The Cannonau

The Sardinian origin of the Cannonau grape variety is certain.

In Sardinia, it appeared approximately two centuries before Garnacha in Spain.

Taking into consideration historical and ampelographic aspects of Garnacha and Cannonau, based on existing data and documentation, it is evident that the hypothesis of the Spanish origin of Cannonau is unfounded.

According to sources, Cannonau has been present in Sardinia for approximately 500 years, while the spread of red Garnacha in Spain as a wine grape occurred only after the appearance of oidium towards the end of the 19th century.

Cannonau is the most widely cultivated grape variety in Sardinia, although it is grown throughout the island, it finds the most favorable environment for quality productions in the central-eastern area. Spanish Garnacha, French Grenache, and Italian Tocai Rosso are the same grape variety (Calò et al., 1991; Meneghetti et al., 2006).

Molecular biology, while confirming the common identity of grape varieties with different names, is not able to guarantee the origin of the grape from a specific area on its own. Therefore, historical evidence, among others, becomes necessary.

Materials for technical-scientific in-depth study

Canonazo: grape variety or mistake?

Many of the information regarding viticulture in Sardinia, which claims the derivation of Cannonau from Canonazo of Seville, need to be reviewed in light of the data reported in this article.
Canonazo (from Xeres or Seville) is mentioned by Cettolini (1894), who suggests a comparison with Cannonau. The source of Cettolini is probably Rovasenda, who speaks of a Canonazo coming from Xeres or Trebugena, characterized by “soft, round, golden berries.” In other words, it is a white grape! In fact, the Italian ampelographer does not associate it with Cannonau at all. The source of this information, according to Rovasenda, is Simon de Rojas Clemente y Rubio, the most famous of the ampelographers who worked in Spain in the 19th century. However, Rojas does not mention Canonazo but rather Cañocazo, a white grape still cultivated in Andalusia! This could explain why the similarity between Cannonau and Canonazo is mentioned only by Italian authors; in fact, a grape variety with this name does not seem to appear in Spanish scientific literature. Furthermore, whether it is studies related to Garnacha and related Spanish grape varieties (Martin et al., 2003) or studies on Iberian grape germplasm (Cabezas et al., 2003), Canonazo is never mentioned.
If we consult other sources, we will notice that neither de Nieva in 1854 nor Blanco Fernandez in 1863 mention Canonazo; nor is it mentioned by all the other authors who, until the end of the 19th century, taught the art of cultivating vines and producing good wine in Spain. In short, Canonazo does not seem to have ever existed: it is a printing error in Rovasenda’s work (photo 2), which replaced Cañocazo, actually mentioned by Rojas. It is evident that in light of this data, certain texts.

Earliest Historical Sources on Cannonau Wine in Sardinia

In Sardinia, the oldest historical sources that mention the types of wines produced are government acts, statutes (such as those of the municipalities of Iglesias and Sassari), reports from visitors of the Spanish Crown, and above all notarial deeds, including sales and successions.
The wine Cannonau appears for the first time in a deed of notary Bernardino Coni, on October 21, 1549 in Cagliari (Cherchi Paba, 1977). King Martin Carrillo’s visitor and the Franciscan friar Giorgio Aleo, a few years later in 1612 and 1677 respectively, speak of Cañonates wines of particular value produced throughout the island (AA.VV., la storia della vite e del vino in Sardegna, 1999). The Franciscan friar also mentions Vernaccia, which, however, he calls “Garnacha” in Spanish!
In the following centuries, there are more precise descriptions of the grape varieties, such as that of Manca dell’Arca in the 18th century, which mentions Cannonau, and that of Moris in the 19th century, which is even more detailed and classifies our grape variety as Vitis prestans. In the mid-1800s, the priest Vittorio Angius provides detailed information on viticulture and grape varieties cultivated in different areas, village by village, giving us an idea of the spread of Cannonau at the time. From his census, Cannonau is the most widespread grape variety on the island. In his work, whose data will be confirmed a few decades later by Strafforello, about a hundred Sardinian grape varieties are listed. At that time, therefore, there was a significantly larger platform of indigenous grape varieties than previously considered. Cannonau, in short, is mentioned in notarial deeds as early as the first half of the 16th century. And its presence in Sardinian viticulture has been constant since then, making it one of its strengths. At this point, considering the presence of Cannonau in Sardinian sources for about 500 years, it is important to see what happens to Garnacha in Spain.

