Susumaniello—Whisper When You Say It
Puglia’s young vintners are breathing new life into the Pugliese wine industry. While Puglia has always produced more wine than any other region in Italy, much of its sun-soaked reds made their way north under cover of night to beef up chianti and nebbiolo-based wines in northern Italy during thin years. Pugliese have also made routine, but clandestine appearances in Bordeaux and Burgundy for the same reason. Now, consistent with so many wonderful aspects of life here, the Pugliese have begun to value their contributions to the viticultural world and are reviving their own historical cantine and ancient vines to worldwide acclaim.
The grape varietals found here are magical, conjuring up visions of trade routes and Greco-Roman society. Uva di Troia (grape from Troy), verdeca and susumaniello are just a few of the many planted throughout Puglia, from the Castel del Monte region in the north to the Salice Salentino D.O.C. in the extreme heel of the Italian boot. New investment and refined sensibilities paired with a deep respect for the land and its bounty are resulting in some truly extraordinary wines to rival Italy’s more celebrated offerings.
Susumaniello is just one of these varietals, confirming that everything old is new again. Almost wiped out in favor of more commercially viable varietals, a dedicated few have devoted their efforts to bringing susumaniello back. And we’re delighted that they have. Susumaniello, which probably comes from the Dalmatian coast to the east of Puglia, manages a difficult balance between refined elegance and bright freshness, a berry-rich mouthful coupled with just the right acidity in the hands of an accomplished vintner. And there are probably only about 200 acres of susumaniello planted in the whole of Italy, all of them in Puglia.
Our favorite is made just down the road from us at the Santoro winery just off the Martina Franca-Ostuni road in the Valle d’Itria. Marco Santoro, a fifth generation winemaker here, is committed to organic winemaking and the revival of ancient varietals cultivated here since the pre-Roman period. His susumaniello offering, called Sarolo, is exquisite. And Slow Food Italy, Gambero Rosso and the Veronelli wine guide all agree as evidenced in their glowing reviews. In fact, Santoro and other Pugliese wines have been identifed as offering ” . . . the best quality/pleasure/price ration in Europe.” Sadly, Sarolo is only made in tiny quantities and is not, alas, exported to the U.S., but it’s well worth a detour when you are visiting Puglia.
Look for susumaniello in your neck of the woods by searching out these producers: Li Veli, Cantine Due Palme, Tenute Rubino and Botrugno to name a few. But don’t stop here. Search out more of these quirky, insider varietals and learn what makes them so special. You’ll be richly rewarded for your trouble.