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Ep 339: Puglia, Italy -- New World Wine From an Old World Country

Wine for Normal People

Release Date: 08/18/2020

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Ep 339: Puglia, Italy -- New World Wine From an Old World Country show art Ep 339: Puglia, Italy -- New World Wine From an Old World Country

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In this show we tackle the heel of Italy’s boot (and the area that covers a part of the calf!): Puglia (pool-YA), which is in a transition from a bulk wine area to a quality wine area. Taking cues from New World winemakers, with whom they had a lot in common from a terroir POV, Puglia are modernizing and making better wines than ever before. We give an overview of what to try.

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In this show we tackle the heel of Italy’s boot (and the area that covers a part of the calf!): Puglia (pool-YA), or as some in the English speaking world call it, Apulia. (BTW -- the show we mention that is hysterical and has a character that says something often that sounds like pool-YA is called "W1A" and is one of our favorite shows!).

           

Puglia is spans 500 miles/800 km of the southeast coast of Italy. It juts out into the Adriatic and Ionian Seas but despite its proximity to marine air, the viticulture areas are surprisingly dry with little rain or humidity. Warm, sunny summer months have historically meant that Puglia is unencumbered by weather issues faced in more northerly areas.

 

This could have meant great quality wine, and in Greco-Roman times, that may have been true but in the modern era, not so much. The area became a major source for heavy red and white bulk wines that were shipped to producers in other parts of Italy and in France to beef up their vintages in years where Mother Nature provided less than ideal growing conditions.

Today, Puglia is in a transition from a bulk wine area to a quality wine area, and things are moving quickly. As New World wines rose to popularity and prominence in the 1990s and 2000s, Puglia’s producers realized they had more in common with parts of South Australia than with Veneto or Piedmont. They welcomed help from New World winemakers and since then the area has been modernizing and making better wines – the proof is in the new DOCGs and DOCs (restricted, delimited winegrowing regions) that have been created in the last 10 years.

 

The geography of Puglia ranges. Here’s the overview with the most important grapes:

  • The north is hillier, and more like Central Italy in its wine grapes and styles (Umbria, Tuscany) – Sangiovese and the Montepulciano grape are used more abundantly.
  • In central Puglia in on the east coast, near Barletta, Uva di Troia/Nero di Troia is emerging as the top indigenous grape, with Bombino Nero also showing promising signs.
  • In Taranto, near the Ionian Sea, Primitivo (Zinfandel) Sangiovese, and Montepulciano are popular.
  • In the south, on the Salento Peninsula, Negro Amaro and Malvasia Nera are dominant.

 

Every grape imaginable is grown in Puglia, but the main ones of interest that are unqiue to the area are:

  • Nero di Troia / Uva di Troia (the proper, registered name)
    • Traditionally used in blends to add acidity and refinement to wines with bolder flavor
    • When made well, wines of this grape taste like: red cherries, currants, violets, black pepper, tobacco, and are medium weight with high acid, and smooth tannin
    • We mentioned there are two different types:
      • A larger berried version that has been used for bulk wine but also, when grown well, can provide perfume and freshness
      • And a smaller berried version that is rarer but considered higher quality and is being used more often now
    • DOC appellations with Nero di Troia in the blend are: Rosso Barletta, Rosso Cerignola, Rosso Canosa, Cacc'e Mitte di Lucera, Orta Nova
    • DOCG appellations using the grape are: Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva, Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva
  • Primitivo (Zinfandel)
    • Originally from Croatia, the grape is grown across Puglia and despite a vine pull financed by the EU that resulted in many old vines being destroyed, there remains some very old, high quality vineyards of Primitivo in Puglia
    • The Primitivo name signals the early ripening of the grape, which is one of the first varieties to be harvested in Italy.
      • The grape can over-ripen quickly, rise to very high sugar levels, and is not a very productive vine. It’s wines can suffer from a lack of pigment, which can be mitigated by oak aging
    • When made well, and not permitted to over-ripen wines can have sour and black cherry aromas with spicy, pepper, licorice, and garrigue (rosemary, thyme, lavender). Fresher styles are more like raspberry and can have higher acidity.
    • DOCs are: Gioia del Colle, Primitivo di Manduria, Lizzano, Terra d'Otranto, Gravina
    • Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG is for sweet wines made of the grape

  • Negro Amaro
    • A black grape variety grown all over Puglia, this thrives in the southern part in the Salento. The grape can handle heat, and is thick skinned so it is a very productive and hearty vine.
    • The smallish, oval, blue-black berries are packed with polyphenols, making structured, full-bodied wines
    • When well made, the wines of Negro Amaro are medium to full bodied with black fruit, tobacco, and sometimes tar notes. There are other versions that are lighter on their feet (especially the rosato made of this grape), and these area often blended with Malvasia Nera to make the wine more multidimensional.
    • Rosatos are dark in color with good acidity and flavors and aromas like almonds, strawberries, and oranges
    • DOCs using Negro Amaro are: Copertino, Salice Salentino, Squinzano, Leverano, Lizzano

  • Bombino Nero:
    • This grape is hard to ripen and often high acidity and low sugar levels. It is lighter and becoming popular in Puglia as an alternative to the rich, thick wines of the other red grapes
    • Bombino Nero is a preferred grape for rosato, as it bleeds color without excessive tannin. The evidence: there is a DOCG- Castel del Monte Bombino Nero for Rosato only

Producers I like:  A Mano, Cantele, Due Palme, Felline, Masseria LiVeli, Masseria Monaci, Taurino, Tormaresca (part of the Antinori family). 

 

Taste some of these wines and let us know what you think! 

 

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