Argiolas Vermentino: Wine for Yosemite Sam
Perhaps the red-handlebar-mustachioed, gun-toting Looney Tunes character, Yosemite Sam, wasn't chasing a rabbit after all…. Perhaps that "varmint" was in fact "Vermentino"!
What in the good graces is Vermentino? It is a grape grown in Sardinia (Sardegna, in Italian), the island off the west coast of Italy. Don't feel bad if you've never heard of it, or never had a wine from that region. Up until the late 1970s, Sardinia was best known for producing nameless grape juice by the ton, which was then used for bottling jug wines. In the last 25 years or so, nearly all the vines in the region were uprooted and replaced, and the entire winegrowing and winemaking process was revolutionized under strict guidelines, aimed at producing lower quantity and higher quality.
The result has been exactly that, but so much so that very little of the quality wine makes it out of Sardinia. The crop yields have been so severely restricted (in the name of quality), the wineries cannot produce enough wine to meet even 50% of the demand for the island! Not surprisingly, very little makes it overseas.
But what does come out is very high quality wine at remarkably good values. The grapes Cannonau and Monica produce the best of the red wines of Sardinia, and Vermentino comprises the top exported white wines.
The better quality wine shops will carry "Vermentino di Sardegna" from one of two sources: Sella and Mosca (usually, the "La Cala") or Argiolas "Costamolino."
Argiolas Vermentino di Sardegna "Costamolino" has a clean, bright nose of citrus, fresh pear, and hints of herb and spice (cinnamon?). In the mouth the same citrusy flavors are experienced, as well as some grassy/herbal touches. Also apparent in the mouth is mineral, lots of mineral, which makes itself well known in the finish, which is extremely clean, flavorful, full of fruit and perfectly balanced. This mineral component is likely from the granite-rich soil of Sardinia, and makes a perfect complement to shellfish -- especially oysters. You can also match this wine successfully with simply prepared white fish, salads, pork and chicken.
Maybe the best thing about this wine is the price: less than 10 bucks at most stores. You will be hard-pressed to find a better wine at less than 15 bucks, so I rate this as a great value. If you don't see Argiolas, then pick up the previously mentioned Sella & Mosca "La Cala" Vermentino. It is very similar in style and taste profile, and equal in quality; the only difference is that it may run about two or three bucks more. With either label, try to get as new a bottle as possible; as of now, 2002 is the current vintage and the one you want to purchase. These wines don't age very well, and taste best when fresh. And if you're the type who enjoys a full, rich, oaky white wine, then look elsewhere, varmint!
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