Garnacha in Spain: From Vernaccia to Cannona

In Sardinia, Vernaccia (white wine and grape variety) has always been distinguished from Cannonau (red wine and “tinto” grape variety). Therefore, it becomes important, for the purpose of our investigation, to understand whether, in Spain, as in the rest of Europe, the name “Garnacha” really referred to a white wine, similar to Greek wines (Muscat and Malvasia).
This is not a minor aspect. Experts in etymology and Romance languages have no doubts about this (Wagner, re-ed. 1996; Henry, 1986; De Casas, 1992; Moulin, 1993; Rull, 1999). Similar certainties can be found in the Castilian etymological dictionary (Corominas, 1967 and 1980) and the Catalan etymological dictionary (De Borja Moll, 1998): Garnacha (or Garnatxa, in Catalan) derives from Italian Vernaccia. Therefore, if Garnacha derives from Vernaccia (in Teruel, Aragon, Garnacha-Cannonau is still called Bernacha), how long has it been since the word Garnacha has not been used in Spain to define a white wine, but a red one?

In 1348, in the “Regiment de preserva- ciò de pestilencia” of the municipality of Lleida, it is suggested to use, as a remedy, hot wine naturally “…axí com grech ho vernaça…” (…whether it be Greek or Vernaccia). The association of Greek wine (malvasias or muscats) with Vernaccia should leave no doubts: it is a white wine. But even clearer is the Catalan Franciscan Francesc Eiximenis, who, at the end of the 14th century, in his work “Lo Crestià,” lists Vernaccia among the white wines (Renedo I Puig, 2001).
It should be remembered that, also in the rest of Europe, Vernaccia (as Grenache, Vernache, Vernage, etc.) appears in documents from the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries always alongside Greek wine, that is, fine and aromatic white wine (Henry, 1986).
It is interesting to note that Garnacha is used to define a fine white wine even two centuries later. In fact, in the novella “El licenciado Vidriera” (1613), by the most important Spanish writer of all times, Miguel Cervantes, Garnacha is mentioned in a context that leaves no doubt that it refers to Vernaccia: in a list of Italian white wines appreciated by the protagonist in a tavern in Genoa. It should be noted that this mention by Cervantes is the first in Castilian where the term “Garnacha” appears (Corominas, 1967 and 1980; Henry, 1986), a true Italianism (Bocalo, 1998).
In the 17th century, in some Spanish convents, Garnacha was prepared, a beverage “composed of three different types of grapes, sugar, cinnamon, pepper, and some other ingredient” (Gomez Diaz, 2002). Presumably an attempt to imitate a sweet and aromatic white wine, but another demonstration that Garnacha as it is understood today in Spain (i.e., red wine) does not seem to exist in the mid-1600s. So at least until the mid-17th century, in Spain, when referring to Vernaça, or Garnacha, or Guarnacha, it meant Vernaccia, a sweet and fine white wine.
It would be interesting at this point to understand when the term Garnacha begins to be used to define a red wine. According to many authors, the first mention and description of the Garnacha-Cannonau grape in Spain can be attributed to the agronomist Alonso de Herrera and his “Obra de Agricoltura” from 1513, where he describes a vine called “aragonès.” For many (Meneghetti et al., 2006), this is considered the description of Garnacha-Cannonau due to the fact that “Tinto aragonès” is one of the other names by which Garnacha is known today in Spain. According to Herrera, the Aragonès grape is “a black grape, with large bunches, very tight and large berries: they are vines of great production. In the plain, they load a lot and produce a dark and full-bodied wine, while if planted at high altitudes or on sandy soils, they do not produce as much and make a lighter and smoother wine: it is a wine of great production that does not last long. The Tortozon and the Herrial are like the Aragonés…”.

It should be noted that it is unlikely that a description like this could apply to Cannonau. In fact, Tortozon and Herrial are grape varieties that still exist today, but no Spanish author has ever associated them (even as a simple resemblance) with Garnacha-Cannonau. On the contrary, the characteristics of these grape varieties, such as large bunches and large berries, seem to discourage such an association. These doubts were also shared by Rojas Clemente, the great ampelographer who, in the early 19th century, edited an edition of the “Obra,” in which he expressed perplexity about the correspondence of Aragonés with any of the Spanish varieties he described. Therefore, it seems rather risky (according to Rojas Clemente) to recognize any grape variety in the Aragonés mentioned by De Herrera.
It is Frate Miguel Agustin, a Catalan, who in his 18th-century book “Libro de los secretos de agricultura, casa campo y pastoril,” mentions a series of wines and grape varieties, such as the Greeks, Malvasia, and Macabeo. But he does not seem to mention Garnatxa (using Catalan spelling).
In the 1734 edition of the “Diccionario de la lengua española,” Garnacha is mentioned for the first time in reference to a “red” wine. In the 1780 edition, the description is more accurate: Garnacha is a variety of “roxa” grape from which wine is made in Aragon. But the same dictionary also reminds us that Garnacha is also a type of beverage called “carraspada,” similar to the one described in the 17th-century convent.
In short, the term Garnacha refers to several different beverages!
Garnacha is mentioned by Clemente Rojas in his 1807 Ensayo, in which we find Tintilla, also known as Alicante, described. Another name for Garnacha? Probably not: the Alicante in question has a “muy borrosa” leaf, meaning very tomentose, the opposite of Garnacha-Cannonau.
The name Garnacha, referring to a variety of black grape, appears in the 1854 “Manual de cosechero de vinos” by de Nieva: the importance of the grape variety seems rather negligible. Garnacha does not appear, however, in the “Tratado sobre el cultivo de la vid” by Antonio Blanco Fernandez from 1863.
Buenaventura Castellet mentions Garnacha (synonyms Tintilla and Alicante) and Tinto de Aragon in 1865, describing them as different varieties on different pages. Both seem worthy of the utmost consideration, and the author recommends their cultivation everywhere. He does not say whether the two are the same grape variety. In 1885, Eduardo Abela y Saiez de Andino, in his “El libro del viticultor,” corrects the inconsistency between Rojas Clemente and Buenaventura regarding Alicante: the Alicante described (as Tintilla) by Rojas Clemente is different from the one, which he calls Alicantina, described by Buenaventura Castellet in Catalonia.

