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Santadi Cala Silente Vermentino 1999
The Sulcis peninsula, in the island’s southwest, is Sardinia’s most ancient area, geologically speaking; rich in archaeological sites and artifacts, its landscape offers an astonishing palette of variations and contrasts. Coastal sand dunes, gentle hills and inlets, narrow strips of flatland and inland mountains, rugged cliffs overhanging the sea interspersed with silky-smooth white beaches, pine trees, junipers and vineyards. In the heart of this unique region is a medieval town called Santadi, poised like a mirage between the dazzling white sand dunes of Porto Pino and the shady quiet forest of Pantaleo, where Sardinian deer tread freely among centuries-old oak trees, cork trees and holly oaks.
Well over half a century ago – it was 1960 – a winery was founded there and named after its extraordinary location: Cantina Santadi or more simply, Santadi. Santadi was based on a partnership of fine local growers, which made it deeply rooted in Sulcis terroir. After a decade and a half establishing a reputation for severe quality standards, Santadi partners elected Antonio Pilloni as their President.
The choice was a fortunate one and in 1975 Pilloni succeeded in bringing the Cantina to international prominence; he remains at the helm today. In the early 1980s, he called on Giacomo Tachis to consult for Santadi.
Santadi and its territory, in fact, are particularly close to Tachis’ heart. As he confessed to Michèle Shah in a Decanter interview: “I’m absolutely passionate about Vermentino [and Carignano]. There are still parts of Sardinia which I consider virgin land: it’s a spectacular island, especially the south, which is the true soul of the island.”
Santadi vineyards cover an impressive 1,235 acres (500 hectares) of prime, gently rolling terrain reaching right out to the sea; all within an 18-mile radius from the winery so that fruit can be conveyed in minimal time. The soil is unique, its sandy nature conducive to the survival of pre-Phylloxera rootstock. In the words of Raffaele Cani: “The parasite does attack the roots, producing small holes in them. These cavities, however, are immediately filled up by grains of sand that heal the wounds, as it were, allowing the plant to thrive
in spite of Phylloxera.”
Named “Oenotria” by the ancient Greeks for its abundance of grapevines, Italy has always had a culture that is virtually inextricable from wine. Wine grapes are grown just about everywhere throughout the country—a long and narrow boot-shaped peninsula extending into the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. The defining geographical feature of the country is the Apennine Mountain range, extending from Liguria in the north to Calabria in the south. The island of Sicily nearly grazes the toe of Italy’s boot, while Sardinia lies to the country’s west. Climate varies significantly throughout the country, with temperature being somewhat more dependent on elevation than latitude, though it is safe to generalize that the south is warmer. Much of the highest quality viticulture takes place on gently rolling, picturesque hillsides.
Italy boasts more indigenous varieties than any other country—between 500 and 800, depending on whom you ask—and most wine production relies upon these native grapes. In some regions, international varieties have worked their way in, but their use is declining in popularity, especially as younger growers begun to take interest in rediscovering forgotten local specialties. Sangiovese is the most widely planted variety in the country, reaching its greatest potential in parts of Tuscany. Nebbiolo is the prized grape of Piedmont in the northwest, producing singular, complex and age-worthy wines. Other important varieties include Montepulciano, Trebbiano, Barbera, Nero d’Avola and of course, Pinot Grigio.
A fantastic, aromatic white grape whose best wines come from a northeastern corner of Sardinia called Gallura. Vermentino di Gallura DOCG, despite its light body, can be decidedly complex. Common flavors associated with this wine include pear, white peach, grapefruit, lime zest, fresh almond and crushed rocks. It is dry but fruity and the finish is snappy and bright. Sardinian producers like to pick early to retain lively acidity but a fuller style has also become popular. In lesser proportions Vermentino grows on the island of Corsica. But it comprises a large proportion of the whites in southern France, namely Provence, where it is called Rolle. Vermentino does well in Tuscany and in Piedmont, where it is called Favorita. It also is thought to be genetically identical to Ligurian’s Pigato grape. As Pigato and Favorita, it does well paired with fresh and simple seafood dishes and light appetizers. Wines with similar characteristics to Vermentino include Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, Albariño and Grüner Veltliner.