Castel del Monte
Castel del Monte is an imposing castle on the top of a hill in the northern reaches of the region of Puglia just to the west of the city of Andria. While Puglia is often said to be the “heel of the boot,” it is actually much more than that. The “heel” is actually the Salento peninsula and is a mere third or so of Puglia. While the Salento peninsula is some of the flattest land in all of Italy, the northern reaches of Puglia get decidedly hilly as one nears the Gargano promontory and the rise of the Apennine Mountains.
In the Castel del Monte D0C there grows a different array of grapes than those used along the flat Salento peninsula. Aglianico and Montepulciano grow here with some noteworthy results, but neither distinguishes itself quite like the local Nero di Troia (aka Uva di Troia), which probably refers to the local town of Troia more so than to Ancient Troy as is occasionally speculated. The DOC is a bit confusing these days as it allows a range of monovarietal wines including sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot nero (a bit of an anomaly in a warmer climate like this) as well as the better established locals like the white pampanino (pampanuto locally, a varietal I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted), and bombino bianco (…had one tonight – not bad, light, crisp and refreshing), and the red bombino nero, and the aforementioned aglianico.
I should mention that Puglia as a whole has always fared better in foreign markets with their red than white wine, which like the Bombino Bianco I mentioned earlier, fail to distinguish themselves.
There are a few other DOC’s that overlap Castel del Monte. Most worth mentioning is the DOC Moscato di Trani, named for the nearby town of Trani. A dessert wine made in the passito method, whereby the grapes are shriveled either on or off the vine prior to the crush, the wine shows pleasing tropical fruit with a slight hint of exotic spice.
There is perhaps no other family more closely associated with quality wine than the Rivera family and their eponymous winery. Their Castel del Monte Riserva “Il Falcone” (Nero di Troia with 20% Montepulciano) is a pretty steady presence on our wine list. Lately I’ve also been liking their Castel del Monte Aglianico “Cappellaccio,” which is also better priced. The Rivera family also produces an excellent Moscato di Trani called “Piana di Tufara” that we have had fun pairing with many of Gina’s delicious desserts.
Another producer that enjoyed some recognition is the Santa Lucia winery. For value, their DOC Castel del Monte is pretty hard to beat with medium body, nice acidity, smooth tannins and spiced, floral fruit.