enveloped in swirling floral aromas of violets and perfumed flower. It is in these subtle aromas that the magic, and the reason wine has been eulogised for thousands of years, can be felt. The extent of Vino di Anna’s minimalist approach is demonstrated in what happens next. The wine is left to mature where it is for around nine months without fining, filtration or more importantly the addition of SO2. Without the noise of traditional cellar fiddling, the land, vintage and grape variety can be heard, free to speak however it please. (As nature intended?)

In this case, we can hear the distinctive prickly spice of Etna’s mineral rich, black volcanic soils. You can taste the stone, or at least you think you can. But it is refreshing, each contemplation on the palate requires another. Flashing past this freshness are evening aromas of lavendar, tobacco, wild herb and wood smoke. This is, like much of Etna’s authentic, a fascinating creation.

A charming Isola dei Nuraghi

There has been very little said of the lowly Sardinian IGP designation Isola dei Nuraghi. Indeed, some might counter that its role as a mere blanket appellation covering those reds, whites and rose not conforming to the stricter, more localised D.O.C.s warrants only a fleeting discussion.

Close followers of Italian wines however, will rightly point to Cantina Argiolas’s iconic ‘Turriga’ blend of Cannonau, Carignano, Bovale Sardo and Malvasia Nera as much celebrated but rarely remembered as a Nuraghi wine.

Is this because it is a mute point? It does after all have to be labelled as something; better Isola dei Nuraghi IGP than Vino da Tavola. Is it any different to the well established Tuscan craze of ‘downgrading’ wines so as to achieve more autonomy in the vineyard and cellar?

Does the strength of Turriga lie only in the winemaking experience of the Argiolas team? Do the rocky, limestone soils of Selegas not merit consideration as an intriguing sub zone of the designation? A Nuraghi Cru if you like. Is it not part of a wide and varied terroir?

Or is that the point? The terroir is so varied across all parts of Sardinia that any attempt to group wines on the basis of this origin is misleading to the consumer?

I haven’t made my mind up yet. I do believe however, that there are more than enough interesting wines labelled as Isola dei Nuraghi IGP to deserve a more detailed look at what’s going on in Sardinia. One such wine is a small production example of local grape variety Cagnulari. Labelled as ‘Muttos’ and produced by Cantina il Grappolo d’Oro, this is a wine of personality and character.

Slightly puzzling at first, it opens out to reveal gentle aromas of raspberry and cranberry. On the palate the fruit is restrained; it is attractive without craning for attention. The acidity, like many Italian varieties, is prominent but in this medium to full bodied wine the hall marks of minimalist intervention can be spotted in the wine making. There are no traces of score hunting ripeness, or trendy doses of custom toasted oak. Instead the territory does the talking.

In the mouth the wine speaks with a grainy, berry tinged voice. With provocative acidity and tannin it’s far from polished. But it works. With only a couple of thousand bottles a year in circulation it’s not one we are likely to see often. It is however a window onto a different view of Sardinia.

Grecanico: the old way

Orange wines, natural wines, authentic wines, biodynamic wines, real wines – there are lots of terms thrown around to try to categorise the rich diversity of sustainable wine styles in circulation today. It’s a fascinating topic with much to debate; how much of this vinous philosophy is reliant on science and how much is purely spiritual is open to debate. Regardless of the eventual fallout though, wines made with as large an emphasis on sustainable viticulture and respect for the environment as is commercially viable must be promoted to the hilt.

As consumers we should be doing more to influence production techniques with our purchases. Perhaps if we were truly aware of what finds it’s way into the majority of wines we would. Yet there is a better reason to support these more authentic wines. The quirky, individual aromas and flavours of these wines are considerably more interesting than the made to measure formula of sugary ripe fruit and toasty oak blasted with sulphur and filtered short of personality.

One such quirky wine, the ‘Pithos Bianco’ by Azienda COS is amongst Sicily’s most interesting whites and epitomises what I mean. It’s a blend of 100% Grecanico, a grape variety that unfortunately gets little press outside of Italy and is often unfairly lumped onto a big pile of florally yellow, Italian whites that rarely capture our imagination.

When produced with tlc, in the sun the kissed vineyards of south east Sicily, it can offer up something more. Add to that the careful, biodynamic viticulture and a vinification more akin to Ancient Greece and you have a truly special wine.

These Grecancio grapes are left to soak on their skins, absorbing colour, flavour and structure in much the same way a macerating red wine would. In addition, the must undergoes fermentation in terracotta amphora underneath the ground. The result is delightful.

A light amber colour with golden reflections leads to a clean but complex nose. Orange peel and almond, sea salt and wet rock; a myriad of freshness precedes an elegant thread of dried apricot and honey. Yet this is not sweet. The palate is dry and ruggedly structured. Firm in the mouth and fiercely proud of it’s unconventional upbringing, zesty citrus meets seaside mineral. It’s intense and highly individual. I might even say Umami if I knew what it meant. Oysters and Orange certainly.

If you do one thing this weekend go and buy this wine.