Off the western coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea sits the large island of Sardegna. Just below Corsica, which is part of France, and above Sicily, Sardegna has almost 2000 kilometers of coastline and is the 2nd largest island in the Mediterranean, covering 9,305 square miles of 24,100 square kilometers.
As such, a large island (More than twice the size of the big island of Hawaii), allows for lots of interior space also, which is filled with mountains, the highest peak reaching over 6,000 feet. Along those 2000 kilometers of coastline, you will find stunning port cities like Porto Flavia, beaches like those on the Emerald Coast, and the natural wonder that is Neptune’s Grotto.
Natural beauty abounds, but so do historic sites, from the ancient Nuragic sites to Phoenician and Roman ruins.
When I wrote about Sardegna before I dove into one of my favorite white wines, Vermentino, and I did some digging on this island’s history in that post. It’s fascinating! Click the image below for more details on Vermentino and Sardegna’s history.
Foods of Sardegna
Then, of course, there is the food! From the wrinkled citrus Pompia to saffron, Pecorino Fiore Sardo cheese, seafood, lamb, suckling pig, and fregola, the pasta that looks like Israeli cous cous, there is plenty to choose from to keep your belly full.
This dive into Sardegna (or Sardinia) is inspired by the Italian Food Wine and Travel Writers (#ItalianFWT). Led by Katarina Andersson of Grapevine Adventures, we are exploring the regions of Calabria and Sardegna. Katartina’s Preview Article is here.
You will find links to my colleague’s articles at the end of this post.
The Grape – Monica Nera
I have a bit of music in my head today!
This one by The Kinks…
After doing a bit of a search, I was able to find a bottle of Monica from Sardegna nearby. This was a variety I had never tasted, so it seemed appropriate to venture in that direction!
Monica Nera, according to “Wine Grapes” (by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and José Vouillamoz), is a ‘generally undistinguished dark-skinned variety planted in Sardegna’ (you can find that on pg 653 of this over 1200 page tome)
It is thought that this grape may have come from Spain, when the island was ruled by Aragón (1323-1720). It’s also possible it could have arrived in Sardegna in the 11th Century with the Camaldolese monks. Even if it did not arrive with the monks, they cultivated this grape and spread it across Sardegna and gave it its name.
While it was originally thought to be related to the Mission grape, DNA analysis says no.
On Palm & Vine, Nikki says that genetically, Monica is related to a bunch of grapes that, quite honestly, I’m not familiar with. If you are interested, check out her article here.
This grape is made into dry still or sparkling wine under the Monica di Sardegna DOC. Under the Monica di Cagliari DOC, it is made into dry, sweet, or fortified wine, and often, you find it blended with other grapes, including Garnacha, which is here called Cannonnau.
One last note from the book “Wine Grapes” said that the wine can be boring and early drinking unless the yields are kept low. I guess we will see!
The winery – Cantine di Dolianova
Cantine di Dolianova claims a long history. While the Coop was only established in 1949, the tradition of winemaking by the people of this region goes back 3000 years.
This Coop has been around for over 70 years, and their website has a gallery of photos that now shows generations of growers. There are over 300 grower associates in the Coop; many of these families have been part of the Cantine for generations.
Dolianova is located in the southern part of the island of Sardegna, and the vineyards surround the towns of Serdiana, Donori, Ussana, Soleminis, and their namesake Dolianova. This is the southern part of the Campidano region and includes many of the Cagliari DOCs. Cagliari, by the way is the Capital and sits on the south east coast.
The winery itself has 1,200 hectares of vineyards, making it the largest winery in Sardegna. They have multiple labels for the different levels of wine. Our wine is part of their line of Dolia DOC wines. This line includes Nuragus di Cagliari DOC, Vermentino di Sardegna DOC, Cannonau di Sardegna DOC, and the Monica di Sardegna DOC, which we find in our glass.
Dolia Monica di Sardegna DOC
The Dolia Monica di Sardegna DOC wine is 100% Monica Nera, ground in the region around the winery with soils of Miocene clay-limestone. The terrain here is hilly, and the climate is dry.
The grapes are destemmed, do an 8-10 day fermentation, put into glass-line cement tanks to complete their malolactic fermentation, and then sit for several months.
So was this wine boring? Hmm… On the nose, I got red and black fruit, licorice, a bit of cocoa, rosemary, mint, and star anise. These were all primary notes, nothing from aging. It was fresh and less complicated in my mouth than on the nose. This is a wine to enjoy young and with food. It won’t make you think too hard, and you won’t want to store this away in your cellar. It is precisely what a $13.99 bottle of wine should be.
The wine retails at $13.99 at Total Wine and sits at 13.5% abv.
