Puglia, often referred to as the heel of the boot, produces a dizzying array of DOC’s and IGT’s that can be broken down to three general categories based somewhat on geography, but more so on varietal.
To the north, in the hilly terrain that lies between the Apennines and the Gargano peninsula (the spur of the boot) the main varietal is the uva or nero di troia, named not for the ancient city of Troy, but for a nearby town of the same name.
The wines have some of the plush ripe fruit found elsewhere, but this is accompanied by more structure from tannins and an elegance that can always be associated with hillside vineyards. Further south one comes into the Salento peninsula and some of the flattest terrain in all of Italy. Down here in the “heel of the boot,” the primitivo and negroamaro grapes are the most important players. Primitivo has been discovered to be related to the zinfandel varietal of California and these days grows best in the red, iron-rich soil around the beautiful town of Manduria, in the province of Taranto.
To the east, it is in the province of Lecce that negroamaro finds its finest expression, specifically in the DOC Salice Salentino, named for the central town, though there are a slew of other DOC’s that are indistinguishable from Salice Salentino. It should be mentioned that the DOC requires a small amount of the malvasia near to be blended in as well, mostly for its color. Negroamaro makes wines that are very deep in flavor with floral and spicy perfume that would be outstanding with a dish of the local specialty Sanguinaccio(blood pudding). Some producers to look for here are Rosa del Golfo, Conti Zecca, Candido, Vallone and Cosimo Taurino. A relatively new winery, Masseria Monaci, which is run by the family of the enologist of the area, Severino Garofano, has also been causing some excitement. Some of the classic bottlings of the area are made as IGT’s these days and they include Vallone’s Graticciaia and Cosimo Taurino’s Patriglione (both made from a drying of the grapes as in practiced in the making of Amarone). Candido’s Duca d’Aragona (a blend of negroamaro with montepulciano), andNero from Conti Zecca (Negroamaro with Cabernet Sauvingon).
Rosé wine is also a specialty in Puglia, as it is in most of the hotter climate wine regions of the world, and the best tends to be made from the fragrant negroamaro grape. Rosa del Golfo is perhaps the best in this category.
Perhaps no other region in Italy, with the possible exception of Sicily, has been as acutely affected by the quality revolution in Italian viticulture than Puglia. The Salento peninsula was once the source of reds that were shipped in tankers to the northern European countries to adjust color and alcohol of their wines in difficult vintages. This revolution in quality became necessary in the competitive environment that the international wine scene has become, but the Pugliesi have always been insistent that their local varietals can produce excellent wines. Thus the change has happened more in the vineyard than through the use of the “international” (read French) varietals. There has been some experiment with moving away from the alberello, or goblet training method toward wire training methods such as spurred cordon and guyot, but the powerful winds that sweep through the region make this a difficult challenge. The main changes has been in increasing the density of plants in the vineyard, thus concentrating the fruit at harvest, and in learning to appreciate what the old vines can bring to the wine. As a vine gets older its production decreases, which in the past growers frowned upon, as they were compensated more for quantity than quality. The little fruit that is produced, however, has the power and concentration that yields the wines of intense perfume and structure that we are beginning to expect from these parts.