My current favorite wine itinerary is one I experienced just last month... Puglia, Italy!
A visit to Italy's largest wine producing region and the 'heel of the boot,' Puglia, is a new discovery for any wine lover! Puglia wine dates back to Phoenician times and the Greeks named Puglia 'Enotria,' Wineland. Often referred to as 'the wine cellar of Europe' because in the past it primarily produced wine sent to the rest of Italy and Europe for structure and alcohol content in blending. However over the last decade, Puglia wineries have made investments that are starting to pay off. They realized making quality wine and bottling it for sale could be more profitable in the long run than producing large quantities for blending. The results I tasted were fantastic!
Red wine is king here (rosso) but you'll also find white (bianco) and rosé (rosato). The rosato was my biggest surprise of the trip and some of the best rosé I've ever had! Native red grape varieties grown in Puglia are Primitivo (main red grape, clone of Zinfandel), Negroamaro (means bitter black, makes a very strong wine), and Nero di Troia (brought to Puglia from Troy 2,000 years ago by the Greeks). Native white grapes include Bombino Bianco (crisp and fresh wines) and Malvasia Bianca (elegant wines). There are 26 DOC (denomination d'origine controllata) in Puglia and only 10% of the wines in the region have this designation. Other wines from the region are either IGT (typical geographic indication) or Vini da Tavola (table wine).
My favorite wines and wineries of the visit from north to south are…
• Cantina del Locorotondo: Just outside Locorotondo, the 'city of white wine,' our visit here and meeting Oronzo Mastro were a real treat! This huge winery is built with local white stone so it fits in with the trulli architecture of the area. The winery is owned by a cooperative of 700 farmers who produce 18 wines, three sparkling wines and one grappa, one million bottles per year in total. The Cantina Sociale of Locortondo was formed by a group of farmers back in 1930, the first of its kind in Puglia, to promote their wines. Their great work was rewarded in 1969 when Locorotonda was made a DOC. Oronzo invited us to join an Italian tour group for a tasting of 10 of their 21 wines. We brought home two favorites from the tasting, Cummerse Rosé (100% Pinot Nero IGT Puglia, crisp, refreshing and a light fruit taste) and Casale San Giorgio (Negroamaro and Primitivo IGT Puglia, a nice round and curvy red), and a bottle of the DOC’s specialty sparkling, Locorotondo DOC PrimoSecco (60% Verdeca, 35% Biaco d'Alessano, 5% Fiano).
*When in Locorotondo, you must stop in for lunch or dinner at quaint La Taverna del Duca (Via Papadotero 3) specializing in the region's 'slow food.’
• Tenute Rubino: Located in Brindisi, Tenute Rubino winery was founded in the 1980's. With over 200 hectares of vineyards, its location on the Adriatic Coast offers the perfect conditions for grape growing… sun in the day, cool air off the sea at night. In 2000 the family opened a state of the art vinification facility and cellar. Since then they've been winning many accolades for their eleven wines, four white and rosé and seven red. They use Negroamaro, Primitivo, White and Black Malvasia and the very unique Susumaniello grape. My favorite is their Saturnino Rosé IGT Salento! In May 2011 it won the gold medal at Consours Mondial de Bruxelles international wine competition in Luxembourg. This gorgeous deep pink wine is made of 100% Negroamaro grapes. The scent is lovely raspberry and violet while taste is round, crisp and refreshing, helped by its fermenting in stainless steel tanks. It's the perfect compliment to the delicious seafood and vegetable dishes of Puglia. I also enjoyed their Giancola white wine (100% White Malvasia), recently awarded 88 points from Wine Enthusiast.
*From Brindisi, make the 42 minute drive north to Ostuni in time for a sunset stroll and dinner. You'll see the breathtaking 'white city' sitting atop the hill in the distance as you approach. Called the 'white city' because of its white washed architecture, you feel like you're in a Greek island as you meander through the town lanes. Casa San Giacomo (Via Bixio Continelli, 4), down a few stairs in a grotto is an great spot for dinner serving up local food and wine. We had the most delicious Incapriata di cicoria e purea di fave alla moda Ostunese, their local staple of fava bean puree with local chicory, and Orechiette al ragu misto e braciola, 'little ear' pasta which is THE local pasta shape with a mouthwatering sauce of pounded thin beef rolled with cheese and herbs.
• Leone de Castris: Near Lecce, this is one of the most award wining wineries in Puglia. They've been in the wine business since 1665 and started bottling in 1925. We enjoyed a a bottle of Salice Salento Riserva Red DOC 2007 made of native grape varieties 90% Negroamaro and 10% Malvasia Nera. With a fruity smell of blackberry, black cherry and sweet spices, its smooth berry taste is very well balanced.
* Stop into Lecce, the capital of the Salento region and 'Florence of the south,' for its baroque architecture treasures throughout the Centro Storico (historic center) and a look at the remains of a 2nd century 15,000 seat Roman Amphitheatre discovered in a 1930 excavation. For lunch or dinner, one of the town's best restaurants is Alle Due Corti (1 Corte die Giugni) specializing in traditional pugliese cuisine like La Taieddha (layered potatoes, rice and mussels baked).
Salute to the fantastic wines of Puglia!