Dettori is a mid-size winery located near the north-western coast of Sardinia (which is itself just south of Corsica). The emblematic varietal of Sardegna is Cannonau, a red grape which is also known as Grenache in France or Garnacha in Spain, and which forms large clusters of grapes tightly knit to each other. The climate of this Mediterranean island is hot in summer but the sea is never far away, bringing a cooler air especially when the Maestrale blows across the area (this north-western wind is known in Provence as Mistral). The domaine sits at a dominant altitude, it has a direct view on the gulf of Porto Torres and the sea shore is only 7 km away by road (much less as the crow flies).
It would be unjust to focus only on Cannonau, Sardinia also offers nice expressions of Vermentino, Carignano as well as several local varietals like Monica. Some of the varietals were imported a few centuries ago when Sardinia was ruled by Spain.
The viticulture on the island has been around for ages (it probably began with the prehistoric Nuragic civilization) and every expanding civilization, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans invaded Sardinia, each probably bringing the winemaking experience of their respective homeland. On the other hand, wine is said not to have played a big role in the Sardinian culture and you learn on Hugh Johnson/Jancis Robinson's World Atlas of Wine that the plantations were largely subsidized in the 20th century, encouraging the production of high-alcohol wines that were used on the continent for blendings with other wines. You learn further that when the subsidies fell in the 1980s' the vineyard surface plummeted by three quarters. Sardinia wine followed a different path compared to continental Italy, with somehow a loose connection with the fabric of the local culture, but there has been a comeback lately. Among the remaining cantinas (domaines) on the island today, there are a few good ones, the best making a handful of wineries in total.
Dettori is a cantina with a history of several generations, today its vineyards are farmed organic and along biodynamics, and the wines are made totally naturally, unfiltered and unfined, and often without added sulfites.
The region is clearly Mediterranean, with a garrigue resembling the one in Provence even if I saw some differences in the type of weeds and bushes, we're more south here. The facility sits atop a plateau overlooking the slope down to the sea. The winery was renovated some time ago and had new additions on the premises, a couple of rooms for the hosts (where I stayed) and a gastronomic restaurant managed by a young chef and his wife. This agriturismo restaurant is named Kent'Annos and is ranked #1 of 6 restaurants in the Sennori area. This was a press trip organized by Emma Bentley, a Paris-based wine agent for artisan producers, and we were 5 wine writers lucky enough to enjoy the treat in this beautiful october season.
Allessandro Dettori toured us along several parcels near the winery. The cantina [domaine] vineyard surface makes 24 hectares, some parcels close to the facility and others more isolated in the garrigue along the slope. There aren't large monolyth parcels from what I saw, because hedges of garrigue, bushes and prairies with wild flowers and weeds separate more or less the different blocks, sometimes it's simply a traditional low stone wall. The whole area (we can say that for all of Sardinia it seems to me) looks parched and dry like it hasn't rained for months, but in spite of this obvious water stress the plant life including the vines seem to be fine, just that they adapt the size of their leaves or (like for the vine) let their leaves fall.
The soils are quite diverese, Alessandro says, Further down in the valley, he says the soil is sandy, which is good for Muscat of Alexandria and the Passito. For Cannonau, he says, you need limestone (calcário) because the vine needs stress.
He says that normally Sardinian people don't go easily after new ways, they are very cautious and conservative, but still, this land has been farmed by his family on a very traditional way until 2003, just sulfur, no copper. They only used some copper in 2009 because they had occurences of Pernospora, a fongi similar to oidium from what I understand. And they use sulfur very little, usually 2 or 3 times a year (beginning in may), so the vineyard gets very little treatments, even if organic compliant. For this reason he didn't feel compelled at first to do more and join biodynamics, and he says it was an error, he thought biodynamics was another traditional farming system, but he discovered at Petrilli's domaine (Tenuta di Valgiano) that it made indeed a big difference...
