Change is afoot in Italy: Get a kick out of Puglia’s rich reds
Back in the day, legend has it that a Prussian general bestowed a special honour upon his troops; he would allow them to drink from his boot if they succeeded in battle. How delightful.
Thankfully, the boss no more wanted beer in his fancy boots than the troops wanted to taste their general’s feel, and thus he commissioned a boot made of glass from which his soldiers could sup. Drinking from this funny foot-shaped receptacle was to be a symbol of good luck for the troops. I bet they all felt they were at least lucky that they didn’t have to get up close with the general’s stinky war-weary feet. These days, we might consider ourselves lucky when we are drinking from a very different, Italian kind of boot — or more specifically its heel — when we are sipping on wines from Puglia.
Puglia in Southeastern Italy is a long strip of coast sandwiched between two seas — the Ionian and the Adriatic — in the heart of the Mediterranean. It is a captivating, hot land of whitewashed buildings, beautiful landscapes, safeguarded traditions, and of course stunning wines. Puglia has a reputation built on olive oil, as it covers half of Italy’s whole production.
It is also the area that produces the most wine in Italy, but until recently the focus in wines from Puglia was on quantity over quality; in the past, a large amount of grapes were shipped out to pump up alcohol content and colour of wan wines in Northern Italy that were lacking in substance. Thankfully, the region has shaken off this reputation as only being good for ‘blending wines’, and now seduces the world with alluring, concentrated reds made primarily from the Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes.
Primitivo is a black grape with intensity of flavour and colour, and often quite high alcohol (15% is not unusual.) This grape thrives in the dry heat of its native home of Puglia, producing wines of concentration, with lashings of lush, ripe, dark fruit, leather, and licorice. They are full-blooded wines that speak of the sun-scorched earth from which they hail. Primitivo (meaning ‘early ripening’) is a very close relation of America’s Zinfandel — some people do not even distinguish between the two. If you enjoy the inky Californian doppelganger, then you are sure to get a kick out of Primitivo from Puglia, as they are similarly luscious and dark.
Negroamaro is a grape which has been planted in Puglia for thousands of years. It is sometimes found as a single varietal wine, but it is better known as the key player in red blends such as Salice Salentino, where it truly reaches the height of its expression when brightened and perfumed by accompanying grapes Malvasia Nera, Sangiovese, and Montepulciano.
Negroamaro, meaning ‘black, bitter one’ is a grape that produces earthy, complex, concentrated wines, with inky colour and dark fruit, along with a hint of pleasant bitterness on the finish. Negroamaro wines from Puglia can be powerful and bold with blackberry and dark cherry flavours. Salice Salentino wines are a great value option when you want a powerful, structured wine that delivers big on fruit and complex flavour and holds the show together harmoniously.
It’s easy-livin’ if you’re a grape in Puglia — this region is perfectly suited to viticulture, with its fertile soils, heat, and surrounding bodies of water. Mediterranean sea breezes drift in and moderate the hot temperatures in the vineyards, the great valleys of Puglia host an endless horizon of vines, and the limestone soils also nurture the bounty of olive groves on which the region has built its name.
The great value red wines from Puglia are the perfect option for winter drinking; they are warming and luscious, and transport us to the heat of their homeland, allowing us to dream a little of the still very faraway summer, conjuring it up with every sip.
Apollonio Terragnolo Primitivo 2011
15% ABV – €19.95
Available at The Wine Buff nationwide and online thewinebuff.com
Violet edged, full-bodied and intense with plum, stewed blackberry, figs, and other ripe dark fruit flavours. An explosion of fruit on the palate supported by good acidity and tannins. A definite crowd-pleaser in its exuberance, velvety tannins, and luscious fruit.
Luna Argenta Negroamaro Primitivo 2015
14% ABV – €18.45
Available at O’Brien’s nationwide and obrienswine.ie
Intensely fruity with flavours of blackberry, plum, figs, and cherries. A very smooth wine with soft tannins and lingering notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and chocolate.
I Muri Negroamaro Vigneti del Salento 2012
13% ABV – Around €15.99
Widely available, including La Touche Greystones; Sweeneys Glasnevin; Donnybrook Fair; World Wide Wines Waterford
A concentration of rich dark fruit on the palate — cherries, plums, blackcurrant — along with hints of coffee, bitter dark chocolate, and vanilla. Well balanced with soft tannins and good acidity. A pinch of pepper on the finish.
Naomi Ní Chatháin is a WSET-certified wine specialist from Co. Clare. She studied French and Philosophy in NUI Galway before pursuing a master’s degree in Wine Tourism (or ‘oenotourisme et projet culturel’) in Nimes.
Naomi loves French culture, and has lived in different parts of France over the years.
Her other passions include the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer, the music of Bob Dylan, and road trips across America. Naomi is also a professional baker, and founder of NaomiBakes.com.
She is a firm believer in eating delicious, healthy cakes every day, and has a small subscription-based healthy cake kit delivery business.