My wine of the week for wine Wednesday is from Apulia, from Tenuta Chiaromonte. It is a Primitivo from Acquaviva delle Fonti in La Murgia which is near Bari in Apulia. The winery started in the 1800s with 3 hectares and now has 32 hectares. I tried this wine at the Gambero Rosso tasting earlier this year. It had won the award for best red wine of 2017 and the owner, Nicola Chiaromonte was happily pouring this big, bold wine. At 16.5% alcohol, it didn’t fit into what I consider my typical wine style. Moreover, I am always hard pressed when it comes to Primitivo to find one I really enjoy but this one won me over. It had all of the juicy red and black fruits, spice and pepper, and garigue or Macchia Mediterranea notes one would expect from a wine from Southern Italy. However it didn’t have the oak treatment that I have found to be very common in that part of Italy. What you got in that glass was pure primitivo made on Calcareous soils in Southern Italy. I found it offered in California on Wine-searcher but I believe they also have a New York importer, Masanois.
According to the winery website, Primitivo can also called Primativo or Primaticcio. This last because it is an early ripening grape. The Phoenicians were already selling Primitivo in their day. Apparently a priest from Gioia del Colle, Don Filippo Indellicati, started the first monocolture of this variety.
This Malvasia hails from Puglia or Apulia as we say in English. It tends to grow around Lecce, Taranto and Brindisi.
Malvasia Nera di Brindisi which is also sometimes called Malvasia Nera di Lecce, Malvasia di Bitonto and Malvasia di Trani is usually used in rose wines for which the Salento is very well known as well as in red wines blended with other indigenous grapes from the area such as Negro Amaro and Susamaniello. It can be found in a host of DOC wines such as Aezio, Leverano, Copertino, Lizzano, Nardò, Salice Salentino,and Squinzano. Some producers do make a 100% monovarietal.
The variety is quite resistant to hot temperatures which works perfectly in that region which is very hot for much of the spring and summer. It has a think skin and is very sensitive to various diseases such as oidium and botrytis. It makes wines that have good tannins, alcohol and body. It can bring color to the blend but it lacks a bit of acidity. I have had this wine from Cantine San Marzano made with Malvasia Nera. Tenuta Americo, from Otranto also makes many versions of Malvasia.
I love Puglia, the people, the food, the wines. I spent a week in the Salento in 2002 and it was truly memorable. I felt as if I was swimming in an emerald. I have never seen such green water in my life despite sailing in many parts of the Mediterranean, including Greece and Turkey.
My last trip in 2010 was more wine focused. I used to find that many of the best wines from Puglia don’t make it to the USA and those that do, at times have too much oak. That has changed in recent years and I am happy about it. They have so many fantastic indigenous varieties that I would like to taste without having them layered in oak flavors. It’s all about your personal palate at the end of the day and mine tends to try to stay away from oaky wines, especially if I am having light fare or I am at the beach. I highly recommend traveling there for the wines, the food, the people, the towns and the sea, its the Mediterranean at it’s best.
I discovered Castel del Salve one year at Vinitaly. I was tasting Aleatico that year in Puglia and I was very attracted to their modernist labels. I then discovered that they are from a small town in the Salento, Depressa, which oddly enough was home to a woman I had been working with. Of course, they were friends. It’s a small world at the end of the day.
Earlier this year, I had the occasion to taste a number of their wines at the Slow Wine event in February. They didn’t disappoint. What I liked about their wines turns out to be one of their credos, the wines were fresh and not overly fruity. Francesco Winspeare, one of the owners of Castel di Salve stated “the most important thing for us is to preserve freshness and fruitiness because too often in our area the wines are oxidised or over-matured”. I think he and his co-founder Francesco Marra are right on in the direction they have chosen for their wines. I particularly liked Armecolo, made from 80% Negroamaro and 20% Malvasia Nera di Lecce. It was elegant and beautiful as well as approachable. It was not oaked but instead was in stainless steel and bottles before coming to market. It was nice to taste a wine from Puglia that wasn’t overly oaked or a fruit bomb. While many are shying away from those styles, I think you still see them more than I would like.
The Salento is one of the most beautiful places in Italy, which is certainly saying something. I took a marvelous trip there some years ago and spent a glorious week soaking in the beauty, light, sea and hospitality of the people. There are also great towns such as Gallipoli, Otranto and Lecce of course. So much to see and do while drinking all of this great wine.
I know this picture is very blurry but in addition to having tried many wines that afternoon, I also had just seen Sting sing two of his songs in what felt like my living room so perhaps I was overcome with emotion.