(You will find a link for Total Wine here on our site. If you decide to purchase this, or any other wine, through that link, we will receive a commission. We will also be grateful. That commission helps to keep our site up and running.)
The winery had suggested “dry pasta, risottos, lean mean, and medium matured cheeses.”
Looking for inspiration from local cuisine, Fregola was an easy go-to, and I had a package in the pantry. But this was a red wine that seemed to need a red meat protein. I opted for lamb. This is a protein that is available in Sardegna and seemed right for the dish.
Fregola risotto with lamb
I deboned the lamb loin chops and placed them in a stock pot with 8 cups of water.
I added two peeled carrots chopped into thirds, ½ onion unpeeled, 3 cloves of unpeeled garlic, 1 tbs salt, a sprig of fresh rosemary and sage, a small bunch of fresh thyme, a tbsp of black peppercorns, and a bay leaf.
This came to a boil, and then I turned the heat down to low to let it simmer for an hour and a half.
Then I got a large red pepper, drizzled it with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and wrapped it in aluminum foil. This went into the oven at 425 to roast for 20 minutes, then was allowed to cool (and steam) in the foil for another 10 minutes. The idea was to be able to peel the red pepper. I’ll be honest. It didn’t work.
I manage to seed and then peel a bit of it, but my patience was thin, and I tossed the chunks of pepper, peeled and unpeeled, into the food processor.
I added a pinch of salt and a dash of EVOO and let her spin. This made a relatively thin sauce that was bright and delicious. This will be served with the risotto.
I cubed the lamb and diced the remainder of my onion as well as ½ of a yellow pepper.
When the stock was done, I strained it.
Now it was time to start the risotto.
First, the lamb is seared in olive oil.
When all sides are brown, the chopped onion and pepper are added along with chopped sundried tomatoes, which will add umami to the dish. This cooks over medium heat until the onion is translucent.
Then ½ cup red wine and allow it to cook down a bit to burn off the alcohol.
When the alcohol has evaporated, add ½- 1 cup of stock and cook for 10 minutes to ensure the lamb is cooked.
At this point, remove the lamb and return the liquid to a boil.
When it is boiling, add the fregola and cook like a regular risotto, stirring down and adding broth when it is dry. This should cook for about 15 minutes.
Season the dish with salt and pepper, add the lamb, and mix.
I used a ring form to plate my risotto and served it with a splatter of the pepper sauce for some drama. (You could easily serve it with a more elegant drizzle!)
Garnish with mint, thyme, and pecorino cheese (pecorino sardo if you can find it!)
Finally, serve with a glass of the Monica, which works beautifully with the lamb and the pecorino cheese!
Campania and Sardegna with #ItalianFWT
For more on the Wines of Sardegna (and some about wines from Campania), check out the articles by my colleagues below!
- Exploring Sardegna through Vermentino & Monica by Andrea of The Quirky Cork.
- Planning a Trip to France with our Son from Germany while Sipping a Wine from Sardegna from Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm.
- Mirto di Sardegna-Kissed Braised Ribs from Cam of Culinary Cam.
- Spring in Sardinia: Surrau “Branu” Vermentino Di Gallura DOCG with Spaghetti con le Volgole (Spaghetti and Clams) by Cindy of Grape Experiences.
- Antonella Corda: Mother of Sardinian Vines by Jennifer of Vino Travels.
- On Italian Island Time: Vermentino and Cannonau di Sardegna with Pecorino and Fish Stew by Gwendolyn Alley of Wine Predator.
- Two Authentic Expressions of Native Grapes from Calabria and Sardinia by our host Katarina from Grapevine Adventures.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
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Your pairing (and notes!) were much better than mine for the Monica! It all sounds delicious. And I love the Loki the cameo!
The Lokster was very curious. He always expects to be offered a bite and, after sniffing, politely declines. I was surprised at how much I found on the nose of this wine. The palate was not as complex. This is a food wine, though, not one I want to meditate on!
I love the variety of cultural influences in the foods of these southern regions. Your dish looks beautiful and is nice to learn more about Monica, which seemed to be a top pick this month.
I love that so many are searching for and discovering wines they have not tasted or heard of! There certainly are plenty to explore in Italy!
A very interesting article, great that you could find a Monica. The origin and family of grapes is often complicated, so also that of Monica. Lots of studies come out but at times they need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Monica has a fascinating history as many others of the Sardinian grape varieties. 🙂
Yes, Sardinian grapes are so fascinating! This island has had so many influences from different cultures and peoples over such a long time period. It becomes a sort of melting pot, which makes it more and more difficult to track the specific origins. Regardless, it is very interesting!