Furthermore, Abela de Saiez quotes Valier, an agronomist and viticulturist from Aragon, who held a traveling chair of viticulture, saying, “Garnacha is the most modern grape variety in Aragon vineyards – (and we are in 1885…) – it was barely known as a table grape at the beginning of this century.” At Valier’s time, Garnacha was therefore the most widely grown grape in Aragon. Another agronomist from Aragon, Antonio Berbegal, confirms this statement, and both attribute the success of Garnacha to its resistance to powdery mildew. Saiez concludes by stating that “the cultivation of Garnacha is expanding significantly throughout Spain, with its presence reported not only in the province of Zaragoza, but also in Alava, Barcelona, Castellon, Girona, Huesca, Navarra, Tarragona, Teruel, and Valencia.” Naturally, if it is “expanding,” it means that it was either not widely grown or even non-existent before.
The late vocation of Garnacha for winemaking is also noted by Buenaventura Aragò, who wrote in 1871 that “Garnacha is a somewhat reddish grape… good for eating and drying,” meaning it is a red grape (whose ampelographic description is essentially that of Cannonau) good for eating and for being dried. In other words, according to experts of that time (two ampelographers and two Spanish agronomists), true “eyewitnesses,” in Aragon (the region of origin of Garnacha, based on the classical hypothesis of “Spanish” origin), red Garnacha was recognized as a wine grape only after the appearance of powdery mildew, when grape growers and experts recognized the remarkable resistance of the variety to this disease. And this seems to be the moment of the widespread cultivation of this grape variety.


In light of what has been described so far, it is evident that there are all the elements to assert that Cannonau has its origins in Sardinia and not in Spain. It should be emphasized, however, that the conclusions reached in this article are based on existing data and documentation (as cited in the bibliography), and in the event that further data emerge, they will naturally need to be studied and evaluated. This also applies to Spanish notarial and sales documents (as well as Sardinian ones, partly preserved in Spain): this documentation could provide further contributions, provided that, in the presence of the term “Garnacha,” it is clarified whether it refers to white wine or red wine.

However, some considerations can certainly be made:

  • Garnacha comes from Vernaccia, a name of clear Italian origin: for many scholars, Spanish and non-Spanish, it is a clear indication of the foreign origin of the grape variety;
  • There is no Canonazo grape from Seville, from which many claim Cannonau derives. As things stand, since no Spanish author mentions it, we must deduce that it is an invented grape variety, a result of a printing error present in Rovasenda’s work, which a series of unfortunate citations has used to attribute a Spanish origin to Cannonau;
  • Spanish historical and literary sources indicate that Garnacha, until the 17th century, was a white wine in Spain;
  • The first mention of Cannonau in Sardinia dates back to 1549. The first mention of the word “g(u)arnacha” is from 1613 (Cervantes), but it refers to white wine. The first mention of Garnacha (red wine) in Spain is from a dictionary from 1734. In other words, the earliest references to the production of red Garnacha wine date back to 1734. References to the production of Cannonau wine in Sardinia date back about 200 years earlier (notary Bernardino Coni);
  • Two Spanish ampelographers and two agronomists inform us that the red Garnacha grape, little known in Aragon, was only spread after the arrival of powdery mildew. These pieces of information, although confirmed by experts, seem to be contradicted by what is written in the Spanish dictionary from 1734, which mentions Garnacha as a red grape that produces good wine, as well as by Rojas in 1807. Both pieces of information could be true: that is, in the 18th century, Cannonau-Garnacha emerges in the history of Spanish wine production, and in the following century, it gains considerable importance, so much so that it is spread throughout Spain for its resistance to powdery mildew.

Based on the historical and ampelographic evidence analyzed so far, the hypothesis of Spanish origin of Cannonau seems less logical and scientific. At the same time, due to the fact that Cannonau appears about 2 centuries earlier than Garnacha (red wine, naturally), the hypothesis that the place of origin of this grape variety should be sought in Sardinia seems to be more consistent.