Vermentino di Gallura is Sardinia's only DOCG appellation, and covers white Vermentino-based wines from a large area at the northern end of the island. The title held DOC status from 1975 until September 1996, when it became the island's first DOCG
Covering the north-eastern corner of Sardinia, the catchment area for the DOCG is surprisingly large (several times bigger than those of Alghero, Vernaccia di Oristano and Malvasia di Bosa combined). It corresponds roughly to the province of Olbia-Tempio, which itself corresponds roughly to the historical Gallura region (the Gallurese dialect is still spoken there today). In the west, its southern boundary traces the path of the Coghinas river, then veers north slightly around the Monti di Ala hills before reaching the east coast near Posada.
As might be obvious from the title, Vermentino di Gallura wines are based on the Vermentino grape variety, which must legally account for 95% of any wine claiming the title. The final 5% may be made up from "altri vitigni a bacca bianca non aromatici raccomandati e/o autorizzati per la provincia di Sassari" (other non-aromatic white grape varieties recommended and/or authorized for the Sassari province). This last phrase serves as a reminder that Sardinia once consisted of just four administrative provinces: Oristano, Cagliari, Nuoro and Sassari. Olbia-Tempio has only been in existence since 2005, and prior to that date this area was distinguished only by its preferred dialect, Gallura.
Vermentino is increasingly significant in Sardinian wine. Some ampelographers suggest that the precise origins of Vermentino are more complex than they first seem – most wine students accept the grape at face value as being Italian, with particular focus on the north-west of the country, specifically Liguria. Further inspection reveals that the variety is also widely represented in the most southerly French regions of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, where it has been known as Rolle for many centuries and is now sanctioned for use in AOC and IGP wines. Most significantly here, though, it is a key variety on the island of Corsica.
Corsica lies immediately north of Sardinia (the two are separated by the Strait of Bonifacio, just seven miles across), and the two have a great deal of mutual history. Prior to the Quaternary Period (the geological age we currently live in) the two were a single island, and today their regional flags bear the same emblem of a Moor's head wearing a white bandana. The arrival of Vermentino in Sardinia, then, could be traced just as easily to southern France as northern Italy. There is also strong evidence that Vermentino is of Spanish origin, even if the variety is barely known there now. If this theory is accurate, then the variety would most likely have arrived via Alghero, which has had a succession of rulers of Spanish origins over the centuries.
Whatever the origins of Vermentino and however it arrived in Sardinia, today it is becoming one of the island's most successful varieties and it may prove to be the wine with which Sardinia becomes associated in the future.
A classic Vermentino di Gallura DOCG wine is the color of fresh straw, with the greenish tinge of drying grass. The nose offers a delicate and refreshing bouquet of white blossoms, and the palate retains this floral style and, in the best examples, balances it out with zingy acidity and a hint of minerality. Weightier examples can be an excellent food match for creamy chicken or fish dishes, while lighter wines from higher-altitude vineyards complement all manner of seafood dishes.