A wine in honor of a goddess...

Reproduced from Year 5, Issue #27 of Spirito di Vino Asia...

Turriga is today an Italian icon thanks to vision, determination, and the valorization of Sardinian’s patrimony

If we must choose one characteristic that embodies Italian wines like no other is certainly the bewildering diversity of its autochthonous grape varieties. Turriga, the iconic wine made by Argiolas is perhaps one the best expression of this unique feature of the Italian wine firmament.

At a vertical tasting going back to 1997 hosted by the Hong Kong Wine Society, participants discovered not only the tremendous quality potential of this legendary wine but also how beautifully the grapes of Sardinia can age.  The 12 wines tasted impressed most by how consistent their quality was throughout, especially that each vintage showed clear stylistic differences.  In fact, this last discovery was another finding we did not expect and removed from our minds the long-lasting belief that Italian vintages do not mark wines as much they do in more northerly wine regions of Europe. That we learned this lesson with wines from a Mediterranean island was even more surprising. Overall, the wines showed a delightful freshness of acidity with enchanting balance and proportion.  Each vintage intriguingly expressed a different personality and was equally enjoyed by all.

That such a high-quality wine even exist today is a testament to the courage and determination of the Argiolas family who in the 70’s and 80’s resisted the urge to uproot their old vineyards when the European community offered them incentives to do so.  But perhaps the roots of such beautiful wines is even older that this momentous period in the viticultural history of Sardinia.  In 1938, when Antonio Argiolas, the patriarch of the family who passed away at the age of 102 years old a few years ago, took over his father farm, he set out to bring significant changes in the way he grew the vineyards.  Independent and autonomous all the way to his last days, Antonio Argiolas had a vision marrying modernisms and dynamism with a profound respect to the viticultural patrimony of the region which helped transform an area of Sardinia that was low in reputation into a promising future.

Until the 1980’s, the family focused on the production of bulk wines.  But when it was time to hand over the estate to his two sons, Franco and Giuseppe, not only they decided to be faithful to their roots and keep each grapevine and variety but also to create their own label producing wines that would eventually sit alongside the best in Italy.  In 1988, they were ready to focus their efforts on a wine of substance.  From the outset at the creation of Turriga, it was decided that it would be a wine with long aging potential and one that would become an Italian icon and help valorize the indigenous grape varieties of their vineyards.  They sought advice in the person of Giacomo Tachis, a giant of Italian wine making who himself had been responsible for some of the most iconic wines of Italy such as Sassicaia, Tignanello, and San Leonardo among other icons.  Tachis, a student of Bordeaux Professor Emile Peynaud believed in carefully controlling every step of the way, not to use white grapes in the making of red wine blends, and use small wooden casks and oak barrels for the maturation of wines.  This philosophy suited the Argiolas family perfectly as they wanted Turriga to be a wine of power and finesse.  Working alongside the family's head winemaker Mariano Murru, Tachis sought to create a blend that would represent the patrimony using Cannonau for structure and personality, Carignano for body and roundness, Malvasia Nera for aging potential and Bovale Sardo for fruitiness. 

Turriga comes from the single vineyard of Selegas, a sub-zone of the area where the family has its roots for several generations a few kilometers from Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, in the Southern part of the island. Here, the altitude is only 230 meters, and the vineyard receives constant winds from the nearby Mediterranean sea. Planted with a mixture of Guyot and the traditional "Alberello" training systems, the vines in the 15 hectares vineyard (out of the 200 the family owns today) have an average age of 26 years.

The name of the wine is itself intriguing and comes from the site where the oldest Cannonau grapes grow.  It is also the name of a prehistoric sculpture, dating back 5000 years, which was found in the vineyard.  Its image shows on the label and represents a woman, “Turriga de Selegas” (the goddess of Turriga), who would have played a significant role in the history of Sardinia.

An exquisite dinner at Giando Restaurant on Star Street in Wanchai followed our tasting.  Featuring traditional recipes and ingredients of Sardinia, each dish was carefully paired with the wines. Starting with the lovely Is Argiolas, made with 100% Vermentino, the delicate citrus peel and blossom aromas complemented splendidly the red prawns and its lively acidity lifted the fattiness of the Burrata cheese of our 1st dish. The second dish of homemade Sardinian pasta with sausage and saffron ragout paired with a magnum of Turriga 2012 was an absolute delight.  Here the wine was vivacious and not so happy to have been opened so young.  Yet, it was tasty with our dish which raised many compliments from the participants overall.  A bottle of Turriga 1997 was served with a braised rump of lamb served with potato purée and rosemary sauce enchanting and increasing the energy of the room to create an electric atmosphere.  The wine showed so much better with food than it had during our tasting.  The meal was concluded with a selection of Sardinian biscuits to accompany the Angialis, a little beauty of a wine made with the rare late-harvested Nasco grapes together with a touch of Malvasia di Cagliari (5%), displaying a fascinating bouquet of citrus peel, marmalade, nuts, and spices with a vivacious acidity that left everyone asking for more!

Tasting Notes

1997 – 92 – Showing integrated evolution with dried cherries, leather, coffee and chocolate.  Long spicy finish with liquorice. This bottle at peak.

1998 – 94 – My favourite of the flight for its readiness. Fresher than ’97 with dried berries, chocolate and plums. Velvety with density and firmness.  Long. With ageing potential remaining.

2000 – 91 – Rapid evolution with ripe red fruits and earthiness, tobacco and leather. Firm but less density than ’98.  Long to drink now.

2001 – 91 – Less elegance versus other however good with dried cherries, chocolate and coffee. Velvety and caressing but lacks in acidity. Drink.

2003 – 92 – Fresher and lighter vs others with stewed berries, tobacco and herbs. Firmness and some density suggest aging potential. Long.

2004 – 94 – Elegant and complex with red and black berries, herbs and exotic spices. Velvety and dense with long spicy finish.  The most controversial among the group.

2005 – 93 – The favorite of the group with red cherries and herbs, chocolate and a touch of resin. Lovely balance with fresh acidity and still firm. Long intense finish. A keeper.

2006 – 91 – The most delicate versus the others with tender red berries, perfumed, yet peppery. Density and freshness give it an ethereal quality. Long.

2007 – 93 – Close at first eventually as ’05. Elegant and well defined. Red fruits, leather and herbs. Fluid with firmness.  Long intense finish. Less aging potential.

2008 – 95 – My favourite in terms of aging potential. Complex and fruit driven with dark forest berries, exotic spices, and leather. Blanced, silky and dense, with tension. Long intense finish

2009 – 92 – Delicate but seemingly premature evolution.  Perhaps the bottle. Red fruits, herbs and coffee.  Silky, tense and fluid. Long finish.

2010 – 93 – Deep and concentrated nose with black forest berries.  Dense and velvety palate with lovely balance.  Long spicy finish with firmness.  Long aging ability.