6 reds from Puglia – showing well and offering terrific value for the premium on-trade
The wines that were showing really well at the 18th Definitive Italian Wine Tasting, the wines that provided the best value for money, and were most memorable were the white wines from the three areas that form the Tre Venezie region, Alto Adige, Friuli and Veneto (covered in a separate post), and the red wines from Puglia.
Puglia, or the heel of Italy has traditionally been seen as ‘the cellar of Europe’ in much the same way that the Languedoc is the wine lake of France – big on bulk with very little subtlety or elegance on show. Both descriptions are out of date.
For 20 years or more, quality wine has been made in Puglia with the two main truly Puglia grape varieties Primitivo and Negroamaro offering an abundant source of well made, fruit-driven, flavoursome red wines that also offers terrific value. Add to that Bombino Nero which is used for some nicely textured rosés and the emerging grape Nero di Troia and you have grapes that, in the right hands, can make wines that balance big flavour and alcohol with balanced acidity.
The region has also recently been the focus of Antinori, making Aglianico here with Bocca di Lupo, and it is rare that Antinori gets an investment decision wrong – the area with its Mediterranean climate, sea breezes and cretaceous limestone with underlying iron-rich soil is perfect for viticulture.
Add this to the fact that most of the Puglian wines at the 18th Definitive Italian Wine Tasting were weighing in around the £10 mark and you have some interesting opportunities.
So where’s the catch?
Not many customers are going to pitch in with asking for the latest Primitivo or Negroamaro wines, especially if their previous experience was of jammy fruit-bombs. The reputation of Puglia being a source of flat, high-in-alcohol blending wines has a bit of shaking off to do.
Personally, though, when faced with an Italian wine list, I’ll often opt for a Salice Salentino rather than a wine from Tuscany or Piemonte if I don’t recognise the producers or vintages of the latter two. It’s my default wine in much the same way that a Côtes du Rhone is in a French restaurant. Salice Salentino is a terrific wine to accompany stews and meaty pasta dishes, has dependable quality and is great value for money. On the face of the tasting the same is true of Negroamaro and Nero di Troia.
Many customers might need hand-holding and might need some convincing, but these wines should not just be the preserve of Italian restaurants – they deserve a wide and contemporary environment.
So which wines from Puglia were really hitting the mark?
This 80% Negroamaro and 20% Montepulciano blend has lots of interesting things going on – a slightly funky nose, heaps of rich dark fruit and well-integrated tannin that is perhaps just a little dry on the finish but terrific value – £11 from For The Love of Wine.
Vigna Pedale, Castel Del Monte Riserva DOC 2010, Torrevento
This 100% Nero di Troia is a big wine which feels bigger than its 13% abv. A gorgeously inviting nose is complemented by rich, liquorice-tinged fruit. It has spent 12 months in oak barrels and 12 months in bottle and is also seriously good value for a 2010, just £15.99 from Artius Wines.
Brunilde Di Menzione Brindisi DOC Riserva 2013, Schenk Italia
This 100% Negroamaro, that has spent 12 months in French oak barriques, has a ‘hot’ spicy nose that’s exciting. There’s a good flavour profile to match. The producer must have spent a fortune on glass, it’s one of those bottles that could break a metatarsal if put into the hands of the wrong sommelier – £12.59 from Buckingham Schenk.
Cappello di Prete 2012, Candido
This 100% Negroamaro has got a touch of the garrigues about it – i.e. aromas of wild herbs baking in the hot sun. You can feel the heat all the way through this wine in a nice way – the fruit is not jammy, there is a lot of tannin and wood (matured in small wooden casks) but all seamlessly integrated. Hints of marzipan on the finish, but a really delicious wine. £12-£15 from Enotria&Coe.
Primitivo Puglia IGT Posta Piana 2014, Cantine Paradiso
This 100% Primitivo has been partly aged in barriques and has the most inviting nose with notes of rich black fruit, olives, earth and a hint of sweet tobacco. The tannins are firm and on the dry side, but there is a good, lengthy finish. An everyday wine that will be excellent with red meat £11.39 from VinumTerra.
Cubardi Primitivo IGT Salento 2013, Vitivinicola Schola Sarmenti
This 100% Primitivo weighs in at a hefty 15% abv and is clearly a big wine but wears its weight well. It has been aged for 6 months in second fill French oak tonneau. Price is a bit more than the others at £21.95 (from Laytons) but it is worth that price by some distance.
Any wine tasting that calls itself Definitive is setting itself up for a fall, especially when Italy is represented by just 41 exhibitors. But the name came about says co-organiser Jane Hunt MW because 19 years ago the Italian trade organisation was not doing any kind of generic marketing. This tasting event was set up to remedy that and aid UK importers of Italian wine.