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Mamoiada and the Sardinian soul of Cannonau wine: Giovanni Montisci’s Barrosu

by Claudio Celio

Giovanni Montisci’s winemaking venture began over twenty years ago, when Giovanni inherited two hectares of Cannonau vineyard. When he saw those abandoned, bush-trained vines, something clicked and he decided to leave his previous profession (he was a mechanic) and become a grapegrower.

Giovanni recovered the old stock (some over 80 years old), purchased other small plots of old vineyards and started to pursue a tradition that has deep roots in Sardinia's Barbagia territory, going back several centuries.

It’s been tough, but Giovanni is a man of perseverance, and proud of it; he likes to tackle things ‘head-on,’ as he says. After selling his wine in bulk locally for a few years, Giovanni bottled his first 700 bottles in 2004, calling it Barrosu – “arrogant, conceited,” in Sardinian.

Today, the Giovanni Montisci winery is located in Mamoiada, in the heart of Barbagia, at some 600 meters [around 2,000 feet] above sea level. Production is approximately 6,000 bottles per annum, almost exclusively Cannonau, with the recent addition of a small quantity of Moscato-based white called Modestu – “modest,” though its quality is anything but.

I recently had the chance to attend a vertical tasting of Giovanni Montisci’s Barrosu in Rome, featuring all vintages produced so far: from 2004 to 2014.

The impression I gathered was that of an evolving wine with enormous potential, where the grower's craft plays a fundamental role. Cannonau is an opulent wine that tends to be very rich in sugar, and it is precisely the ratio of sugar to alcohol that supplies the key to making exceptional Cannonaus.

“The main problem is the climate,” said Giovanni. “Whenever there are excessively hot vintages, like many of the most recent, it’s harder for the bunches to reach phenolic maturity without having very high sugar levels as well. On the other hand, if you pick the bunches too early to avoid the summer heat wave, Cannonau eventually doesn't give much in return.”

What is beyond doubt is that in those years when the dynamics between sugar and alcohol is balanced, Barrosu is disarmingly delightful. Vintages like 2005, 2007 and 2011 bear all the hallmarks of great wines: rich and exuberant yet focused, fully and knowingly territorial – which, in the case of a Sardinian wine, means delicious notes of ripe red fruit (and fruit jelly) and flavors reminiscent of lentiscus, juniper and Mediterranean maquis.

In the best vintages, Barrosu inundates the palate with flavor without palling, sumptuous and supple and persistent, maintaining its impetus right to the very end. An intensely Mediterranean wine, a must-match with meat dishes, including game.