Vernaccia di Oristano DOC is a single varietal white wine made from the Vernaccia di Oristano grape grown in the Tirso river basin in the western part of the Italian island of Sardinia (Sardegna). Vernaccia di Oristano is not related to the other grape varieties known as Vernaccia (see Vernaccia group for why). The wine produced is arguably the most typical and distinct of the island, and one of the world’s great under the radar wines.

The Vernaccia di Oristano grape has been recorded here since the 16th-century at least, when it was drunk in both Italy and Greece. ‘Though legends surround its origins, the vine is probably indigenous to the Tirso valley, where it makes the most typical of Sardinian wines, Vernaccia di Oristano. Another theory is that it was planted by the ancient Romans, but it is clearly not related to any other vine called Vernaccia,’ says  (Burton Anderson: 1990, p.288).

The vines grow in the Tirso river basin and flatlands around the Stagno di Cabras lagoon north of Oristano and including 14 other townships (‘comuni’) in Oristano province. The vines are low-trained to the ground to soak up heat reflected from the alluvial sandy-gravel soil (with some presence of limestone). This produces a wine with a high level of alcohol.

Production zoneThe zone includes the communes of Baratili San Pietro, Cabras, Milis, Narbolia, Nurachi, Ollastra, Oristano, Riola Sardo, San Vero Milis, Siamaggiore, Simaxis, Simaxis, Solarussa, Tramatza, Zeddiani and Zerfaliu in the province of Oristano.

Viticulture: The vines are trained on the soil, allowing them to soak up the heat reflected from the sandy limestone-rich soil. Yields 8,000 kg/ha (Andreas März).

Wine production2006 78 hectares produced 123,600 hl. | 2007 56 hectares produced 12,600 hl. | 2008 42 hectares produced 71,600 hl. | 2009 16 hectares produced 25,300 hl. (Source 2006-2009 data: Andreas März).

Winemaking: The wine has an alcohol content of 15% vol. If it is matured for three years and has a minimum alcohol content of 15,5% vol it may be called Superiore. There is also a Liquoroso Secco (also known as Liquoroso Dry) and a Liquoroso Dolce version.

Wine styles: These range from dry, table wine to fortified versions that can be either dry or sweet. The wine is matured in small barrels in brick buildings called ‘magazzini’ which gave openings to let in air and sunlight. The barrels are left only partially filled to allow a veil of yeast or ‘flor’ to form as occurs for certain wines of the Sherry region in Spain, hence Vernaccia di Oristano has a sherry-like character (Burton Anderson: 1990, p.292-3). ‘A good approximation of a dry sherry with a clean and bitter finish,’ (Oxford Companion: 2006 p.610).

Some are aged for many years under flor, concentrating it, increasing the alcohol and oxidizing very slowly thanks to the protective flor covering. The best are actually not fortified, but do involve flor development. Typical flavours include bitter almond, dried apricots, hazelnuts, orange rind, herbs, and wilted flowers.

Wineries

Atzori. | Cantia Sociale Vernaccia (coop). | Contini. | Josto Puddu. | Serra. | Silvio Carta.

Bibliography

Andreas März, ‘Weininsel Sardinien, Auf den Spuren des Bosa’, Merum3:11 (Juni/Juli 2011) p6.

David Gleave, The Wines of Italy (Salamander Books, London, 1989).

Dr Ian D’Agata, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014).

Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p.75

Nicolas Belfrage MW, Life Beyond Lambrusco (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1985)

Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Barolo to Valpolicella—The Wines of Northern Italy (Faber & Faber, 1999).

Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Brunello to Zibibbo–The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy (2nd edition, London, 2003).