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An Exotic Find from Foreign Shores
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 12, 2013
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Sella & Mosca, Alghero DOC (Sardinia, Italy) “Terre Bianche” Torbato 2011 (Palm Bay International, $21):  Sometimes I envy wine drinkers who are just beginning to learn about wine, because they have so much discovery ahead of them.  When you have been involved in wine for several decades, the moments of discovery become infrequent -- although each discovery becomes all the more special as a result. This white wine discovery from the island of Sardinia is exciting to me not only for its story but also for its unusual taste.

The grape variety is Torbato, a white variety that Sardinians consider indigenous, although it is believed to have migrated to the island from Spain in the 14th century. Known as Tourbat or Malvoisie di Roussignon in France, the variety has almost disappeared from that country. In Sardinia, the Sella & Mosca winery has rescued and revitalized Torbato and is the sole winery growing the grape.

Sella & Mosca today has almost 250 acres of Torbato vines. Consulting winemaker Beppe Caviola theorizes that growers have abandoned the variety because it is susceptible to mildew and thus expensive to grow. (It is also challenging to vinify, he says, because the wine throws heavy lees and is difficult to clarify.)  Sella & Mosca’s plantings of Torbato are in the Alghero DOC zone, in coastal, northwestern Sardinia, in limestone-rich soils formed by prehistoric marine sedimentation. The name “Terre Bianche” is a reference to these white soils.

Although Torbato is not considered an aromatic variety, one of the most striking features of this wine is its exotic aromas and flavors, which suggest ripe tropical fruits such as papaya, exotic flowers, smokiness, delicate fresh herbs and stony minerality.  The wine is full-bodied and dry with rich, oily texture and high acidity; the acidity acts in contrast to the rich texture to give the wine freshness and lighten up the taste a bit, but you couldn’t call the wine crisp because it is too round and rich. The wine’s flavor concentration, depth and length across the mouth are all admirable.

Although this wine has weight and a slightly phenolic grip (most likely a characteristic of the grape rather than an indication of oak), it was vinified and aged mainly in stainless steel; only 30 percent of the wine aged in oak and for only four months, in two- and three-year-old barrels.

Most of Sella & Mosca’s Torbato actually becomes sparkling wine. Only 40 percent of the grapes go into still wine. The total annual production of this Terre Bianche Torbato is approximately 39,000 bottles; fewer than 1000 six-bottle cases of this wine enter the U.S. market.  Considering these factors, I am surprised that this wine costs as little as it does. I’m also delighted, because the affordable price can encourage wine drinkers to try this unusual and unsung wine.

According to those who know this wine, it can age four or five years with no problem, developing an interesting petrol note after two or three years. It is perfectly drinkable now, though. I would particularly enjoy it with simple grilled fish, white-clam pizza, dishes with cream sauce, and soft cheeses.

90 Points