Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine, generating 4.796 million tons annually. As with every giant producer, some of Italy’s wine is meh, but most of it is good. We drink lots of good Italian wine. Until recently, we mostly returned to the same superstar grapes like Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Sangiovese. But lately we’ve gone crazy for Aglianico and Susumaniello. Negroamara and Primitivo. And the white grape Verdeca. These lesser-known varietals thrive in the sunny Mediterranean climate of Puglia (or Apulia in Italian). If you feel like shaking up your Italian wine list this winter, read on to discover some new grapes from new places.
In The Heel of the Boot
Puglia produces 17% of Italy’s wine production, more than any other wine region. But VinoDuo was only minimally aware of Puglian wine. An “up and coming region” for, oh 20 years, Puglia is ready for a real breakthrough in the U.S. market. Quality has improved dramatically. Distribution is slowly increasing, though still shamefully limited. After a recent trip to Puglia, we’ve become evangelists for this wild, beautiful region, sampling 40 wines+ from six wineries and one café tasting room in five days.
What to Buy
You can find plenty of OK-to-good Puglian wine from the largest producers at most wine shops. But of all the wines we tasted, only a handful are currently available in the U.S. In some cases the winery’s distributor ships the sweet/cheap/cute label wine to the states, assuming our New World palates can’t take the more complicated tastes of the really good stuff. Well, below is the good stuff we tasted that you can buy online or, perhaps, your local shop.
Tenute Girolamo is a family-owned winery that planted its first vines in 2001 and bottled its first vintage in 2006. In an elegant tasting room our host Nicola poured four wines, only one of which–the Conte Giangirolamo–is exported to America. This medium-bodied blend is aged 20 months in French oak and has a good balance of fruit with vanilla and oak notes. The proof is in the pairing. We brought a bottle back to the villa and loved it with grilled swordfish and prawns. Gary’s favorite Tenute Girolamo wine is still in the barrel. Nicola graciously gave us a barrel taste of the 2017 Codalunga Aglianico and believe this could be Girolamo’s breakthrough. Wine Spectator, are you listening??
When we drove up to I Pastini’s tasting room for our appointment, we sensed a state of frenzy. Indeed, the staff was expecting important visitors…just not VinoDuo. A bus tour was due any minute, so our tasting was a bit rushed. We tasted 7 wines, four white and three red, and while we didn’t have the luxury of lingering, we liked two enough to buy.
1.) Faraone Verdeca, 2017; 100% Verdeca
Where to Buy: Princeton Corkscrew
Verdeca is a a white grape indigenous to the Bari and Taranto provinces of Puglia. This wine spent five months in steel and one in the bottle. Big mineral and citrus flavors balanced by fresh fruit and sparkling acidity. Picture summer…pool…simplicity in a bottle.
2.) Arpago, 2016; 100% Primitivo
Where to Buy: Vivino
Deep ruby Primitivo aged 10 months on steel and two in the bottle. Lisa deemed the Arpago thin and a little hot…maybe ok on Tinder but not for wine. Gary was more generous, appreciating the licorice aroma and black pepper spice but found it somewhat young on the palate.
We spent a sunny, boozy afternoon at a tasting room/café in Brindisi, a prominent Puglian town with a gorgeous seaside promenade. The Tenuto Rubino winery was closed so we were directed to its waterfront tasting cafe. Our time at Numero Primo was the closest we got to a bacchanal during our trip. Eight wines, four small plates, and two hours gazing at palm trees and a busy waterfront. The whites and rosés were just ok, but the reds were, um, primo. Sadly, of the five reds we tasted just the Salento Susumaniello Oltreme is exported to the U.S. We hope importers will bring in Rubino’s Visellio Primitivo, which gives top-rated (and super pricey) U.S. Zinfandels a run for their money.
Next post: We visit two of our favorite wineries, Tenute Emera and Tenuta Giustini.