Still, he says, he doesn't flash the organic/biodynamic certifications on his labels because in his mind they're not the final goal, the goal being the wines, nor organic-biodynamic wines per se. He wants people to see his wines as terroir driven.
Alessandro says that Cannonau has particularities, first it tends to abort its flowers very easily because the vine is so strong, then it has three successive leaves appearing after each other, he shows the last that seem indeed very new, he says they're from this september and they grew after the previous ones fell down. The real problem right now is the lack of water, he says, there's a dire need of rain in the vineyard.
Asked about the weather in 2014, Alessandro Dettori says that he has never seen so much rain fall on the region. But first, on the 18th of june it was the first time ever he saw hail (grandine in Italian) fall here, it may come occasionally in winter of course but never in this summer season, that was a first. This was a first-ever expereience for his father Paulo who is 64, he had never seen such a thing. At that time he called Valgiano and also Stefano Belloti (Cascina degli Ulivi) asking
for advice about how to cure all this mess on the vines and grapes. They quieted him down, saying don't worry, and he didn't understand how they could say that, but indeed the grapes which were still green healed with just a bit of sulfur, and those that had been cut in two by the hail just dried and leter fell on the ground, leaving the rest of the cluster immune to collateral rot. After feeling quite depressed for 2 weeks he realized that the problem had gone away and that the vines & grapes had recovered...
There was some rain in april and also in may but beginning the 1st of june it rained every day until the 21th of july, then slowed but still rained until august 8 or 10, then it stopped but he says he never could see the sun in august, he says that he was more tanned in february than in august, he never saw a wheather like that before, even the temperature was unusually cold, and when there was no rain there was a cold wind instead. Then, from the 27th or 28th os september the weather cleared and it was like if august had come back at last, and since then, no rain.
And the problem today is that he needs rain, not to feed the vines which can stand drought, but to have the soil in the ideal moisture balance so that the plowing breaks the earth in small blocks. He shows us what it makes on the soil to plow when it's dry like today : he throws his hand like a plow along the surface and shows afterward how the soil turns into something almost as thin as sand, when he wants the plowed earth to break instead into multiple individual chunks in which microbial, insect life continues unhindered. He uses a tractor to open the soil deeply, 0,8 or even 1 meter deep, and for that he needs to use a tractor because it can do it slowly, something a horse can't.
He showed us later this tool, the red one, on which he mounts at this occasion the long narrow blades like the one lying in front, they're designed to cut open the earth and make it breath, not only the oxygen but all the air elements. When the ground is compacted it can't breath and have any air input, which has consequences on the undersoil life. When the ground is plowed this way, he says, it s better equiped to later receive the preparation 500 of biodynamics.
In order to have a diverse grass & herbs life in the vineyard, he also sows weed seeds between the rows, 20 to 30 different sorts, seeding every other row once a year. He also uses the tractor for the organic sprayings but he considers doing these sprayings by foot in the future in order not to compact the ground, he says that it's also better to visualize directly every vine, something which is less convenient on a tractor. To explain why he prefers deep plowing compared to, say, only 10 cm plowing, Alessandro says that there are two schools in biodynamy, the one inspired by Pfeiffer who worked with Steiner and the one of Maria Thun. Alessandro feels more attracted by the school of Alex Podolinsky, who was a Jewish immigrant to Australia and who developped/adapted the biodynamics taught initially by Rudolf Steiner.
While we were still on the dirt road along the Tenores parcel, Alessandro said that both sides of the road were part of Tenores, but the terroir was very different on each side, one showing a chalk/ashes-colored earth while the other had a more orange/clayish color. He says he calls this cuvée Tenores because like in a song, he gets two voices to make this wine. The dirt road was opened here by his father who had noticed that there were these two different soils, so he choose to have the dirt road pass in between. The vines are 8 years old on both sides but the vines on one side (the clayish-looking soil) yield a lot of elegance in the wine, with a terroir similar to Chateau Rayas, and the vines on the other side (on whitish soil) yield a wine that is more powerful, a little bit rustic, and the blending of both characters becomes Tenores, a duet of wines. He says this type of blending with two different terroirs is normal in France because the monks have made this empirical work to determine the valuable terroirs, but here in Sardinia it's less common to do this, in the region they highlight the varietal, not the terroir. In this sense Dettori stands out, you'll not see the type of grape upfront on the labels.
