The greatest pleasure in selling wine—other than tasting bottles I can’t afford—is sharing the story behind a particular bottle with you, the enthusiastic customer. In most cases a wine’s story focuses on something interesting or unusual the grower does: playing classical music to the grapes in the vineyard, foraging for ancient, almost-extinct grape varieties high on a Corsican mountainside, or aging the wine in giant clay pots buried underground. Other times, however, what sets a winemaker apart is what he doesn't do.
Case in point: Alessandro Dettori, head winemaker of Tenute Dettori, a winery on the northwest coast of Sardinia, an Italian island just south of Corsica. He farms both organically and biodynamically, depending on parcel, and lets the vines grow untrained as small bush trees. Rows of grape vines are interspersed with rows of weeds and herbs, planted by Dettori to encourage biodiversity and enrich the soil. All this considered, what further makes Dettori remarkable is what he doesn’t do in the cellar. He doesn’t add lab yeasts or sulfur, doesn’t fine or filter, and because his cellar is built in a cement-walled underground space, he doesn’t employ the common practice of artificial temperature control. Finally, he doesn’t kowtow to Italy’s strict DOC restrictions, preferring to label his wines as Vino di Tavola, or table wine. Instead he’s able to focus on bottling wines that better represent his own taste and terroir. Though natural wines are all the rage lately, Alessandro’s long-standing motivations are more old-fashioned than trend-driven—he produces wine this way because his grandfather and father did the same before him. The hands off approach, he believes after years of experience, makes for better wine, wine that tastes of its region, sub-region, and parcel.
As a result, Dettori’s offerings are always alive, unique, varying not just from vintage to vintage but even from bottle to bottle. His 2006 Moscadeddu is a perfect example of laissez-faire winemaking taken to its logical conclusion. This wine begins with high-quality Moscato di Sennori from Badde Nigolosu, an estate-owned ‘Cru’ within the Sardinian sub-region of Romangia, notable for its pebbly limestone and sandstone soil and warm Mediterranean days with cool, breezy evenings. Dettori leaves the fruit to dry on the vines and picks it at maximum ripeness, more raisin than grape, before bringing it to the cellar. There, after crushing, the skins are left to macerate for 2 to 4 days in the must before gentle racking. From that point, the wine is left to rest in concrete tanks, where it ages an additional three years. The finished product will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about Moscato, a variety often relegated to heavy, overly sugary wines that Dettori himself does not like.
His ‘Moscadeddu’ is a muscular but refined dessert wine more than capable of replacing arguably more well-known end-of-meal options from Bordeaux and Hungary. Amber in color, with an intense nose of dried apricot, raisins, and wildflower honey. On the palate it offers balanced weight, sweetness, and acidity, with further notes of honey, pain perdu, and plum. The finish is long, with subtle and surprising hints of white pepper and woody herbs. A handsome complement to ashy or bleu cheeses, nuts, or extended late-night meditation, the bottle-to-bottle variation offers another perk: if you haven’t finished your ruminations after the first, you can just open another and prepare for a brand new experience! Yes, please.