Puglia, the last kept secret of Italian wines…
If you say that you are going to Italy to discover their wines, we will surely mention Tuscany and Chianti, Piedmont and Barolo or Veneto and Valpolicella. In this case, surprise your world by talking about Apulia! Region still untouched and secret, with exquisite wines …
Shock of contrasts when arriving at Brindisi from London: charm, sun, sea … and unctuous wines at a reasonable price, in a preserved and traditional Italy, straight out of a film by Fellini. And to begin, I discover the Susumaniello, literally “the cargo of the donkey” for its productivity as young vines. Historically used as a grape variety with Negroamaro or Malvasia Nera, it has recently been appreciated in a varietal. This is the challenge of the producer “Tenute Rubino”, one of the big names in the region. The result is all black cherry, small berries with some smoky and earthy notes. It starts well! My enthusiasm diminishes somewhat with the Ottavianello, which is none other than the Cinsault, the same producer. The result is known: low acidity, low alcohol and lots of red fruits. A straight and honest wine in itself, but after the Susumaniello, I would have liked the sommelier advise me to reverse to appreciate it to its true value. The evening arrives, place to the whites: Minutolo and Bianco d’Alessano … always Rubino. Disappointing overall, quite neutral and I’m starting to think that I’m going to slowly head for the red in this trip.
Meanwhile, I find this air of Dolce Vita already lived in the vineyards and olive groves. Lecce, Otranto, Gallipoli, … and my first Primitivo di Manduria Riserva from the Cantine Due Palme: prego! A little back on this iconic Puglia grape variety: cultivated for centuries in the heel of the Italian boot and of Croatian origin, it has been popularized in the United States under the name of Zinfandel. The country of Uncle Sam thought until 1993 hold his grape “flagship” until 2 teachers show the European origin of the latter … pity ;-). This gives a tannic, spicy, slightly chocolatey and “caffeinated” wine … in short, creaminess and a smooth wine. Small downside, however, but is more related to the characteristics of the variety than the producer is its low acidity. Otherwise, it goes very well with local pasta, orechiette (“little ears”) al ragù, a local tomato sauce. Prego!
The idea is still to visit producers, but here I perceive the limits of wine tourism Apulien, generally reserved for groups for rather huge vineyards. I will have the explanation “why and how” from Marco, marketing director of Paololeo, located in San Donaci. In fact for years, southern Italy was known as the land of “land of bulk wines”, sold especially to producers in the North and even cut with water. Then, in the 1990s, a new generation arrived and perceived the wine and economic potentials of the Apulian vineyards. Among these visionaries, Paolo and his wife Roberta: they move from bulk wine to bottled wine, with huge investments in the production system. Today, Paololeo represents 3.5 million bottles with several ranges. 50% of its vineyards belong to them and 50% are rented to producers on long-term leases to improve quality and structures. And yes, unfortunately, 60% to 70% of Primitivo is bottled in the North and not yet valued in Puglia. The idea is therefore that production remains and improves. Especially since the majority of Apulian wines are organic, only exceeded by Sicilian wines, additional selling point. It must be said that the climate is rather stable and only the lack of water is sometimes problematic, such as in 2017, which gives a concentrated vintage. All his information is collected during the 3 hours of visit, very friendly, with a passionate and involved Marco. He shows me the stainless steel for the entry-level, the barrels for the Riserva and the Superiore, conserved at the most 2 years and all burned, as well as the various varieties cultivated. The whites are mostly based Chardonnay (Burgundy style … according to his say since I could not taste it) and Fiano … which is none other than the Minutolo already mentioned. And as there are only fools who do not change their minds, this Cala Luna 2016 is tropical nose (pineapple, passion fruit) and exotic and salty on the palate, with notes of citrus.In short, a real pleasure that reconciles me with the local white. The Paololeo reds obviously focus on Primitivo and Negroamaro. The latter is the other emblematic grape of the region, brought by the Greeks in the seventh century BC. Literally “bitter black”, it is more elegant, finer and less tannic, always on black fruits: a good value for money. But the real good discovery is called Salice Salentino: a blend of Negroamaro (80%) and Malvasia Nera (20%). This one brings a floral note to the Negroamaro. This is the favorite of the trip! The 2011 vintage has aged well on mint, mushrooms, always with this contribution of black fruits and licorice … it seems actually very young! It was a real pleasure to have shared this time with Marco, who helped me a lot to understand the history and the specificities of this region, with a certain pride. He’s right !
So do not say it too loud but after this visit, I went to the side of Matera, in the Basilicata. If you want to have an aesthetic and historical shock, include this village in your course: it’s great! And while you’re there, taste an Aglianico del Vulture: the Aglianico is a variety also brought by the Greeks at the same time and grown in the Vulture area in the Basilicata. Still quite unknown to the general public, it is probably for me the best italian wine value I have tested. And that of the Cantina di Venosa, named Terre di Orazio, vintage 2013, will not contradict me. You are transported in a chocolate swirl with notes of coffee, tar and mushrooms. Prego!
But I quickly returned to Puglia to immerse myself in the wonderful small cities of the coast and know the culture of the Trulli. I admit, as Italy is a country of gastronomy, I also returned for the Apulian breakfast between sweet and salty, based on taralli, focaccia barilese, biscotti della salute, … Puglia is a secret still well kept, but for how long ???