I spotted a vine there which I thought was dying from esca but he says it died after the hail stressed it this summer, if it had been esca, it would be black, he says. The rest of the parcel has a few missing vines here and there, some seeming to restart from the root.
Alessandro says that Romangia (this region of Sardinia) was the first region to be organized and ruled by the Romans (300 B.C.), the region was covered with woods then, like Corsica today, and the Romans cut the trees to sell the wood and then had vineyards planted. Romangia is one of the three classical regions for the Cannonau varietal in Sardinia, and this is important to say that, because this area is not listed in the classic DOC (the Italian appellation system). He says that the DOC is just a political thing in Italy, the cannonau is thus bottled as a Cannonau DOC but with poor resultss in the bottle, and he decided to try make things advance by not displaying the name of the varietal, be it vermentino or cannonau for example, and highlight the terroir instead. In order to do that he prefers to renounce the Cannonau appellation status (DOC) and take instead an IGT label (like winemakers prefer the table-wine labelling in France I guess).
Alessandro says that diversity is important for a farm, and there are 10 hectares of bushes or garrigue in the property with lots of rabbits and hares inside, and he also grows wheat which he uses for the restaurant needs (bread and past). The bread at the restaurant was delicious but i forgot to ask if this one was made with the farm wheat.
Walking in another corner down the slope toward the Mediterranean, we reach a couple of parcels (pics on left & right) newly replanted with Pascale di Cagliari, an indigenous varietal which Alessandro has planted here earlier this year. He had the wood for the grafts taken from another of his parcel to make this massal selection at a nursery.
He'll have to wait until 2008 to really begin use the grapes of these vines. They're going to root down in this dry climate as the domaine doesn't use irrigation. tHe landscape is pretty beautiful with the sea on one side and the other parcel turned onto the inland.
While we were still above the hill near the restaurant we had been showed where the openings through which the grapes are poured into the maceration tanks, it's pretty efficient, no need to bring the boxes and crates (which you can see in the background on the pic on right) all the way inside the bunker-facility.
when we arrived in this room with Alessandro, his father Paulo was checking the pneumatic press and you could here the gentle noise of the juice falling in the open tank under the press. He filled a glass with the press juice (pic on left), made from cannonau grapes that had previously been macerating in the large cement vats in the background : We all had a sip of this juice, amazing juice indeed for me, silky drink with already lots of alcohol but still with a joyous juice and sugar feel (there was still some fermentation ahead), the whole thing with a vibrant tannic touch that coats your palate, really delicious juice/wine, very different from the bernache I'm used to in France. Paulo says that this juice has a potential alcohol of 18 %.
And he says that he also never uses sulfur/sulfites during the vinification, this is for him absolutely alien to good winemaking. He says that it would be almost better to use lab yeast than spray sulfites on the maceration or during the vinification, because this sufur addition kills all the natural yeast and important microbian activity that are essential part of the grapes/must, the juice and the future wine. He always makes wine naturally, without sulfur or other additive, because his father, his grandfather and elders made wine this way.
One of the reason this cool, stable cellar was necessary was precisely because of this no-sulfites vinification : his wines need time before being released, before being bottled, and this naturally-cool cellar offers the best conditions to let the wine stabilize by itself. The last time he had a problem with a wine was in 2006, so he has now checked along these years that this long process is efficient.
The walls of this underground cellar/chai are very thick, in places it's one meter thick, in others two or three, and they used an organic cement/sand mix to build it, reusing also some of the stones/rocks they had to intially remove when they dug into the hill. For the paint inside they used natural lime (chaux in French).
After this maceration stage they separate the juice from the must, they have the juice setlle its lees for two days, after which the juice goes into other vats.
