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Though grapevines have flourished for over 6,000 years on Sardinia’s rugged slopes, the island’s complex viticultural chronology might have vanished if it weren’t for two turn-of-the-century entrepreneurs, Erminio Sella and Edgardo Mosca, producing charismatic wines that echo their unique island upbringing.
Sella and Mosca—a lawyer and engineer by training, respectively—didn’t simply buy a vineyard and begin producing wine. Instead, the two developed a grapevine nursery on the northwestern edge of Sardinia in 1899 to supply mainland vineyards recovering from Europe’s phylloxera epidemic. In the process, they became Sardinia’s epicenter for clean grapevine material, transforming their I Piani estate into a living library for the island’s vinous history.
Today, Sella & Mosca still grows grapes in the same locales as the Phoenicians, yet their wines are beautifully contemporary expressions of the region. By balancing modern technology with time-honored farming and winemaking practices, winemaker and general manager Giovanni Pinna manages to thread the proverbial needle.
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“We have always worked to minimize interventions with the utmost respect for the base raw material: the grape,” he says. “To be able to achieve this we make use of extremely soft crushing and pressing systems, rigorous control of fermentation temperatures, and very high-quality wooden casks for the refinement of red wines.”
Harnessing the Unique Mediterranean Terroir
While Sella & Mosca has remained on the cutting edge of technology, the team’s reverence for their local history is impossible to miss—especially in the native grape bottlings cultivated at their Alghero headquarters.
“The area of Alghero is characterized by a strong marine influence,” says Pinna of the terroir around Sella & Mosca headquarters. “It gives the wines a Mediterranean character and aroma rich in spices with fruity, briny and sometimes balsamic notes.”
Located on the island’s northwest coast, Alghero is the site that first captivated Sella and Mosca over a century ago. Over time, the families expanded their small nursery, converting farm and pastureland into vineyards. Eventually, they expanded into hospitality and became the most ardent champions for Sardinian wine.
Inspired by Sardinia’s rugged natural beauty and bounty, Sella & Mosca has always operated with sustainability at its core. Since the original winery was built in 1902, the estate has interplanted native trees like palms and oleanders to naturally combat pests and regulate the vines. The estate also maintains a 12.5-acre nature preserve for local fauna and Mediterranean botanicals. Now owned and operated by the Moretti family, the original I Piani estate covers 1,600 acres of land and1,200 acres of organic viticulture, making it the largest contiguous vineyard in Italy and the second-largest in Europe.
This predominantly flat land, referred to as the Nurra, is characterized by sandy clay soils with naturally high concentrations of iron. The hot, dry climate and near-constant sea breezes mitigate disease pressure in the vineyards, allowing for easy, high-quality organic viticulture and wines with freshness and verve.
Sella & Mosca’s Commitment to Indigenous Grapes
Vermentino grapes, which supply Sella & Mosca’s La Cala Vermentino di Sardegna DOC, are the primary white grape variety here and across the island. Named for a picturesque stretch of Sardinina’s coastline, La Cala offers up a medley of citrus and tropical fruit in the glass, accented by bursts of wild flowers, salinity, and hints of steely minerality that reflect its island heritage.
Cannonau, the genetic predecessor of Grenache, also thrives on the Nurra creating powerful, elegant red wines and offering color and structure in blends. The grape, which archaeological evidence suggests originated in Sardinia, is a cornerstone of the region’s viticultural history and renowned for its intense color. Likely an adaptation that allowed the grape to thrive with little water in the hot Mediterranean climate, Cannonau boasts nearly triple the antioxidant flavonoids of other red grapes. Many researchers now believe Cannonau is Sardinia’s secret to its large population of centenarians, which has led the island to be labeled a Blue Zone.
The Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva DOC is Sella & Mosca’s love letter to Cannonau. Aged for two years prior to release, including six months in large oak casks, the wine boasts an intense bouquet of violets, kirsch, and juicy red fruit notes accented by herbs and firm tannins.
The estate also produces Tanca Farra, an Alghero DOC wine, with native grapes. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and—above all—Cannonau, the wine is a modern twist on Sardinia’s classic reds that boasts dark fruit flavors and a firm structure. Aged for a full year in a mix of used French oak barriques and large casks, the wine exudes a heady mix of floral, herbaceous and tar aromas accented by leather and spice before a segueing to fruit notes on the dry, full-bodied palate.
Developing a Distinctly Sardinian Style
“In the past, Sardinia has often produced highly alcoholic, structured and not very elegant wines,” explains Pinna. “But starting from the 80s the local wineries, and us first, have changed their style.”
Few wines embody Pinna’s sentiment like the Marchese di Villamarina, the estate’s benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon. Though Cabernet Sauvignon is now grown in winemaking regions globally, Sella & Mosca was an early pioneer of the variety, which it cultivated for mainland European clients at its nursery. When grown on ferrous clay and sand soils of the Alghero region, the team discovered, the grape is capable of producing exquisite Cabernet with a distinctly Sardinian identity. Since 1989, Marchese di Villamarina has stood as a beacon of Sardinian Cabernet Sauvignon, showing layers of fruit and earth flavors plus a distinctive balsamic note.
In particular, the estate is renowned for its Torbato wines—delicate golden bottlings made from a grape variety that barely escaped extinction in the 1960s and ‘70s. A relative of Malvasia, Torbato was brought over when Sardinia was a Spanish colony in the 1700s and was known for producing vibrant golden wines. But after phylloxera struck the island, many growers abandoned the delicate variety whose grapes naturally produce less must than their peers. But Sella & Mosca continued to cultivate the grape, and the winery was the first to bottle a single-vineyard expression of Torbato. It is now beloved for both their still and sparkling versions of the variety, which pair beautifully with the region’s seafood-centric fare.
The families’ dedication to Sardinia is palpable on the I Piani estate, but extends far beyond the borders of their vineyards in Alghero, to vineyard sites near Olbia and the island’s remote southwestern corner. On the northeastern edge of the island, Sella & Mosca cultivates Vermentino atop highly granitic soils in the Vermentino di Gallura DOCG. With vineyards established midway up Mount Limbara, vines here benefit from broad diurnal shifts that balance Gallura’s otherwise sultry climate. The result is a well-proportioned Vermentino di Gallura with rich citrus notes, vibrant acidity, and a throughline of saline minerality that recalls the vineyards’ seaside perch.
From reestablishing Torbato to supplying phylloxera-free grapevines to mainland Europe, Sella & Mosca has had an outsized impact on Sardinian winemaking for over a century, delicately combining a respect for history with the technology required to captivate generation after generation of Sardinian wine lovers.
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