The Island Wine That Has Been Called ‘Sardinian Sherry’

Photo by Martina Amaro on

A few years ago I interviewed Chicago sommelier Nancy Shapardanis about rare wines from Sardinia. At the time she was with a restaurant that served Atzori Vernaccia di Oristano. She’s moved into a different position now, but I still think this is a fascinating read and I’m sharing this here today as our Italian Food, Wine, and Travel group visits Sardinia.

The full story is available on Forbes, here. Meanwhile, here’s the segment all about ‘Sardinian Sherry’ — Atzori Vernaccia di Oristano.

Jill Barth: Tell us about Atzori Vernaccia di Oristano.

Nancy Shapardanis: Vernaccia di Oristano is said to have been brought to the island of Sardinia by the Phoenicians sometime around 800 BC. The name of the grape, ‘Vernaccia,’ is most likely a reference to the local grape varieties found commonly in and around the town of Oristano. Coming from the Latin ‘vernaculus,’ which is the root of vernacular, Vernaccia may simply mean ‘a grape of this place.’ In this way, the name is not especially unique, but this grape, bathed in the Sardinian sun and blanketed in the salty sea mist definitely is.

Shepherds in Oristano were famously immune to malaria. Local legend attributed this to the Vernaccia vines and in recent years this has been proven factual. The chemical compounds in the perfume of the grapes neutralize the carbon dioxide produced from human respiration. The plumes of carbon dioxide exhaled by humans are one of the main attractors of the malaria fly. While the grapes themselves can mask CO2, the wine of Vernaccia flourishes under flor and then oxidatively.  Truly, this wine influences the environment and is influenced by its unique environment.

JB: Tell readers about flor and the fascinating aging process of Vernaccia di Oristano.

NS: Flor, the ambient yeast layer that forms on the surface of fermenting wine, is most commonly recognized in Andalucía in the production of sherry and it cannot happen just anywhere. This naturally occurring biofilm of specifically adapted Saccharomyces cerevisiae must have the right conditions to thrive. So, this ‘grape of this place,’ is not just simply grown in this environment, the wine it produces is of the air itself.

After the Atzori Vernaccia di Oristano is fermented under flor, collecting the classic aromas and flavors biologically fermented wines are known for, including nuts, apples, spice and curry, it is blended with other wine from the same year and aged oxidatively for ten years. This is truly a vintage wine. The preferred aging vessel is chestnut casks with ample headspace. After ten years in contact with oxygen, the Atzori wines have fortified themselves through evaporation. No additional alcohol has been added to reach the minimum 15% or 15.5% for reserve. The Vernaccia di Oristano we have the pleasure of serving at Coda di Volpe is of this place, of the air and of the year. It is a uniquely transportive experience. There are currently about six producers of Vernaccia di Oristano with less than 4,500 cases produced in 2016. Very few are exported.

JB: What does it taste like?

NS: The 2006 Atzori Vernaccia di Oristano exhibits aromas of dried tangerine peel, tall grasses and marzipan. On the palate, a fresh salinity of crushed shell, mint and chamomile are displayed within a framework of bright acidity. The additional ten years of bottle aging gives the 1996 Atzori Vernaccia di Oristano all of the notes mentioned above and so much more. It opens with toasted hazelnut, polished mahogany and dried marigold aromas. Once on the palate, flavors transcend from tart pear and sea spray to unexpected umami and butterscotch, like a caramelized mushroom. All of this complexity is carried along by a generous spark of acidity that extends the lengthy finish.

This interview has been edited for clarity.


Join our group on Saturday 2 September via Twitter for a chat all about the treasures of Sardegna (Sardinia). Just find our hashtag #ItalianFTW and join in. Here’s the stories that our group will share for this event.

  • Culurgiones (Sardinian Pasta Dumplings) + Pala i Fiori Cannonau 2019 published by Culinary Adventures with Camilla 
  • Wine and Cheese Delivery! Quartomoro Orriu Cannonau di Sardegna and a Cheese Board from Curdbox #ItalianFWT from Wine Predator
  • Vermentino from Sardinia – Sunlight in a glass over at Crushed Grape Chronicles 
  • Mamoiada: When a Wine Area Finds A New Fresh Voice by Grapevine Adventures
  • Cannonau and the Nuraghe of Sardinia with Surrau published on Vino Travels
  • Zuppa Gallurese and a Cannonau di Sardegna over at A Day in the Life on the Farm
  • Learn about the Italian island wine that has been called ‘Sardinian Sherry’ in a republication of Rare Wines From Sardinia And Sicily Are Complex And Historic here on l’occasion.

4 thoughts on “The Island Wine That Has Been Called ‘Sardinian Sherry’

  1. This is what I love about wine. It allows you to discover new unique places and flavors. History and tradition become reinforced by science. How amazing that this local grape could protect against malaria!

    What a fascinating wine. I love her quote “the wine it produces is of the air itself.”


  2. I am not a sherry lover however, I would love to try a sherry from this Island that is known for this wine. Thanks so much for hosting this month Jill.


  3. I don’t have much experience with sherry and certainly haven’t experienced any from outside of Spain. I will definitely remedy that as soon as I can get my hands on some sherry from Sardegna. Sounds amazing! Thanks, so much, for hosting this month’s #ItalianFWT. I love learning more about the island.


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