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Cannonau, the Sardinian Grenache

Map of Grenache
Map of Grenache (illustration by Marcello Crescenzi)

Until a few years ago it was said that the Cannonau was imported from Spain, where it is still called Garnacha, around 1400. Recent discoveries have shown that the Sardinian vine lives in Sardinia from 1200 BC. and that from there it would have spread throughout the Mediterranean basin.

Scholars and experts agree that, from a genetic point of view, the Cannonau coincides for 80% with the Spanish garnacha and the French grenache (which, on the other hand, are totally genetically superimposable with each other).

One thing is certain: if we consider grenache as a large family where all the varieties mentioned live together, this is present in the world with something like more than 200 thousand hectares of vineyards. And the number is destined to grow.

A growing success that, for many, represents a valid third way between the prestigious Bordeaux wines on the one hand (captained by cabernet sauvignon and merlot that gave rise to Bordolese cuts in the world) and the wines of Burgundy that many dream of to be able to imitate cultivating the prestigious pinot noir.

Cannonau Grape
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The success of the grenache. The reasons

The reasons for the success of grenache are different. On the one hand we talk about varieties that adapt very well to warm climates; on the other we talk about wines that – if vinified with experience and modern techniques – are able to give more and more finesse, elegance, great drinkability and a fresh and fragrant aroma, of crunchy fruit, flowers and spices.

“The beauty of Cannonau is the aromatic originality – says Lorenzo Landi, an important oenologist-consultant who has been following the winegrower Giuseppe Gabbas for several years, in Nuoro – He gives life to a very clear wine, which tastes like red rose, fleshy, a delicate tannin, which closes soft and velvety, juicy but not sweet, and with evident Mediterranean notes. It is an isometric vine – he continues – therefore it maintains the same water potential under different conditions and when the bunch goes into stress it does not lose water. This is why it is suitable for hot climates. It is neither rich in polyphenols nor in color, the skin is thin, it gives a delicate and elegant wine, more than powerful and structured “.

For many it is the perfect glocal vine. Therefore, through its adaptation, it is able to grow in many areas of the world with more or less mild climates, as some international varieties have done in the past; but also able to acclimatise to such a point as to be able to give the glass a lot of territoriality, transmitting climate, microclimate and the characteristics of the soil in which the plants are grown.

In Sardinia, for example, the granitic decaying grounds are very suitable for Cannonau; the ancient cultivations see the ideal breeding in alberello, capable over the years – with the aging of the vines – of very low yields per hectare.

The Barbagia and the Ogliastra are undoubtedly the sub-regions where the vine is most widespread and within these we find minor areas capable of transmitting particular micro-territoriality: we talk about Mamoiada, for example, as well as Oliena, Jerzu and Dorgali.

But in Italy the variety is also found in Umbria: here it is called Gamay del Trasimeno or Perugino. In Veneto the name of grenache is Tai Rosso; in Tuscany, there is the Alicante, in Liguria the Guarnaccia and in the Marche the Bordò.

And it is precisely on the names that the perplexities of the scholars are concentrated: not so much on the Italian meanings (where the nomenclature has sometimes been tainted by dialectal inflections and sometimes by errors of confusion with other varieties), but by their comparison with the name, now widespread at the international level, of grenache.

Wines
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The origins of the name grenache

Gianni Lovicu, researcher Agris (agency of the Sardinia Region for scientific research in the agricultural and forestry sector) and researcher of different grape varieties in Sardinia among which the Cannonau has his own idea: “While from the genetic point of view there are some similarities and even under the ampelographic plan it is difficult to find differences, but it is difficult to explain why such a different name: the term grenache derives from Vernaccia and appears for the first time in medieval documents associated exclusively with white wines, such as Moscato and Malvasia, wines in aromatic, sweet and alcoholic genus. So the Cannonau, at least from the linguistic point of view, would have a history of its own. But despite this – continues Lovicu – it would be ideal to exploit the vehicle of the success of Grenache-Garnacha in the world and at the same time to assert the peculiarities of our territories that give, evidently, different products and very often the result of vinification in purity (or maximum with additions of small percentages of other grapes) to witness the vocation of some areas for this grape “.

Read Giuseppe Carrus original article (italian) on the Gambero Rosso website

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