The northwest of Sardinia, the second largest island off the coast of Italy, is well-known to Italians who frequent its white sand beaches and clear blue waters, but not so well-known to the rest of the world. Its food, produced according to traditional techniques, and the quality wine made in the region are also known primarily to locals.
Most Sardinian farmers plug along from season to season, applying age-old methods of husbandry on the farms and generational practices in their kitchens, usually yielding enough for local needs only, which suits most producers just fine. Sardinia’s home-grown food is said to be healthier and tastier than what the grocery stores import, the proof of which might be that, at last count, Sardinia comes second only to Japan in having the most centenarians.
Being an island, the sea, naturally, also plays an important role in Sardinian cuisine, where succulent seafood appears frequently and is a staple particularly on coastal restaurant menus. The Mediterranean plays a role as well, one that you probably wouldn’t have guessed. It’s now a wine cellar for fermenting sparkling wines. Yep, undersea storage of which King Triton would appreciate. Set 32 meters deep in metal cages on the seabed at an atmospheric pressure of four, along with the natural light diffusion and water movement, it’s a completely different atmosphere for the vermentino grapes fermenting in the crates of bottled Spumante, called AKÈNTA, which means “cin-cin.”
Clearly, this is not the effort of a typical winery. It’s an experiment being conducted by Cantina Santa Maria La Palma, a cooperative of vintners surrounding Alghero. Exactly 70 years ago, following the Agrarian Reform after World War II, farm workers were able to claim plots of land, and in 1959, 100 of them formed the cooperative. Cultivating the earth that separated from what is now France 300 million years ago, they embrace and exploit Sardinia’s terroir, which gives up different taste influences than mainland Italy’s. Today, there are over 300 farmers working 700 hectares of land, and this cooperative has a view to the market both on the island and beyond.
In collaboration with Area Marina Protetta (a marine protected area), Parco di Porto Conte where the grapes are grown, and Blue Service Alghero diving centre, the first experiment saw 700 bottles of AKÈNTA settled underwater for six months. The result, says Mario Peretto, president of the co-op, was rave reviews by six wine specialists, who said it was the best sparkling wine they had tried.
“Now, we are involved in an 18-month submersion experiment, and next we will try 36 months to see what the results are,” says Peretto. “Great wines are not born by chance.”
Cin-cin to that, too.
Vermentino di Sardegna DOC – AKÈNTA (sparkling wine, extra dry)
Color: Straw-yellow, hints of green, perlage fine and persistent
Bouquet: Intense, fruity, reminiscent of fresh flowers, suggestion of crusty bread
Flavor: Well-balanced, structured, smooth
Serving suggestions: aperitif, seafood dishes
Serving temperature: 6°C-7°C
Alcoholic content: 12.5-13%