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Wine from Puglia

Wine from Puglia

Savoring Puglia: Discovering Its Distinctive Wines

Introduction

Puglia, also known in English by the older name Apulia, the heel of the Italian boot, heavily influenced by Greece due to history (and, to be fair, proximity), once the heart of what was known as Magna Graecia. It has also been a historically rich land, a breadbasket for states and civilisations from the Romans to the Normans and all the way through to the modern country of Italy. Among all the regions it is probably the foremost agricultural powerhouse, brimming with wheat, vegetables, olive groves – and yes, grapevines, of which it has the greatest coverage in Italy, producing the second largest volume of wine (behind only Veneto).

The region stretches down from last of the Apennines in the northwest, with Monte Cornacchia a kilometre-high mountain providing the roof of the region, and from the ‘spur’ of Gargano (i.e. a promontory jutting out into the Adriatic), to the rest of the ‘heel’ running southeast. It borders, running anti-clockwise from the north, Molise, Campania, Basilicata, and of course the sea, its coastline being the longest of any mainland Italian region. It is divided into six regions: Foggia, Barletta-Andria-Trani, Bari (containing the eponymous regional capital), Taranto, Brindisi, and Lecce. It is above all a hot, dry region – its name is thought to derive from the Latin a pluvia, ‘without rain’ – which is a very significant fact from a viticultural point of view.

Vineyards and "Trulli" buildings in Puglia
Wine Tasting at Amastuola Winery in Puglia

The wine

The obvious place to start is the province of Barletta-Andria-Trani, the second province along from the north west. Three of Puglia’s four DOCGs are on the region’s southeastern border with Bari, in the zone of Castel del Monte, based largely on two different vines, both thought to be indigenous to the region. Uva di Troia (also known as nero di Troia or sumarello) is the main grape in two out of the three: first, the Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG, which must be at least 65% uva di Troia, aged for at least 12 months in wooden barrels and at least a further 12 in bottle before release to qualify for the label; up the percentage 90%, and you can put Nero di Troia Riserva DOCG on the label. The character of that grape is the most salient fact in both final wines, with its strong tannins and full body, and intense, dark-berry flavours. In the Rosso, frequently the blend is a little lighter and fresher than in the Nero di Troia counterpart, with its varietal focus on the intense sapidity of its wines.

The second grape, bombino nero, takes sole responsibility for the Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG. This grape, renowned for its peculiar fresh and vibrant strawberry flavours, is vinified as a red, but is especially famous when made into a rosé (or rosato). This makes the Bombino Nero DOCG one of the very few DOCG-grade rosés in Italy, renowned for its elegance and refinement.

The fourth and final DOCG of the region is a sweet wine, down in the province of Taranto. Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of this zone, but it is the one granted the highest level of winemaking designation – really, a way of guaranteeing (hence the ‘G’) the enforcement of stringent standards to ensure a wine tradition is maintained. And what a tradition! It is made from 100% primitivo – the same grape as zinfandel in California – which are left to ripen very late so as to be extra ripe and sugary, then undergo the drying process known as appassimento in order to concentrate the sugars. Even though it isn’t fully fermented, all that excess sugar means the wine is both very sweet and very high in alcohol, often topping out at 16%. As with many of the great dessert wines it can age for decades, the sugar, acidity and alcohol (and, in this case, tannins) act as a sturdy scaffolding, giving the wine a firm frame within which to weave its complex flavours. This is one of Italy’s least well known DOCGs, but one of its most deserving of attention.

But of course it is the DOC around the DOCG, the Primitivo di Manduria, that is both celebrated and crowd-pleasing. And it’s easy to see why – it’s a very easy wine to love, a gorgeous, velvety, plummy, deep-flavoured joy that so many red wine drinkers cannot resist. It has to be at least 85% primitivo (and is frequently 100%) and minimum 13.5% alcohol (which is always more), released only after 5 months of ageing. There is a Primitivo di Manduria Riserva DOC, which must spend at least 9 months in oak barrels out of minimum 24 months ageing in total, as well as hitting an alcohol of at least 14% (again, this is not a problem). It’s very easy to see why these wines are such favourites.

The other DOC to feature primitivo heavily is in the south of Bari province, at the top of the Murge plateau, around the town of Gioia del Colle. Despite the altitude the daytime temperatures are still very high here – however, thanks to the altitude, the cool night-times help grapes grown here retain acidity. Primitivo here makes up at least 50 or 60% of the final wine, so while there are varietal expressions (like Manduria) there are many where primitivo is the base of a blend as merlot is used in much right-bank Bordeaux. The wine here is a little more restrained, a little more high-acidity than the full-blooded Manduria stuff.

