Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Puglia Innovators

Castel di Salve reds: Priante and Cento su Cento

One of the things I noticed most about my recent trip to Puglia was the wide range of red wines; this certainly is a reflection of a region that has so many different varieties planted in specific areas. It’s also a sign of a region where there is not an iconic red - such as Barolo from Piemonte or Brunello di Montalcino from Toscana – that overwhelms other wines. I like that about Puglia – there are so many interesting, well-made wines that have their own personality.

In this post, I’d like to feature two of the most innovative producers whose wines I tasted during my trip. One is from the far southern reaches of the region, while the other is situated in the north and while the grapes they work with are quite different, their quality and goal of making individualistic wines are similar.

Castel di Salve, located in the far southern town of Depressa di Tricasse in the province of Lecce (about as far south as you can go in Puglia), is headed by Francesco Winspeare and his agronomist Francesco Marra, who reestablished the estate in the early 1990s. Friends since early childhood, they own 100 acres of vineyards and produce approximately 13,000 cases of wine each year, working primarily with Negroamaro, Primitivo, Malvasia Nera as well as smaller amounts of Sangiovese and Malvasia Bianca. (Note: no Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot here – only Italian varieties.)

There are some beautiful introductory wines here under the Santi Medici label; the Rosato, produced entirely from Negroamaro is excellent with deeper concentration than most of its competitors while the Rosso, also a pure Negroamaro, has very good varietal character, light tannins, tart acidity and is a pleasant lighter red for drinking over the next two years.

But it is with a group of distinctive reds where the principals really make their statement about the exceedingly high quality of Castel di Salve. The 2007 Salice Salentino “Arm├ęcolo” is a medium-bodied style with beautiful aromatics of myrtle, black currant and tobacco and excellent complexity; enjoy this over the next 3-5 years. A 100% Sangiovese, “Il Volo de Alessandro”, has very high acidity, cherry, cedar and sage notes and an earthy finish and is quite unique. You can tell this is Sangiovese, but you can also tell it’s not from Tuscany.

The 2005 Lama del Tenente, a blend of Primitivo, Montepulciano and Malvasia Nera is a modern red, aged in new oak, with plenty of black fruit, but this is not a one-dimensional wine. Beautifully structured with moderate tannins and lively acidity, this has wonderful complexity and will drink well for 7-10 years. The 2006 Cento su Cento (with a big capital “C” on the label), though slightly less impressive due to a bit too much oak, is nonetheless a compelling red to be paired with rich red meats for the next half decade.

But the best red from Castel di Salve is the 2005 Priante, an IGT Salento that is half Negroamaro and half Montepulciano (the label features a big capital “P”). My notes for the nose mention black cherry, peppermint, cigar, tar, vanilla and marmalade- very nice! The wine was aged in used French and American oak, so the wood influence is minimal. The wine has a long, long finish with notes of tobacco and dried brown herbs and should drink well for 5-7 years. This is a brilliantly made offering and was one of the two or three best wines I tasted in Puglia during my trip.

The winery also produces an outstanding Aleatico Passito; the current bottling from 2004 is about as good as this wine gets! Aromas of toffee, orange peel, dried plums and herbal tea are backed by excellent complexity and a long finish that is lightly sweet with subtle bitterness. This is heavenly and would be great with bittersweet chocolate, though it is superb on it own.

Cacc'e Mmitte di Lucera of Alberto Longo

In the northern province of Foggia, the Alberto Longo winery was established in 2000 by an accountant who wanted to produce the local wines he has loved throughout his life. Situated in the town of Lucera, Longo produces approximately 16,000 cases of wine per year, primarily from Nero di Troia, the area’s leading red variety and Negroamaro (there is both a Rosso and Rosato made exclusively from this variety).

I tasted three wines during my brief visit to the winery; all of them are quite intriguing. The first was the 2007 Falanghina “Le Fossette”. Now Puglia is a red wine region, as many producers don’t even make a single white wine, while those that do tend to focus on lighter styled Chardonnays. So for Longo to concentrate on Falanghina is remarkable in itself and we can be thankful he does, as the wine is beautifully made with aromas of pear, lime and melon (no oak aging), excellent concentration and typical high acidity. This compares favorably with the best versions from Campania and will drink well for 2-3 years.

Longo is one of the few producers to make one of the most unusual DOC reds in Pugila (or in all of Italy for that matter), a wine known as Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera. His version is a blend of Nero di Troia, Montepulciano and a white variety, Bombino Bianco. This is a charming red, with currant, red plum and strawberry fruit, modest tannins, tart acidity and a touch of spice in the finish. It’s got some of the qualities of a simple Valpolicella or a well-made Dolcetto, but it’s totally unique. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years.

Finally, I tasted the 2006 “Le Cruste” a 100% Nero di Troia with unusual aromas of black plum, cranberry and shiitake mushrooms! Medium-full, the wine has elegant tannins, lively acidity and a long, long finish. Local producers are experimenting with this variety, as some push the ripeness as well as oak to make somewhat of an internationally styled red. The Longo version strikes more of a middle ground with good varietal character while maintaining lovely balance. This is approachable now and will offer pleasure for another 5-7 years.

I was so pleased tasting these wines from Castel di Salve and Alberto Longo, as they represent a new, exciting, innovative path for the wines of Puglia. Both are imported in the USA; Sussex in Philadelphia represents Castel di Salve, while there are two importers for the Alberto Longo wines: Clyde Thomas Wines, which represents the wines in New York and New Jersey and Match Direct Wine Import (Francois Dufour) for the rest of the country.

1 comment:

  1. I already tasted some Alberto Longo wines. They are excellent!
    Their Primitivo, the wine chosen by "The Wall Street Journal" as the best ones, is very good too.