Usini is a little known village on the island of Sardinia, Italy. It’s history spans back to the Neolithic Age around 5,000 years ago. Along ancient pathways to the countryside you’ll find a launchpad of vineyards aimed directly at the sun. A community of winemakers cultivate an anti-oxidant rich grape called Cagnulari–thought to have originated from Spain but now considered indigenous. These vignerons have dedicated their lives to this precious wine. One above all: Francesco Fiori.
Usini, Sardinia: Land of Cagnulari
Why You’ll Love Franceso Fiori
Usini is a little known village on the island of Sardinia, Italy. It rests inland, about 30 minutes away from the coastal city of Alghero. It’s history spans back to the Neolithic Age around 5,000 years ago.
When you’re approaching Usini by car, it looks like a little residential town with not much going on. When you drive into town, you see nothing but concrete-slabbed houses attached to one another. Kind of like a football huddle. Outside of the cemented center, ancient pathways lead you to the Usini countryside.
That’s where you’ll see a launchpad of vineyards aiming directly at the sun. Like much of Italy, the wine culture is vibrant. But there’s a difference. Outside of Sardinia very few people know about Usini—a city of wine. You see, wine is a way of life there. So much so, that winemaking cellars are literally built into people’s homes.
In many people’s homes, the wine cellar is the first room you enter after passing the front door. The wine cellar is the first room you see. Where else in the world does that happen?
I bet if you ask the locals as to why they built their houses that way, they wouldn’t have the answer. It’s simply the way it is. In Usini, wine goes back before the written word. But what’s interesting is that the winemakers cultivate a rare grape called Cagnulari. It’s the local specialty in Usini as well as neighboring villages. While it’s not a household name outside of Sardinia, it’s a unique wine shrouded in mystery.
Here’s what we know so far about it: Cagnulari is believed to have been brought by the Spaniards when they conquered Northwestern Sardinia in 1717. It’s name can be linked to several ancient Sardinian languages which pre-date the Spaniard Conquest. The grape was exported to Southern France to be used as a blending grape, adding color, alcohol, and richness to their wines.
According to the research book Vitigni della Sardegna, Cagnulari has the highest levels of antioxidants in Sardinia—talk about wine being a healthy drink…
The wine has the full body of a Cabernet Sauvignon, but the complexity of a Nebbiolo.
Usini is the cru terrain for Cagnulari where monovarietal wines express the finest versions.
Even with all the benefits and fascinating history surrounding Cagnulari, the wine remains niche and under appreciated. But being under appreciated doesn’t stop winemakers in Usini from making their precious wine treasure. One wine craftsman above all.His name is Francesco Fiori. A salt-of-the-earth type of person. He’s spent his entire life cultivating Cagnulari with great care. Deeply connected to the memory of his family and land, Francesco continues to make Cagnulari wine regardless of the trends of the day.
In the 1950’s his parents bought 3 hectares of terrain in Usini from a wealthy land owner. It was sort of like a “rent to buy” and it took years of hard work and sacrifice to pay for the land. At the time of the purchase the land was used to grow grain. But Francesco’s father wanted to plant a Cagnulari vineyard on it instead. It took great courage and vision to do that. His father knew there was something special with that particular piece of land.
Francesco began working in his parent’s vineyard at an early age. He grafted his first Cagnulari vine at age 13 which was a job usually reserved for an experienced grafter. Today, the original vines of the 1950’s are reaching 70-years-old. The roots are deep and stable. They consume the rich layers of history under the deep ancient soils.
Francesco Fiori is arguably the finest Cagnulari winemaker in Sardinia. While the story of Usini knows no time, you and I must seize the moment. Open a bottle of Francesco’s Cagnulari for a timeless tasting experience.