Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Highlights from Puglia

Alessandro Candido (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Just back from Puglia – my first visit there in more than six years – and was delighted to taste so many good wines. I’ve always been intrigued by the wines of Puglia, as it seems to me that this is a region with an identity problem. They don’t have an iconic red with the fame of Barolo or Brunello, so how do you get people to notice your bottling of Salice Salentino or Primitivo?

I certainly didn’t cover the breadth and width of this region in only three days, but I enjoyed a nice taste for what’s going on these days. I was afraid that there would be too many international style wines with overripe, forward fruit and too much oak, but while there were a few of these, this style did not rule the day. Winemaking here definitely has a modern influence (as it does in most Italian regions today), but most of the wines I tasted had excellent balance as well as very good varietal characteristics. Terroir is another story, but some of that has to do with producers continually experimenting with the proper varieties for specific areas. I did taste nice examples of terroir and if it isn’t overwhelming in that many Puglian wines, well, there are other regions where terroir has been sacrificed in favor of market-pleasing bottlings.

But enough about what could and should be - let’s look at what I liked. Agricole Vallone, a medium-sized producer from the southern province of Lecce, offered some of the most distinctive reds; best were the elegantly stlyed Brindisi Rosso “Vigna Flaminio”, a blend of Negroamaro, Montepulciano and Malvasia Nera and the excellent Graticciaia from the 2003 vintage. This is a 100% Negroamaro wine with excellent concentration, medium-weight tannins and lively acidity with a lengthy finish that has a light influence of modernity. Though a touch expensive (45 Euro), it does send a message to the rest of the world that Puglia is home to very distinguished wines.

I also loved the top offerings of Candido in the province of Brindisi, a bit north of Lecce. The whimsically named Cappello di Prete (priest’s hat) from 2004 is a spicy, complex and beautifully balanced Negroamaro that should offer pleasure for 5-7 years, while the 2001 Duca d’Aragona, a blend of 80% Negroamaro and 20% Montepulciano is their finest red, full of cherry fruit and cigar and thyme notes with refined tannins and the structure to age for almost a decade. I also loved the 2002 Aleatico, one of the region’s great dessert wines. The Candido version offers caramel, orange peel and almond and has a lightly sweet finish – all in all, an exquisite wine and one that sums up the authenticity that owner Alessandro Candido is trying to impart with his wines. Until recently, these wines were represented in America; that situation changed and the winery is now looking for a new importer with a more national base. Hopefully, they’ll find someone soon, so we don’t have to go to Puglia to enjoy these delightful wines!

Vineyards below Castel del Monte (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Torre Vento in the Castel del Monte DOC in the north offered an impressive variety of wines in various price ranges. The 2008 Primaronda, a blend of 80% Bombino and 20% Montepulciano, was the best rosato I tried. Bombino has extremely light pigment, so all a winemaker can really do with this red grape is to produce a rosé from it; this bottling had some distinctive spice (from the Montepulciano) that lifted it above several other fine bottlings of rosato I tasted in the region. I also loved their 2005 Vigna Pedale Riserva, a pure Nero di Troia (the area’s leading red variety) that features black plum and black rapsberry fruit with lovely floral aromas, young tannins and light spice in the finish; this will drink beautifully for another 5-7 years.

From Rivera, also in the Castel del Monte DOC, I enjoyed a delicious and beautifully structured 2007 Chardonnay “Preludio No. 1” and a rich, beautifully polished 2005 Nero di Troia known as “Puer Apuliae.” This offers ripe, forward black fruit backed by young, elegant tannins and healthy acidity. I’d love to try this wine again in 5 or 7 years with duck or lamb chops! This is a large producer that delivers on many fronts and can always be counted on for well-crafted wines with excellent varietal purity.

Just a few other highlights; the delicious and extremely elegant 2004 “Donnalisa” Salice Salentino Riserva from Leone di Castris; the tasty regular bottlings of Primitivo and Negroamaro (both from 2007) of Feudi di San Marzano, both of which are fine values; the spicy 2006 Primitivo “Fiore di Vigna” from Paolo Leo; the graceful and lightly tangy 2004 Salice Salentino Riserva from Cantele and the ripe and deeply concentrated 2005 Salice Salentino Riserva “Selvarossa” from Cantine due Palme.

The landscape at Tormaresca (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I’ll wrap this up with comments on two wines from Tormaresca, the gorgeous estate of Antinori located near the border with Basilicata in northwestern Puglia. The 2004 Bocca di Lupo, a pure Aglianico is an explosive red with textbook black cherry and bitter chocolate fruit, rich tannins and balanced oak. Aglianico is one of my favorite varieties in all of Italy and this is a gorgeous representation of it; look for this one to be at its peak in 12-15 years. The 2006 “Kaloro” is a sumptuous Moscato di Trani with exotic aromas of pineapple and chamomile and a long, lightly sweet finish that is lightly sweet with balancing acidity. What a fine partner for an apple or pear tart or simple pound cake!

In my next post, I’ll report more in depth on two producers that impressed me not only with the extremely high quality of their wines, but also the direction they are taking in creating a new identity for the wines of Puglia: Cantine Alberto Longo and Castel di Salve.

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