Italy has such a fascinating wine industry due to the sheer variety of grapes and regions in the country. That variety is the reason why the DOC was established. With so many producers making so many wines with so many grapes, some classification system was needed to help the Italian wine industry implement quality controls. As a result, with the DOC system, Italy can determine where specific wines come from, how they’re made, and the quality standards they need to meet.
The island of Sardinia is one of the many territories that fall under the DOC remit. And in this article, we’re going to explore a grape that hails from the island and has DOC rules applied to it.
The Vernaccia di Oristano Grape
Vernaccia di Oristano is a white wine grape that is primarily grown in Sardinia. Therefore, this variety is used to create several DOC wines, practically all of which come from a small province named Oristano. The grape can be used to make both dry and sweet white wines, depending on the production methods used. Some producers even fortify it to create a sherry-like wine that is aged in a solera.
This grape variety has an extensive history in Sardinia. It has even had curative properties attributed to it, as many on the island will tell you that this grape is the reason why instances of malaria are so low in Sardinia compared to similar territories.
It’s a very interesting grape with a history that extends backwards for centuries. Local legends say that the grape was first planted on the island by the ancient Phoenicians at some point after the Semitic civilization created a port named Tharros in 800 BC. These legends may be true, though there is little in the way of documentation to substantiate them.
The documentation shows that the first mention of a grape named Vernaccia di Oristano occurred in 1327. A small town named Iglesias specified that Sardinia’s wine producers were limited to creating one barrel of each wine made using the island’s grape varieties. As a result, this name was included on that list. Moreover, the documents stated that each grape had to be kept separate, meaning we’re essentially looking at a very early version of what the DOC later became.
Even more interesting are the theories surrounding the name Vernaccia di Oristano.
Several Italian wine grapes have the Vernaccia name, with the theory being that the word derives from the Latin word “vernaculus”. That word means either “indigenous” or “native”, which explains why derivations of it exist throughout Italy. In the case of this grape variety, we can deduce that the grapes name means “native to Oristano”. And as mentioned, that province is responsible for almost all of the wines made using this grape.
At least, that’s the most prominent theory.
Others speculate that the name is derived from the Latin word “verrum”, which translates to “boar”. In this case, the name would refer to the beasts known for invading vineyards in the territory and trampling the vines so they can eat the grapes. Perhaps Sardinia’s boars developed a particular taste for Vernaccia di Oristano, resulting in the grape being named after them.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that this varietal has an interesting history. That history is undoubtedly one of the many reasons why there is now a Vernaccia di Oristano DOC.
Explaining the Vernaccia di Oristano DOC
The Vernaccia di Oristano DOC is one of the oldest in Italy, having first been established in 1971. It’s also a reasonably small DOC, with only 11 hectares of land used to produce the grapes that go into it. This leads to a relatively small production run, with only 3,450 cases made annually on average.
This wine has four classifications, including Bianco, Liquoroso, Riserva, and Superiore.
Regardless of the variety made, the production rules state that all Vernaccia di Oristano DOC wines are transferred into barrels to be aged similarly to sherry, starting from the March following the harvest. From there, a Bianco must be aged for 29 months, which includes two years spent in these barrels. A ‘Superiore’ variety of the wine must undergo three years of ageing, with the Riserva being aged for at least four years.
These ageing rules also affect the alcohol volume of the wine.
A Bianco Vernaccia di Oristano DOC must have a minimum alcohol level of 15%, which is already at the high end of what you might expect from an Italian wine. The Superiore and Riserva varieties must have a minimum volume of 15.5%, with the stronger Liquoroso requiring a minimum volume of 16.5%.
This requirement for sherry-like ageing means that producers use a special barrel called a solera. This is interesting because a new wine will be added to the top of this solera, eventually blending into barrels of wine from other vintages as it ages. As a result, this interesting process means that any vintage of the DOC wine could be a blend of wines made over several years. In fact, one Sardinian producer claims they have a solera containing wine derived from over 100 vintages, creating unique ageing conditions that lend their wines more character.
As for what you can expect from the wine, most Vernaccia DOC wines have sherry-like aromas and a deep golden colouring. They also have a nutty note, which adds a layer of complexity that you may not find in many other Italian white wines.
The Final Word
Sardinia’s winemaking history is complex and deep. And if you believe the legends, Vernaccia di Oristano has been part of that history for nearly 3,000 years. Whatever the case may be, there’s no denying that this unique Sardinian DOC wine is worth exploring, especially for white wine lovers who enjoy a little more complexity in their drinks.
At Xtrawine, we feature several wines under the Vernaccia di Oristano DOC, including the wonderful Contini Vernaccia di Oristano Flor 2018. Sample it today and find out why this spectacular grape has endured for so long.
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