Marjorie Eisenach shares her experiences with all things Italian during her international travels.
One of Wine Spectator’s top ten picks for this year’s hottest wine destinations is Puglia, the heel and spur of the Italian boot, the rocky Eastern part of the peninsula bordered by the Adriatic and Ionian seas.
Often called “magical,” Puglia is a narrow region packed tight with the same attributes that drew me to Italy several decades ago. It’s a charming, varied landscape with an enviable quality of life, amazing architecture, and best of all, first-rate wine. Puglia is rapidly becoming one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations, as the region draws visitors due to it sunny climate, coastal resorts, delicious food, as well as its unique architecture and history.
Puglia produces more wine than any other region in Italy, close to 17% of the national total. Why has it taken Puglian wines so long to receive the recognition that they are due? Significantly improved availability in the US is in large part due to recent investments by several vintners to improve their operations. Famous Italian winemakers like Antinori and Avignonesi, as well as their Australian and American counterparts have added vast sums of money in recent years, as have local Puglian vintners like Candido, Garofano, and Vallone, who have increased their investments and are employing stricter, up-to-date winemaking practices.
Puglian reds, with over 20 DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) wines are often named for the towns where they are grown. DOC wine production must follow precise rules and generally come from smaller regions, within a certain IGP (Protected Geographic Indicator). DOC wines are particularly known for their climatic and geological characteristics and for the quality and originality of the local winemaking traditions. They must follow stricter production regulations than IGP wines. Some well-known examples, named after Puglian cities and towns, are Brindisi, Castel del Monte, Gioia del Colle, Martina Franca, (a town well worth a visit for its wrought iron balconies and sculpted portals), Ostuni, and San Severo.
The main grapes grown in Puglia are the Primitivo, a clone of the Zinfandel grape, as well as Negroamaro, Nero di Troia and Malvasia. The best Primitivi are found around Manduria, while optimal Negroamaro comes from the Salento area, particularly around Salice, Guagnano and Copertino. The two grapes are often mixed together to obtain the best of both: the sweetness of the Primitivo and the slightly wilder, edgy quality of the Negroamaro.
Many wines from Puglia are a great value. I recently purchased a 2012 Epicuro Primitivo IGT at my local Trader Joe’s. It cost $6 per bottle. The wine was well structured, described as “sunny” by one of our tasters. The wine received rave reviews from my family of four, as a perfect accompaniment to pizza. Gil Lempert-Schwarz, Chairman of The Wine Institute of Las Vegas, called it a “big-time, full-bodied masculine sort of wine with loads of black cherry-berry action and tons of concentration.” We also tried another Puglian red from Trader Joe’s, Layer Cake, www.layercakewines.com, which ran slightly over $10 per bottle. It was excellent as well. It is relatively easy to find first-rate Puglian wines at your local stores, as they are now marketed by many major importers. My Trader Joe example is not unusual, the same price and variety of wines from Puglia holds true at my local wine stores as well as on the internet.
If you are planning a trip to Puglia, there are many vineyards to choose from for a visit. At the heart of the Murgia is the idyllic Valle d’Itria, famous for its cone-shaped trulli, circular stone houses topped by conical roofs. Visit Locorotono, a favorite hill town, where you can gaze over vineyards and view the unusual looking trulli. The best time to go is late spring to early summer, but the beaches draw large crowds in August, too.
Marjorie helps American and British travelers build their Italian language skills and learn about Italian culture, sites and events so they can get the most out of their time spent in the country. Visit www.italyanditalian.com to get in touch with her!