Puglia is so abundant in red wine varieties that, in addition to the three we’ve just covered, there is one more that most fans of the region will have already thought of by this point. The famous negroamaro grape (the name means ‘black bitter’, which gives an indication of the berries when ripe), which is mainly associated with the Salice Salentino DOC, mostly in the province of Lecce but also a touch over the border into Brindisi. The wine can be either varietal labeled ‘Negroamaro’ or a negroamaro-based blend labeled ‘Rosso’ (though the latter is never less than 75% negroamaro). These wines are known as brooding, brambly and bracing, with a trademark bitter edge. Rosés from the region, made mainly from the same grape, are renowned for their crispness and are regarded as particularly successful. Negroamaro is also known for wines from the neighbouring Squinzano and Leverano DOCs.

Salice Salentino is also home to a rare and remarkable vine with the evocative name of susumaniello. It’s also produced in Squinzano DOC, but also all over the south of Puglia under various IGT designations. Uncommon though it is, the wine it produces is becoming more and more recognised – both in its unoaked, ruby-coloured, more vibrant incarnation and its oakier, darker, mocha-like version.

The reds and – to a lesser extent – rosés do predominate in Puglia, but they are far from alone, as plenty of quality white wines made in the region as well. There are only three purely white-producing DOCs: Moscato di Trani, around the town of the same name, producing perfumy, aromatic whites from the same moscato grape as one finds in, for instance, Moscato d’Asti; Martina Franca DOC in Salento, principally obtained from verdeca grapes which provide interesting herbal notes, supported by the ultra-rare bianco d’Alessano grape which moderates its acidity and provides a certain orchard smoothness; and Locorotondo DOC in Bari, which makes a slightly drier expression of the same combination of grapes.

There are two other worthwhile notes on Pugliese white wines. The first is the Gravina DOC zone, which does make red wines but is most famous for the pale, soft, citrussy, whites based on verdeca and malvasia. The other isn’t a zone but a grape found in virtually every zone by the name of bombino bianco, produced all over Puglia from San Severo in Foggia down all the way to Gallipoli, making wines of a distinct steely minerality that are such perfect pairers not just for sea fish, but for freshwater fish as well.

There is so much variety in Puglia that we haven’t touched on – in fact, so much that a whole book would barely touch on it! For too long dismissed as a bulk-producer, Puglia is now coming into its own as a region worthy of respect – for its diversity, for its topographies, for its traditions and for its array of unique grape varieties. It’s likely, if you’re reading this blog, that you’ve had something from Puglia before; hopefully, you’ll now want to explore it a bit more.

The breakdown

Location: southeast.

Climate: hot and dry, Mediterranean.

Soils: sand, limestone, volcanic terrarossa.

Elevation: low to medium-high.

DOCGs, some DOCs: Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG, Castel del Monte Nero di Troia DOCG, Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG, Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG; Aleatico di Puglia DOC, Cacc’è Mmitte di Lucera DOC, Castel del Monte DOC, Galatina DOC, Gioia del Colle DOC, Gravina DOC, Lizzano DOC, Martina Franca DOC, Moscato di Trani DOC, Negroamaro di Terra d’Otranto DOC, Primitivo di Manduria DOC, Salice Salentino DOC, San Severo DOC, Squinzano DOC.

Main red grapes: aleatico, bombino nero, malvasia nera, montepulciano, negroamaro, nero di Troia, primitivo, sangiovese.

Main white grapes: bianco d’Alessano, bombino bianco, fiano, greco, malvasia bianca, verdeca.

Hidden gem: unusually for a hidden gem, it has to be a DOCG: the astonishing Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG.

About Wine Shop all’Amarone

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Wine Shop all’Amarone in Venice offers an exceptional selection of Italian wines, spotlighting the distinguished Amarone della Valpolicella. In addition to our Amarone focus, we proudly feature select wines from Puglia, showcasing the diversity and richness of Italy’s winemaking regions. Our curated collection is designed to offer wine lovers a taste of Italy’s finest, from the robust flavors of Amarone to the unique profiles of Pugliese wines.

Open Monday to Saturday from 10:30 AM to 7:00 PM, closed on Sundays.

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