All of this took place during the first day of my trip to Verona earlier this month. Sting decided to play a couple of pieces during the press conference and needless to say, I and everyone else there, was delighted. The last time I saw Sting was actually when he played in the Arena in Verona in the early 2000s. It was a real kick to see/hear him so close to me. Other than having Bruce play in front of me like that, I can think of few artists that I would rather listen to.
Getting back to the wine part of this post, the wine in the picture is an Aleatico from Puglia from Masseria Li Veli. Aleatico is also grown in Tuscany and in Lazio. I have had examples of this wine from both of those places as well.
The Aleatico grape is particularly aromatic. It produces rich, profound wines with dried fruit, plum and fig aromas and flavors. The Italians would call this a “vino da meditazione.” It also had that Mediterranean note that is often called “garrigue” and is a combination of herbs and spices that one finds in the hills there.
Apparently the vineyards where the grapes are grown are a mixture of clay, calcareous rocks. The grapes are picked by hand and then laid to dry in baskets in a controlled and ventilated room for 45 days. Once the drying process is completed, the grapes are destemmed and put into 500 liter casks where fermentation takes place. The wine is then aged for a minimum of 42 months in 112 liter oak barrels. Before bottling it is put into a steel vat to let the sediment settle to the bottom.
This wine was absolutely striking and delicious on its own as it would be with a dessert on the drier side such as a ciambella (a dry donut-like cake).
While today’s weather hasn’t been perfect, it does remind me of many Easter Monday picnics I used to have when I lived in Italy. Traditionally a holiday, most Italians go out for a picnic with friends and/or family. There is a saying in Italian, “Natale con i tuoi, pasqua dove vuoi” which translated actually means Christmas at home and Easter whenever you want. The big question is always what to drink at a picnic. I can think of lots of wines that work well with picnic food, red, rose or white, sparkling and still. If I had been at a picnic today, I might have brought this wine from Amastuola made from Fiano and Malvasia. I tried this wine during wine week in February. I was impressed with its aromas and flavors and also by the fact that the winery was organic, not that common in Italy and in Puglia specifically. It was great because it was also only 12.5% in alcohol, a relief after so many high alcohol wines. I love this part of Puglia where I have been lucky enough to spend time, the Salento. I highly recommend traveling there for the wines, the food, the people, the towns and the sea, the Mediterranean at it’s best.
This week’s variety is called Impigno Bianco. The name is clearly a family name and is thought to be that of the person who brought this grape to Italy, specifically to Puglia near the town of Ostuni. A white grape it is used for blending generally with other indigenous grapes such as Verdeca, Bianco d’Alessano and Francovidda. It can be found in wines listed under the Ostuni D.O.C. denomination.
It’s nice to write about a grape from Puglia during the summer months. I have such fond memories of a vacation I spent in the Salento and of my visit to Ostuni, the first town I really visited in that part of Italy. We also visited Rosa Marina, the beach nearby. Amazing places to vacation and really enticing on this overcast New York Tuesday. All white, it must have been 50 degrees celsius in the shade that August. I drove to Puglia from Milano with a small group of friends. We spent a lovely week staying in the Salento, eating royally and swimming in the green water that is found all over Puglia. I loved all of it, perhaps not the 3 kg I gained from all that eating but it was such a memorable trip. The people were more than welcoming and the countryside is beautiful but it was the color of the water that I will never forget. I remember seeing pictures of green water thinking it had to be colored or changed on a computer but it actually was that color green. I felt I was swimming in an Emerald. If you ever get the chance to visit the area, don’t pass it up.
One of this week’s varieties hails from Emilia Romagna. It’s called Fortana Nera and is originally from France, specifically from the Cote d’Or. In fact it is also sometimes referred to as Uva d’Oro, even though is a red grape. It is only used in conjunction with other red varieties and can be part of the denominazione d’origine controllata (D.O.C.) of Emilia.
Here a post I wrote about Emilia Romagna. I’m quite partial to this region and its people as well as is food. I lived in Bologna for a year when I was in graduate school and have great memories of that time. I also have many friends from the region and they all tend to be open and warm with a great sense of humor.
A second variety for this week is called Francavidda Bianca. It comes from Puglia, specifically the province of Brindisi. Apparently the grape is not that hardy and can be susceptible to vine maladies. Here’s a post I wrote about Brindisi some years back. I love Puglia and have visited a few times through the years. An endlessly interesting region with beautiful beaches and great water, a perfect jaunt for the summer.
In other news, here’s a recent article I wrote for the Organic Wine Journal on a winery from Arezzo called Paterna. Tuscany perhaps more than any region in Italy feels like home to me thanks to the years I lived there and the people I met then and all those I now know in the wine world. One gorgeous country ovunque…