Back at the press, Paulo says that the press turns around 14 times, and the pressing power can be checked on the panel, it was about 1,050 when I looked at it. The total pressing time will be about 3 hours for 15 metric tons of grapes. one of those big maceration tanks behind can hold 45 tons of grapes, meaning that the pressing of its grapes will be made in several batches.
Asked if the cement is plain in the inside or if it's coated with a paint or something, Alessandro says that most are just plain cement and a few have a protective lining, ity depends of the condition of the cement, if the cement has an excessive porosity they have it vitrified or enamelled. These cement vats are perfectly fit for small-batch cuvées, they're similar in size to the Nomblot eggs (if not by the shape). Like you can see with the picture on left, they all have a comfortable-size opening on the top, in addition to the lower opening on the front, making them also convenient when used as maceration tanks.
Opening the book we saw all these pages filled with hand-written notes where Alessandro has painstakingly reported every single detail, volumes and varietals used for his cuvées, bottling volumes, dates and so on... This is ironicly reassuring to know that the administration is so eager to keep a close eye on I.G.T. and other table wines...
And there are more such registri to fill (which you have to buy in the first place) depending of the wines you make or bottle. I wonder if our blank documents and cellar books certified by the French wine administration are available in such fancy colors, they look like exercise books in the nursery school...
You can find on this page (in Italian) the guidelines to fill the administration paper work. See here the rough traduction in English of these instructions, you'd almost turn around if you were an aspiring winegrower dreaming of artisan work.
The bottles were wrapped in paper all the time during the tasting and it was only after the last bottles was tasted and experienced that we had the surprise to see the lablels. I'll put my tasting notes here as I wrote them when I tasted these wrapped wines, I insert the name of the cuvée between [ ] to remind that I didn't know what I was tasting. These wines were poured two by two.
__ [ Cantina Giampietro Puggioni, Mamuthone 2011, DOC Cannonau di Sardegna ]
Freshness on the nose, dust notes. Quite delicate, aromas of garrigue, prune. Tannic coating in the mouth. I like this first one.
__ [ Giuseppe Sedilesu, S'Annada 2011, DOC Cannonau di Sardegna ]
More fruit feel here, more appealing. The color too is more vivid than the one of the previous wine, although it looks more transparent. Mouth : more open, with less of this tannic grip at the end of the mouth. Nice wine indeed. Nice structure, the tannins pair well with the rest, freshness, fruit and dust touch. Alessandro says after we had time to note our impressions that the 1st wine was filtered and the 2nd was unfiltered.
__ [ Giuseppe Sedilesu, Mamuthone 2011, DOC Cannonau di Sardegna ]
Generous fruit. When swallowed, a powerful wine. Quite short. Mouth : more astrangency and alcohol feel.
__ [ Gionanni Montisci, Barrosu 2011 Riserva, DOC Cannonau di Sardegna ]
The color is less vinous, more tamed. Nose : complexity, dust notes. I love the nose here. In the mouth : very strong minerality, with a saline edge and lots of freshness. Swallowed : excellent. Tannins are softer and more polished and blend discreetly with the other gustatory parameters. I love this somehow faded color too.
__ [ Gionanni Montisci, Barrosu 2011 Riserva Franzisca, DOC Cannonau di Sardegna 39,5 €]
Color : lightly more vivid, and more milky too. Nose : nice, lovely dust notes. Mouth & swalowed : Very mineral, somehow salty too, rrefinedtannins, delicate mouth. Good length. Lots of energy in this wine.
__ [ Tenute Dettori, Renosu Rosso 2011 -- 12 € ]
Nose : not very expressive. Mouth : a bit simple. Not very interesting.
__ [ Nuraghe Crabioni 2012, DOC Cannonau di Sardegna ]
Vivid color, with milky shades. Nose : intense, eucalyptus leaves. Mouth : thin, almost discreet tannins, coffee, moka notes.
