Puglia and Campagnia Wine Notes — 20/04/2012
Puglia Wine Notes
Located on the heel of Italy, Puglia was settled by various tribes before coming under Roman command in 4th Century BC. But grapes had been grown there since 2000 BC thanks to the influence of the Greeks. After the fall of the Romans, the Byzantines, Lombards and Goths all variously strode through the region before it was conquered again in the 11th Century by the Normans which bought peace and prosperity to the region. When Palermo in Sicily became more powerful under Norman rule, Puglia became a province of the kingdom of Sicily. The coastline was then heavily contested between the Turks and also the Venetians until 1861 and the unification of Italy.
Topographically, more than half of the region is on a plain with little rain fall and intense hours of sunlight, which makes it a superb area for agriculture with olives, grapes, cereals, almonds, figs and tobacco. The pergola trained vines for table grapes are spread throughout the countryside, dotted occasionally with the rather bizarre stone trulli. After phylloxera devastated the vineyards, most of them were replanted with an eye to quantity not quality. Sadly also during the last 30 years or so, the EU subsidies were tempting for many grape growers – who grubbed up very old, bush trained vines, which were producing great quality grapes – though thankfully there are some of these ancient vines that have been saved.
Italy’s dominance in the world league of quantity of wine produced is well documented – and a large part of this is due to Puglia (although Sicily is close behind) – which as one region alone is responsible for
approximately 17% of the national production. Historically a lot of the wine produced was shipped in bulk to Turin for distillation into Vermouth or to Northern Italy and parts of France to be illegally blended in to
improve the colour and alcohol content of the local wine. Traditionally the Puglian reds were huge and truly rustic due to the high alcohol levels, which was often out of balance with the tannins (with a few notable exceptions of course).
There are 26 DOC’s in Puglia – Salice Salentino, Primitivo Di Manduria and increasingly Castel del Monte are some of the more famous DOC’s in the region and indeed it is their quality price ratio that has seen them increase their dominant on the world market.
Main Grape Varieties:
Aglianico – Although more well known in Basilicata, where it produces the world class Aglianico del Vulture, this variety is now found in both Puglia & Campania as well. High in acidity and tannin, its complex wines are capable of ageing.
Bombino Nero – Only really found in Puglia, today this thin-skinned variety is used mainly for Rosé.
Cabernet Sauvignon – Found throughout Italy, in Puglia it blends well with the indigenous varieties to achieve more complex blends without losing typicity.
Malvasia Nera – From the wide family of Malvasia, this is used principally as a blending variety (see below) adding its aromas of chocolate and plum or stone fruit to the blend.
Negroamaro – Found mainly on the north-eastern Adriatic coast and was introduced by the Greeks and dominated most vineyards of Puglia – the name meaning “black bitter”. Yet the style of resulting wines are
traditionally sweetish – almost port like in flavour at times. It is often blended with Malvasia Nera and found in most of the DOC’s be it as Red or Rosé. It tends not usually have the same complexity as Primitivo based wines if made as single varietal.
Nero di Troia (Uva di Troia) – The main grape of the Castel del Monte DOC – the name was changed from Uva to Nero with a view that Nero D’Avola was such as success story in Sicily that Nero Di Troia would sell better! It is naturally very high in tannin, and was historically used as a blending grape but is capable of producing some interesting reds with a savoury note.
Primitivo – The same variety as California’s Zinfandel and the flagship variety of the Salento Penisular (though originally hailing from the Balkans). The wines lean naturally to high ABV’s. One of the characteristics is that it is an uneven ripener, but oddly this helps as the high alcohol is balanced out by fresh natural acidity. They tend to have attractively round tannins that can keep them going as they develop in bottle. Though the recent laws about the possibility to add “improving varieties” aka Cabernet et alia may well yet be bad news for this DOC.
Bianco D’Alessano – Native to Puglia, mainly from around Marina Franca. It is used in basic table wines and not much beyond. It is very similar to the Pampanuto variety used in the Castel del Monte DOC.
Bombino Bianco – Found across the Adriatic side of Italy mainly Puglia but also up to Romagna. A high yielding variety, it need careful attention in the vineyard and can work well if blended with other varieties.
Chardonnay – Although omnipresent in the wine world, Chardonnay has found a good home in Puglia, where it is capable of producing some excellent examples of complex wines, when not subjected to too much oak treatment.
Fiano di Salento (Fiano Aromatico or Fiano Minutolo) – Puglia’s aromatic variety. Recent DNA tests have proved there is no connection between this and Fiano found in Campania and Sicily. Therefore is should start becoming labelled as Minutolo.
Malvasia – Although the Malvasia Nera is more dominant – there is also some white Malvasia found in Puglia.
Moscato – Bought to the region by the Greeks and Phoenicians, in Puglia Muscat is found in wonderful
dessert examples of Moscato di Trani and others.
Pinot Bianco – Originally much Chardonnay that was planted in Italy was confused with Pinot Bianco – and it is treated in a similar vinification style.
Campania Wine Notes
The wines from this region were amongst the most highly prized wines of ancient Romans. Until recently there was little to show for this ancient fame with bland wines being the norm. Now after much work and investment, they are again making wines of real quality and this now ranks as a most exciting region.
Campania is home to several interesting native varieties, of which there are over one hundred. They are the essential ingredients in the three DOCG and seventeen DOC wines.
Geography – The sheer size of this region affords a huge array of different soils and climates and as such one should really look at the various regions individually as they differ so much – from Casserta, the Campi Flegrei to Irpinia to mention but a few. It has over 460km of coastline, which includes the stunning islands of Ischia and Capri, whilst inland at Avellino the geology is dominated by volcanos and ancient volcanic deposits. Add to this the Cilento (whose beauty affords it national park status) with its rocky soil and it is no surprise that wines differ widely, depending on the location.
Main grape varieties
Biancolella – Almost exclusive to Ischia these days (along with Forastera), its gives gentle aromatic whites.
Coda del Volpe – An ancient Campanian variety, mostly used in blends. Its name means “Fox’s Tail” due to the shape the grape bunches grow. It turns up in Lacryma Christi, Irpinia and others.
Falanghina – At its finest here, giving whites of subtle, heady fragrance and good mouth feel with honeyed notes.
Fiano – An ancient vine of great historical importance – it has once again been given prominence in the Fiano D’Avellino DOC. Lovely peach notes with good minerality.
Greco – Although used in Lacyma Christi, Frascati and others, in the Greco de Tufo DOC, it produces some wonderful dry and fragrant whites. It is also capable of some lovely dessert wine, with its fine body and
Aglianico – The famous red grape of Basilcata is here too as the signature variety in Taurasi – producing excellent wines with high acidity and high tannins. Although early to bud, it ripens very late which was
historically a problem but with earlier harvest these days seem to be beneficial. Taurasi from volcanic soils makes superb sleek mineral wines with a long life potential. Outside of Taurasi, elsewhere in Campania, the
variety is often blended with other local grapes such as the rather fresher Piedirosso, or even Primitivo to make earlier-maturing, more obviously fruity wines.
Piedirosso (Per e Palumbo) – Generally light and fragrant red wine, very refreshing on a summers day, but sometimes if made more seriously can be more complex with a gamey overtone. The names come from the reddish colour of the vines “feet”.
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