A lot of ink has been spilled over the years in praise of the wines of Southern Italy. The majority of the articles focus on the Southern regions that are strongly rebounding from years of economic stagnation and poor public perception of their wines. Dancing around Google for a bit shows that Campania and Sicily garner the most interest with Puglia coming in a close third. This focus can be traced to two factors in the United States - the first being that many Italian-Americans trace their roots back to these regions and tourism remains high and the second being (at least for Sicily and Campania) a coordinated effort to raise the profile of one of their most important industries.
What level of truth can we glean from the hype? For starters long strides have been made in the vineyards and wineries in Southern Italy through investment and outside consultants. For the first time in the long history of Southern Italy, producers are working together in unprecedented numbers to raise the quality of wine being produced and move that production from bulk to bottle and at least the IGT level of the Italian wine laws. Too, both international varieties and indigenous varieties are being triumphed in roughly equal amounts along with some interesting blends - Syrah and Nero D'Avola anyone?
But I believe that even with all of this progress there is still a long way to go for these regions to become reliable resources of good quality wine to many consumers without significant experimentation and/or intimate producer knowledge. Much like Bordeaux where the premier Chateaux continue to do well while the rest of the AC is in turmoil, the successes in Southern Italy have come to a few houses with the weighting towards the high end. Puglia has long been touted as a source of good quality inexpensive wines but it is not true for the average consumer who walks into a wine shop with a few of the larger volume and less inspiring products on display. More than likely a negative - or worse, a neutral - opinion will be formed and an opportunity lost.
The South can learn a lot from the producers of the Cotes du Rhone whose multi-producer sponsored website shows up immediately in searches and whose organization has spread the word that wines of the CdR are reliable as a group and backed it up with producers making pledges to produce quality to price. This is perhaps easier done for a more monolithic region than say, Puglia, but the model has been demonstrated by others (including Sicilian producers in the late 90s to today) and results in positive opinions which lead to further progress.
Hmm, this was actually going to be a piece about Aglianico del Vulture , I guess I'll save that for next time.
Robert Scibelli is a lecturer and administrator at New York’s premier wine school, International Wine Center .
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