__ [ Mario Denti, Lunas 2011, DOC Cannonau di Sardegna ]
Color : not very bright. Saline already on the nose. More extraction here, more tannins.
__ [ Tenute Dettori, Tenores 2010, Romangia Rosso IGP ]
Nose : meat notes, complexity. Appealing. Mouth & swallowed : flamboyant, very saline, hyper mineral. The tannins are completely integrated. Swallowed, the wine is a feast, such a freshness down the throat. The top of this wall line of bottles for me...
__ [ Tenute Dettori, Dettori 2010, Romangia Rosso IGP ]
Same saline feel but with residual sugar.(no other comment on thios one, I think I didn't like it so much because of the residual sugar)
Asked if he is alone to make wine without additives or corrections in Sardinia, he says no, but he is indeed the only one to also not use any sulfites during the vinification. Another good natural-wine producer in the region is Gionanni Montisci [my blind tasting of their wines was indeed a pleasure] and he buys his wines for himself. At one point we're speaking other wines and he says that the most beautiful wine he had ever was La Tâche 1978, he had it with Maurizio Paparello, a very surprising and talented sommelier in 2003 in Macerata. He tasted a month later a cuvée named Tanca Farra by Sella E Mosca (a good Sardinian cantina), possibly also a 1978 he's not sure of the vintage and he felt the same great experience than when he had this La Tâche, even if a minor mode, proving that wineries here in the past could do a beautiful job with the wines.
Otherwise, speaking of another winery doing good natural wines in Sardinia, there's Gianfranco Manca's Panevino, he says.
Nose : generous fruit notes. Peppered like pineau d'aunis, says rightly Aaron (author of the excellent blog Not drinking poison in Paris) who is also among the invited guests, similar texture and spice feel. The color has milky shades, a bit transparent but like with a haze of dust. the wine is obviously unfiltered, I love the way it looks and the mouth feel is in line. Mouth : very saline, and when swallowed yields an intense freshness feel, although it sports 15,5 % on the label. In short, another very nice wine. The conversation drifts on Jean-Pierre Robinot, the rebel winemaker from the Loire and Alessandro says that he met him with Frank Cornelissen on a day he still remembers, they had lots of wines to say and the man seemed so outstanding (and the other too).
From what I understand Monica grapes, another indigenous varietal. This varietal wine is on the edge every year at Dettori and they never know to the very end if they'll bottle it separately, because the volatile is often high with a high acidity too, they decide between Alessandro and his father Paulo, but every time they decide to bottle again it because it has such a special character of its own, it's usually a 200-bottle cuvée, more or less, quite confidential. Aaron who knows Iralia wines pretty well from his U.S. experience says he never saw this Monica cuvée of Dettori in the U.S.
Nose : eucalyptus notes, dry laurel leaves, spices and other dry herbs. I'd call the nose as having asperity, not very common. Sports 16 % in alcohol. Color : a bit hazy. Mouth : saline, here is an extreme wine in terms of freshness : enormous freshness, is it minerality or acidity ? Incredible wine, I like that althouth it's so extreme and so unusual. They made 2200 bottles of it in 2011.
Alessandro says that when they began selling all their wines in bottles in 1998 (still on the natural winemaking mode), they were pretty alone, there was not this vibrant natural-wine market and producers' groups back then from 1998 to 2000 and even 2003 (in Italy at least). People would visit the winery and ask a wine made with oak and barrels and they wouldn't understand how quality wine could be made without. Alessandro says that in Italy barrels are used to give flavor to the wine, not simply to have it breath and people wouldn't like his wines as a result because there was no wood vessel at all. It was very hard for them he says, until in 2003 Luigi Veronelli organized the first event in Verona featuring natural wines. The folowing year Vini Veri was set up and they called him to have him take part but he refused because he thought he was not in the "natural wine" narrative but rather in the traditional winemaking that was common before additives, corrections and barrels came in.
We first had a typical dish in a simple place in an alley : Faine Genovese is often full, it is a restaurant with a long deep room, the ambiance is relaxed and you take the local beer to go with with the typical sardinian pancakes named Faine.
