Neil Sowerby explores the grapes (and gins) of Sardinia at this new vinoteca on Bridge Street
ODD just off Deansgate to encounter a Mediterranean hillside awash with scents of rosemary and sage, fennel and myrtle. These wild herbs, rife across sun-seared Sardinia, are the dominant flavours of the Silvio Carta gin range, once illegal hooch on that ancient island of shepherds, fishermen and bandits, these days highly-prized, legit product of its terroir, which also yields astonishing wines, scarcely acknowledged in the UK.
Here at Sardus Vinoteca we’ve worked our way diligently through the SC gin roster – Boigin, both Pigskins, London Dry and Pink, and the granddaddy Giniu, a glorious blast of Ginepro Sardo (Sardinian Juniper, fresher and ‘greener’ than our own), then the house Vermouth that squeezes even further fragrance and flavour out of foraged botanicals.
A dash of Campari completes the experience, helping assemble Sardus’s house Negroni, the Negreddu (£9). It’s a belter.
Unbelievably, in this transformed half of the Bem Brasil site, the wines we’d come to explore were even more impressive. It’s arguably the finest Sardinian list in the country… alongside all the familiar Italian favourites.
We’d suggest you give the Prosecco and Pinot Grigio a miss at this more wine-focused (as the name suggests) offshoot of Sardus Cucina in Altrincham.
Go for Vermentino among the whites or Cannonau among the reds to accompany a menu teeming with rustic yet elegant artisan dishes.
“Just one swirl, sniff and sip and you understand why this was their breakthrough wine.”
A good test of any restaurant is its house wines. At Sardus they consider any bottle on the list a cut above that label, so expect way beyond entry level from the Santesu Isola dei Nuraghi white and red (each £24.75 a bottle, 175ml £6.85) from Cantina di Dolianova, by far the largest winery on the island.
The white, a mixture of Vermentino and workhouse grape Nuragus, is lively and fresh, while the red is full-bodied with spicy, woodland berry notes.
At the other end of the Sardus spectrum you’ll find a white and a red with iconic status in Sardinia and a reputation that extends far beyond. Their price at Sardus is £85.80 and £85.95 respectively which, believe us, is a bargain.
Capichera’s Vign’Angena Vermentino di Gallura (£85.80) is a DOCG wine, Italy’s highest categorisation. From prime Vermentino vineyards in the north of the island, it is pale straw in colour and smells of hawthorn and orange blossom. On the palate its huge freshness is combined with a mineral finish. Quite beguiling.
From the Argiolas family winery, who have been standard bearers for new wave Sardinian viticulture across three generations, comes the epic red Turriga 2014 IGT Isola dei Nuraghi.
Just one swirl, sniff and sip and you understand why this was their breakthrough wine, first released in 1988. On the nose it packs Morello cherry, mulberry and blackcurrant; in the mouth its dark fruit flavours are velvety and linger sleekly.
The wine is dominated by Cannonau (85 per cent) but other indigenous grapes fermented separately and aged for 20 months in new French oak add complexity to the final blend.
Sardinian Cannonau is a clone of the grape known as Grenache in France and Garnacha in Spain, and is a match made in heaven for sheep’s cheese, grills, or the island’s delightfully named speciality of dumpling-shaped pasta in a sausage and tomato ragu, Malloreddus.
Order a large bowl of it at the Vinoteca for just £11.80 and compare the relative merits of Sella & Mosca Tanca Farra Alghero Rosso (£39.50), a spicy, herbaceous blend of Cannonau and Cabernet Sauvignon and the single varietal Murales Su Soi Cannonau di Sardegna (£36.65). With its ripe black fruit, it's the perfect uncomplicated first date with the beauty of Sardinian wine.
Sardus Vinoteca, 124 King St W, Manchester M3 2GQ. Tel 0161 839 0007
Find out more here