Puglia is for (Wine) Lovers
Wine is one of the many selling points that won us over early on in Puglia. The Pugliese love to tell you that this region produces more wine than any other in Italy, although much of it used to be trucked north to supplement thin vintages in Tuscany and beyond. But until relatively recently, its charms were simple, genuine and not always cellar worthy.
Now Puglia has garnered international attention for the breadth and depth of its viticultural bounty. Wine Enthusiast magazine recently identified Puglia as one of the top ten worldwide wine travel destinations for wine lovers in 2013—the only region in Italy selected. Praised not only for the quality of its wines, the Wine Enthusiast focused on the exceptional quality of life here coupled with the undiscovered feel of its towns, countryside and beaches. The author identified all of the attributes that initially captivated us and continues to reel us in just a little closer every day.
The biggest change in our 17-year history here has been the significant improvement in overall wine quality. A new generation of enologists and vineyard managers—many of whom have trained at some of the best wineries in the world—have returned to Puglia to reinvigorate the centuries-old industry here. From the vineyard to the cellar, every facet of winemaking now reflects the kind of care and attention these Pugliese varietals deserve. And this renewed focus has attracted serious investment from within and outside of Italy.
Pugliese wine grapes start with some significant advantages. The region has a warm to hot Mediterranean climate, with the extremes of heat moderated by the effect of altitude and the sea. The Salento, a long finger of land that is the furthest southern reach of the Italian mainland, is surrounded by sea on three sides. The Murge, where we live, is a calcareous plateau with up to 500 meters of altitude.
Puglia receives around 600 millimeters of rain each year, most of which falls in autumn and winter, leaving a long, dry growing season. Drying winds further help to keep vines healthy. The soil is basically limestone—a terrific start for quality production—with a mixture of iron oxide that renders the soil a deep, rich red. Land is relatively cheap, which has attracted investment from quality-minded growers. Finally, while modern trellises have displaced many of the alberello or head-pruned vines, many still remain. As they age and yields drop further, they are a great source of potential quality for growers who are willing to cultivate them manually.
In wineries, new machinery coupled with a rigorous approach to cellar cleanliness has resulted in wines that are delightful upon release while developing complexity with additional time in the cellar. Traditional blending practices have been reexamined and varietals that were once used exclusively for blending are now being vinified on their own. And winemakers have resisted the temptation to internationalize their wines by obliterating all traces of Pugliese terroir in an effort to expand their markets. Pugliese wines taste like the place they came from: sunny, earthy and rich with an intriguing minerality profile straight from the rocky red earth for which this region is famous. The resulting wines hold their own with the world’s best.
Our particular favorites tend to come from Rivera and Conte Spagnoletti Zeuli in northern Puglia near Frederick II’s Castel del Monte, Li Veli on the Adriatic Coast near Brindisi, Gianfranco Fino, Feudi San Marzano, Tormaresca (a Marchese Antinori project) and Consorzio Produttori Vini di Manduria on the Ionian sea near Taranto and the venerable Leone de Castris along with Conte Zecca, Cantele, Castel di Salve and Castello Monaci in the Salento. Our local favorites are the Cantina Cooperativa di Locorotondo (especially the whites), Miali (a great example of the younger generation making huge strides to modernize and improve their families’ centuries-old brand) and Santoro, a small winery whose organic wines are beautifully structured from nearly extinct varietals they are helping to revive in the region.
On the other end of the vinous spectrum, we can still source vino sfuso—the least complicated of wines—at one of the many small shops that offer it all over town and in the countryside. We show up with used water bottles and for little more than one euro a liter, take home everyday wine that is decidedly simple and imminently drinkable. We have grown especially fond of what friends call vino nero, the deep dark negroamaro varietal that is ubiquitous here. And when we grow tired of it, we rely on “Pugliese rose’.” Not to be confused with the exquisite roses now being produced here from negroamaro grapes, it’s our go-to, chilly summertime blend of negroamaro and the local verdeca, a flinty white varietal known as the principal ingredient in vermouth. There’s something especially satisfying about an unpretentious little aperitivo like this one that tastes like the perfume of the earth and pairs perfectly with the authentic, intensely flavorful local cuisine.
So make your plans and come to Puglia. We promise beautiful weather, amazing cuisine, stunning landscapes, charming towns and villages and wine to suit just about everyone. And as the Pugliese say, “ci vive mireu campa cent’anni” or “wine drinkers live for a hundred years.” What are you waiting for?