Then Alessandro had us walk to the other side of the alley, at Ristorantino Bellabé. The place is more sophisticated, nice interior architecture and volumes, elaborate lighting and attentive staff. From what I understood the manager Stefano (pictured here opening a bottle), also serves natural wine which adds some intetest to the restaurant.
We sat in the bottom of the deep room and Alessandro had a bottle of wine brought to us :
__ Montisci Vermentino 2013. He says that it is the first Vermentino made by Giovanni Montisci. Golden color, like if oxidized, with a turbid haze. A bit of residual sugar and also a high saline feel. Menthol notes on the nose. Thee's a bit of nail polish notes in the mouth but I like the wine, it is just a bit borderline, like Emma says. I didn't take a shot of the label because the wine is just a try, it is not on the market yet.
__ Then we had Dettori Renoso Bianco (white). 90 % Vermentino & 10 % Muscat. Blend of 2012 & 2013 mostly. Clear color with lemon shades. the nose is a bit on the nail-polish register too, or rather English candy or berlingots. The mouth is less aromatic than the nose.
__ Dettori Bianco 2002, an older vintage than the one we had earlier. Color : Light gold with some turbidity. Nose : intense, fresh and exciting. In the mouth : the wine has things to tell you, the mouth is quite exquisite : saline, complex and subtly intense when you swallow. Nice length. Very nice wine. sold out alas (it's a 2002).
__ Dettori Vermentino 2004 (in magnum). Color : like a luminous lemon, turbid. Nose : refined and aerial, intense and refined. Made through a 10-day maceration because the weather was very cold then and the juice/wine needed more time to express. THere's a Riesling style in this wine with petrol notes. The mouth shines, with a bright feel.
Jessica and Luca are the heroes behind the restaurant Agriturismo Kent’Annos that sits in the middle of the winery premises. Luca is the chef there and his cuisine is pretty well appreciated in the area.
One evening we had the occasion to sample several bottles, some of them we had already tasted and appreciated and a few other that were other older vintages :
__ Dettori Ottomarzo 2003, an old vintage of this red made with this Pascale varietal. 15 % alc. The color is evolved, with tile shades with turbidity. Nose : concentrated, cooked fruit notes, strawberry in particular. very enjoyable mouth. 2003 was very hot here to, Alessandro says (this was this summer with an exceptional heat wave all across Europe). In the mouth : the tannins are present but this freshness is still there to wrap the whole thing and you swallow the wine very easily. Nice wine indeed. Asked how he decided the date of the picking in this unusual vintage of 2003, he says that he tated the grapes in the parcels like he always does, and he picked earlier of course. Pascale is also a table grape, so when you taste the grapes and the seeds you enjoy it like a table grape he says. This wine is really a treat to drink, but it's sold out of course.
__ Dettori Tenores 2003. Tamed color, hazy tile. Nose : more complex. The mouth is indeed more serious, moka notes, coffee Less easy approach. 17 % alc. but a bit more extraction and concentration. Still lots of freshness overallb, especially for a 2003 in Sardinia where the temperature was probably hellish if I extrapolate from the ones we had in northern France.
__ Dettori Cannonau 2000. Color : Hazy, milky haze. 2000 was a hot vintage here too, Alessandro says. The nose is very exciting. Mouth : some residual sugar. Aromas of soft spices and chocolate. 16,5 % alc.
__ Dettori Moscadeddu 2012, a white. I inserted this wine here but we tasted it yet in another occasion during this visit. Color : dark gold with a light turbidity. 17 % alc. Nose : delicious aromas of ripe grapes or almost dry raisins. Light fizzy feel on the tongue, could be some CO2 coming out. We're said the residual sugar is 30 grams here. SO2 : 1 gram for this cuvée, very low indeed for this type of wine.
Alessandro Dettori and his wife have two young children (2 years & 4 years) and he has an older daughter (15) from a a previous marriage.