By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 14 July 2018
With its pretty white trulli villages, beautiful coastline and baroque towns, southern Puglia is becoming a popular tourist destination – but it is also home to some of Italy’s best value red wines.
Puglia is Italy’s second largest wine region – second only to Sicily in size – with 100,000 hectares of vineyards spread across a slim narrow region down into Italy’s heel. For years Puglia was dominated by co-operatives and known as Italy’s bulk supplier, producing big hefty reds shipped north to wine and vermouth blending vats.
Now things are changing in parts of this once-neglected corner of Italy – and Puglia is starting to show its style. Seventy per cent of Puglia’s vineyards are still on flat fertile plains, mainly around Foggia in the north, which are easy to cultivate and create high yields – but to find Puglia’s real wine quality head deep into Italy’s heel to the south.
Down in the Salento peninsula, temperatures are marginally cooler with coastline on three sides, so heat and droughts are slightly less harsh here, particularly in Manduria near Taranto and on parts of the Murge plateau. It is here that Puglia’s best wines are emerging – and its cheap land prices is attracting outside investors from Italy’s Antinori to California’s Kendall Jackson.
What makes Puglia so interesting for winelovers is its own raft of grapes. With its strategic position as the gateway to Greece and the Orient, many of Puglia’s native grapes are of Greek descent which arrived centuries ago through the important trading ports of Bari and Brindisi. Up until late C19, when phylloxera devastated the region, Puglia had over 100 native grapes.
More recently the 1980’s EU vine-pull scheme saw more precious old vines pulled out, but today Puglians have realized their worth and enthusiastic growers are searching out what is left of the gnarled vines. Winemakers are also learning how to eliminate the rough rustic style and tame once prodigiously high alcohol levels.
Negroamaro is the king grape here, black and bitter as its name suggests, making quirky robust spicy reds and fragrant rosatos. Its stronghold is on the eastern side of Salento peninsula between Brindisi and beautiful baroque Lecce.
To the west of Salento, around Manduria, the Primitivo grape (aka Zinfandel) is highly prized for its elegant perfume and sweet raisiny fruit. Two other important power-packed grapes are the big dark voluptuously fruity Uva di Troia and the ancient rare Susumaniello.
Given the heat, it is hardly surprising 80% of Puglia’s wines are red. The best known Puglian white is from the trulli town of Locorotondo, made from Verdeca, and other Salento producers grow Fiano, Greco, Malvasia and increasingly, international favourites like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
SALENTO ‘EDDA LEI’ BRANCO 2016 Cantina San Marzano ***STAR BUY***
(£15-£17 www.strictlywine.co.uk; www.corkingwines.co.uk)
Oak aged creamy complex Chardonnay, blended with two local grapes Muscatello Selvatico and Fiano Minutolo to enhance the grapey peachy aromas. Made by high quality San Marzano co-operative, who also make superb Primitivo. This flagship white was popular with tasters for succulent citric fruits and well rounded palate: 14%
SALENTO ‘MEZZOGIORNO’ BIANCO 2016 Morella
(£15 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
Sleek minerally Fiano from vines transplanted from Campania’s Avellio to Puglia’s Manduria by enthusiastic Morella duo, Roseworthy-trained Australian winemaker Lisa Gilbee and her Italian husband Gaetano Morella (pictured above). Fresh and vivid considering Puglia’s heat: 12.5%
BRINDISI ROSSO VIGNA FLAMINIO 2014 Vallone ***STAR VALUE***
(£7.95 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
Superb buy which scored highly for its sweet baked raisiny flavours, gentle oak notes, soft smooth tannins and approachability, ideal for serving with spicy spare ribs. Made from 100% Negroamaro by Vallone, one of the Salentino’s top producers who originally sold their grapes off to the local co-operative, but since 1997 have bottled their own: 13%
(£8 Marks & Spencer)
Juicy unoaked Puglian from 20 year old vines with upfront plummy fruits, hints of mahogany polish, bitter chocolate and coffee with a soft velvety texture. Mouthfilling and powerful for the price made by talented local winemaker Filippo Baccalar. Bottled unfiltered - decant before serving with spicy tomato-based pasta: 13.5%
I MURI NEGROAMARO 2017 Vigneti del Salento
(£11.99 Drinkmonger, Henderson Wines, Fine Wine Co)
Intensely fruity with dark blackcurrant and cassis flavours with unusual quirky twist with a distinctly savoury smoky bacon undertone. Made on the western side of Salento near Manduria. Delicious served with roast lamb chops: 13.5%
SURANI PRIMITIVO DI MANDURIA 2016 ***STAR BUY***
(£9.99/£11.99 Majestic Wine)
Popular with tasters for its sweet voluptuous fruits. Upfront juicy blackcurranty flavour, with raisiny Zinfandel-like sweetnes and smooth velvety structure. Easy soft and undemanding red from quality Manduria zone: 14%
NERO DI TROIA CANACE 2013 Cantina Diomede ***STAR BUY***
(£20-£21.95 Valvona & Crolla; Luvians)
Puglia’s third most planted grape, Uva di Troia, was once used for bulk. This shows it can make superb wine from calcareous soils near Canosa in north central Puglia. The use of drying grapes on the vine creates rich raisiny black fruits, dense sweet powerful mouthfeel – always a winner at tastings: 13.5%
PUROSANGUE CORSIERO NERO DI TROIA 2016
Super-charged fruit with very smoky with very rich cherry flavours, hefty spice and dark bitter chocolate – it tastes as exotic and powerful as a Lebanonese. Not for the faint hearted, suit those who really like big reds, tasting heavier than its alcohol level: 13.5%
IMPRINT SUSUMANIELLO 2015 A Mano ***STAR BUY***
(£14.99 Valvona & Crolla, Vino Wines, Fine Wine Co, Beerhive, Lockett Bros, Markinch Wine)
From 80 year old vines of rare Susumaniello grape (which means ‘little donkey’) rediscovered by dynamic A Mano duo, Californian Mark Shannon and Italian Elvezia Sbalchiero. Distinct blueberry aroma, with hints of rhubarb, herbs and white pepper with underlying cassis. Not as high in alcohol as other Puglian reds: 12.5%
Join Rose’s Tuscany v Puglia wine & charcuterie tastings at The Scores Hotel, St Andrews on Friday 12 October and at Abode Hotel, Glasgow on Friday 9 November from £40 www.rosemurraybrown.com