Wine Lover's Italy: The Wines of Puglia
Puglia (or Apulia) and Sicily are Italy's top two wine producers, but the vast majority of the grapes produced in Puglia are shipped out in the form of blending wine (usually high-alcohol) or concentrated grape must. But, like many of Italy's wine-producing regions, it has also experienced in the last couple of decades a renaissance in its wine making.
The local grapes most used are uva di troia (or nero di troia), primitivo, and negroamaro. But international varieties like chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon are being planted as well. Although Puglia technically has a lot of DOC zones, none of them produces much quantity, so Puglian production of DOC wines is actually quite small.
Puglian white wines are not really a factor in the wine scene, despite the fact that a lot is produced. Gravina is a solid white Puglian wine, but in general, white DOC Puglian wines are hard to find outside the region.
In Puglia, rosé wines are made by either a short maceration of red grapes before fermentation, or by combining white and red musts. Primitivo and negroamaro are the primary grapes used. The grandfather of Italian rosés, the "Five Roses" Rosato Salento of the Leone de Castris winery, has been around for almost 100 years.
Puglia is most known for its strong reds. The three main varieties are: uva di troia (or nero di troia), an aromatic and colorful red from the northern part of Puglia; negroamaro, the most widely planted grape; and primitivo, which has had a boom in sales and reputation in the last 15 years (it is reputed to be related to America's red zinfandel).
The negroamaro grape means "black and bitter," and as one might expect, it produces dark, licorice-type wines. Taurino is the most known, and one of the oldest, producers. The negrogamaro wines are tannic, and sometimes cut with another wine like malvasia nera to mellow them.
Primitivo has emerged as a popular wine from Puglia. Mellow, oak-aged versions have become popular in the US, and they are quite competitively priced. The primitivo grape ripens sooner and has thinner skins than the negroamaro; it makes powerful wines that do not require the same amount of aging as other wines. A couple years ago The New York Times published an article on whether wines from Puglia are catching up to the other reds of Italy (the reviewers seemed to believe that the potential is there, but more work needs to be done).
Of course, whatever wine you choose to enjoy from Puglia, it pairs best with a dish from the region… a fresh selection of seafood, a plate of homemade pasta, a board of cheeses and cured meats. We encourage you to visit Puglia on a cooking vacation to experience the wonderful wines and food first hand.
By Peg Kern