Given that all twenty regions in Italy are wine-producing areas, it stands to reason that some of these regions get overlooked when it comes to the quality of their products. You just don’t hear that much about the red wines from Puglia, so I thought I’d address that in this post.
Puglia is the region in the far southeastern reaches of Italy that everyone recognizes as the “heel of the boot.” The fact that more people know that piece of trivia as compared to its wines is a bit sad, but the overall quality of Apulian reds is quite good and improving all the time. Historically, this has been a region of large production, meaning much bulk wine, but thankfully that reality is changing.
The most famous red from Puglia – at least in the United States – is Salice Salentino. This is produced in the southern part of the region in a district north of the town of Lecce and southwest of the major city of Brindisi. Named for the eponymous commune, Salice Salentino is made primarily from a local variety known as Negroamaro, which literally means “black bitter.” The variety has deep color and offers aromas of black cherry and other black fruits; the acidity levels are not too high and the tannins are lightly bitter, but usually not overly aggressive. Salice Salentino must have a minimum of 80% Negroamaro, with the remaining blend often contaning another local variety, Malvasia Nera, which adds acidity and fragrance to the finished wine.
Most examples of Negroamaro are meant to be consumed within 3-7 years of the vintage. Some lighter, fresher examples are priced very reasonably ($12-$14), while the richer, more complex examples that can age for close to a decade are often priced around $25. Among the best examples of a complex, ageworthy Salice Salentino are the “Donna Lisa” bottling from Leone de Castris, the “Armecolo” from Castel di Salve and the “Selvarossa” Riserva offering from Cantine due Palme.
Here is a short list of the best producers of Salice Salentino:
- Agricole Vallone
- Cantine de Falco
- Castel di Salve
- Castello Monaci
- Conti Zecca
- Feudi di Guagnano
- Feudi di San Marzano
- Leone de Castris
- Li Veli
- Tenute al Bano Carrisi
Another well-known red variety in Puglia is Primitivo, used throughout the region, but primarily in the south (many producers that make a Salice Salentino also bottle a Primitivo). Most researchers believe that from DNA evidence, Primitivo is a genetic parent of Zinfandel, the famed red variety of California. Primitivo offers rich spice, zesty tannins, deep color and ripe black fruit flavors (black raspberry, black cherry, black plum).
Most examples of Primitivo focus on the ripeness of the variety and its fruit-forward nature. Generally, most bottlings of Primitivo do not offer the complexity or graceful qualities of a Salice Salentino, but there are examples that are excellent, especially the DOC wines of Primitivo di Manduria. Among those are the “Sessantanni” from Feudi di San Marzano (named for the average age of the vines – 60 years), the “Papale” and “Chicca” bottlings from Vigne e Vini and the “Feudo del Conte” from Antiche Terre del Salento.
CASTEL DEL MONTE
Another excellent wine district is Castel del Monte, in north-central Puglia, located a bit west of Bari, the region’s capital. The primary grape here is Nero di Troia, also known as Uva di Troia. While this has ripe black cherry flavors, there is very good acidity with medium-weight tannins, meaning a well-made wine made from this variety has a nice degree of finesse and elegance to go with its richness.
Other varieties used in a Castel del Monte DOC red (the wine is named for a famous castle in the area) include Montepulciano and Aglianico. There are monovarietal Castel del Monte reds as well; these include Pinot Nero and Bombino Rosso (there are also bottlings of Castel del Monte whites – Bombino Bianco is the principal variety here – and lovely rosés as well, often made from Nero di Troia or Aglianico).
Here is a short list of the best producers of Castel del Monte rosso:
- Tenuta Cocevola
- Torre Vento
One note on a special Castel del Monte red. The “Bocca di Lupo” from Tormaresca is a gorgeous 100% Aglianico with layers of fruit, rich tannins and beautiful complexity. This is reminiscent of some of the finest bottlings of Aglianico from the nearby Basilicata region. Given its seductive black cherry fruit and notes of chocolate, this is so tempting upon release, but this is a wine that is at is best some 7-12 years after the vintage.
As with other Italian regions, producers in Puglia are crafting some beautiful IGT reds. Among the best are the “Graticciaia” from Agricole Vallone, a wonderfully concentrated, beautifully structured 100% Negroamaro; “Duca di Aragona” from Candido, a blend of Negroamaro and Montepulciano that is a graceful blend of spice, tobacco and black cherry fruit; “Priante” from Castel di Salve, a 50/50 blend of Negroamaro and Montepulciano that is quite rich and ripe and shows a more modern approach with these varieties, yet is beautifully balanced and the “Torre Testa” from Tenute Rubino, a powerful offering made from the indigenous variety, Susumaniello.
Finally I have to mention one of the most enjoyable – and at the same time – most rarely seen DOC reds from Puglia. It’s Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera (pronounced kotch–ay meet-ay dee lew-chair-a) and it’s from a small zone near Foggia in the far northern reaches of the region. Only a handful of producers make this wine; the leading estate is Alberto Longo. This is a medium-weight red made at Longo from Nero di Troia, Montepulciano and Bombino Bianco. This is a delightful wine with moderate tannins and tasty red cherry fruit with distinct spice and earthiness – it has the fruitiness of a Dolcetto with the rustic qualities of a simple French Cotes-du-Rhone. It doesn’t cost much and it’s reminder of the simple charms of traditional Puglian red wine.