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Spanish Grapes In Italy: Excellent Wines From Carignano And Bovale Sardo On The Island Of Sardinia

Carignan was once, many years ago, the most grown grape in France. However, its name did not appear on the labels because the wines were simple and inexpensive, and no one cared from which grape the wine was made. Carignan is still planted in the south of France, and luckily, it has been rehabilitated. Some great wines are made from Carignan in the Languedoc today.

Carignan is a grape of Spanish origin. In Spain, it is called Mazuelo (and sometimes Cariñena). It didn’t only immigrate to France. It also found its way, a few hundred years ago, to the island of Sardinia. Now, producers make superb wines from Carignan, locally called Carignano or Bovale Grande. Sardinia also has a grape called Bovale Sardo, totally different because it is the Spanish Graciano, one of the Rioja grapes.

We have tasted wines from both the Carignano and the Bovale Sardo grapes, and we were impressed. Again. Read our previous article about the lovely Vermentino wines from Sardinia.

Historically, Sardinia has had strong links to Aragon in northern Spain. This explains why so many of the grape varieties in Sardinia come from Spain.

The island’s top Carignano wines come from Carignano del Sulci’s DOC, an appellation in the southwestern corner of Sardinia. This has proven to be an excellent area for Carignan. The vines are old, some of them over 100 years. Carignano loves the hot climate of Sulcis. The sun shines all year round. The vines can also cope with the powerful, warm winds from Africa.

Carignano del Sulcis have a special character, quite different from the French Carignan in the Languedoc. In Sardinia, the wines have warmer and riper fruit aromas and softer tannins.

Among the wines we tasted was Terre Brune from Cantina Santadi, a wine considered one of the very best from Carignano del Sulcis. Cantina Santadi was founded in 1960 and was an early quality pioneer on the island. A collaboration with Giacomo Tachis, one of Italy’s great winemakers, led to great success, and the winery has continued on that path.

Bovale Sardo

Bovale Sardo is believed to be identical to the Spanish Graciano. In Rioja, it is much appreciated by some producers. It gives an aromatic, elegant and spicy wine. In Sardinia also, it is considered a high-quality grape, and even though it has often been used in blends, you see more and more wines with 100% Bovale Sardo. The wines often have excellent acidity and sometimes also firm tannins. But a lot depends on the winemaking.


Araja 2018, IGT Valli di Porto Pino, Cantina Santadi, Sardinia

A charming, easy-drinking wine in a warm climate style with wonderfully juicy fruit. Carignano is blended with 15% sangiovese. The wine is aged in a concrete tank, not oak, to keep the fruity character.

Rocca Rubia Carignano del Sulcis Riserva 2018, Cantina Santadi, SardiniaI

Intense flavours of very ripe fruit, some liquorice and herbal notes. You feel the southern sun in your glass, combined with freshness and structure. Delicious.

Grotta Rossa Carignano del Sulcis 2018, Cantina Santadi, Sardinia

An easy-drinking, fruity style with aromas of ripe, red berries. Good volume in the mouth, nice and juicy finish.

Terre Brune Carignano del Sulcis DOC, Superior 2016, Sardinia, Cantina Santadi

Magnificent wine with dark fruit, intense aroma, balance (despite 15% alcohol) and a good structure. Also, some tobacco in the aromas. The hot, southern climate imbues the wine, but it still manages to be totally dry, with no sweetness at all. Excellent.

Nuracada Bovale 2018, Audarya, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT, Sardinia

Here, the grape is Bovale Sardo. It is a pleasant, straightforward wine with refreshing fruit, fine tannins and a certain elegance.

Su’nico Bovale 2018, Cantine Su’entu, IGP Marmilla, Sardinia

Here, too, the grape is Bovale Sardo/Graciano. Marmilla is a small IGP located north of Cagliari. The soil is clay/limestone. There’s a constant wind. Su’entu actually means wind in the local language. Warm, ripe fruit, a juicy, lingering taste. Delicious, without being too pretentious.

—Britt Karlsson

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