Here is an article I wrote back in January in honor of those who make resolutions. How are you doing on yours? I'm pleased to report I have succeeded in drinking a lot of wine.
As this is the month of making and breaking new years resolutions, I though I might present a wine for the health nut. Cannonau, a red wine grape from the island of Sardinia, is considered healthy (in moderation!) by the people behind the “Blue Zones” project. It is consumed in small doses, 3 ounces each, several times throughout the day by a population that boasts more men over 100 years old than anywhere else in the world. It should be noted that these are people who eat about 1000 times the veggies most Americans do, and keep their stress level about 2000 times lower than ours. These are not actual statistics, but imagine a world in which several little glasses of wine are sprinkled throughout the work day. Stress? What stress?
So why cannonau and not vermentino, the island’s white wine? Scientists point to resveratrol, a phenolic compound found in the skins of the grape. When red wine is made, the juice sits on the skins for longer, thus extracting more resveratrol. There have been thousands of studies that show resveratrol preforming heroic feats such as protecting the inner layer of arteries to prevent heart disease, reducing inflammation, even preventing cancer cell replication. Nevermind that the lab mice are given resveratrol in concentrations equivalent to a human drinking a hundred bottles of wine a day. Disclaimer: please don’t try that.
Cannonau allegedly has more resveratrol than other varieties. However, I cannot for the life of me find evidence of this. If you do, please let me know. Most studies say pinot noir has the highest amount of resveratrol, depending on where it’s grown and how it’s made. Malbec scores high, as does petite sirah. Malbec because of it’s thick skins, and petite sirah because of it’s small berries and high skin-to-juice ratio. Thin-skinned and disease-prone pinot noir likely tops the list since resveratrol is produced in the vine naturally to defend against fungus and rot.
But let me get back to Sardinia’s cannonau, which is all but forgotten in scientific resveratrol research. The grape goes by grenache in France and garnacha in Spain. It’s spread through the western Mediterranean was likely due to the expansion of the Aragon empire in the 1400’s which once held all the major wine growing regions now dominated by grenache/garnacha/cannonau. It’s a dry red wine that tastes noticeably different when produced in different places. In Sardinia it is spicy and bold, very dry and medium bodied making it a good pairing with the island’s ubiquitous vegetable dishes and garlicky fava beans. Spanish garnacha is decidedly more fruit-forward and a bit rounder on the palate. This is where the variety originated, so it’s made in a number of styles throughout the country; from the concentrated style favored in the Priorat region to the tannic wines of Navarra. In France, it is the most planted grape in the Rhone valley where it’s blended into a number of different styles, the most luscious of which being Chateaneuf-du-Pape.
One of my favorite producers of Sardinian cannonau is Renato Spanu whose brand, Jankara, is a labor of love. His vineyards are on a spot of land in Gallura that he admired since he was young working alongside his grandfather in the fields near his home. When he was able to, he bought that land, planted his vermentino vines, and has been making the best, most traditional Sardinian wines ever since. His cannonau is dry, spicy, and a true experssion of what this grape becomes on this island off the west coast of Italy.