Puglia or Apulia, the heel of the Italian boot, is a long, relatively level region with a prolific production of wine. In the past, the region often surpassed Sicily and Veneto in output, though Apulia’s former title of “Europe’s wine cellar” no longer carries much weight.
As traditional markets for strong blending wines have diminished, Apulia’s producers have increasingly put the accent on premium quality. Some have come forth with good to excellent wines: dry, balanced reds, whites and rose˜s, as well as sweet wines from a great range of grape varieties, both native and foreign.
Puglia can be divided roughly into two viticultural sectors by a hypothetical line crossing the region between Brindisi and Taranto.
To the north, the terrain is rolling to hilly and the climate is temperate, even relatively cool at certain heights in the Murge plateau. Dry wines from there tend to have moderate strength, with impressive fruit, good acidity and ample bouquet. Red wines generally derive from the native Uva di Troia or Bombino Nero, as well as Montepulciano and Sangiovese. White wines are dominated by the Verdeca variety, though Bianco d’Alessano, Malvasia, Trebbiano and Bombino Bianco are also evident.
The leading DOC zone of northern Puglia is Castel del Monte, an appellation that enjoys an international reputation. It has a fine rosé and a full-bodied red that often gains stature with age. In much of the north the emphasis is on red wines under such DOCs as Rosso Canosa, Rosso Barletta and Rosso di Cerignola.
Just north of the Brindisi-Taranto line white wines dominate, in particular those of the Itria valley – Locorotondo and Martina Franca – home of the conical roofed stone houses known as trulli. Throughout the region experimentation is under way with international varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon among the whites; Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Nero and Syrah among the reds.
South of the Brindisi-Taranto line lies Salento, a peninsula of low, rolling hills that extends between the Adriatic and Ionian seas to the easternmost point of Italy. Though hot, Salento is not quite torrid, thanks to the play of sea currents and breezes that waft across the Adriatic from the Balkans.
Salento’s traditional wines were the powerful, inky reds from Primitivo, Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera. But increasing attention is being given to fresher reds and rosés, as well as to some unexpectedly bright and fruity white wines.
Primitivo di Manduria, the early ripening variety of Salento is related to California’s Zinfandel. Though it once served primarily as a blending wine, Primitivo from a new wave of producers has shown undeniable class in a style that stands comparison with its American counterparts.
Among the many DOCs of Salento, Salice Salentino stands out for its robust red and refined rosé, though wines from such appellations as Squinzano, Brindisi, Alezio and Copertino can show unexpected class.
The Salento IGT applies to red wines that often carry individual names. White wines also show promise, Chardonnay in particular, though Salento is also renowned for flowery rosés that rank with Italy’s finest.