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Countryside La Vie – Edition No 117

By May 22, 2017CLV

PUGLIA – more than just PRIMITIVO

Officially called Apuglia but now mostly, simply Puglia this is deep in the south of Italy and an area often referred to as ‘the heel of Italy’s boot’.  It is becoming more and more popular with increasing numbers of visitors as they discover its ancient history, the quaint and charming trullo houses and of course its growing wine industry. Many are saying it will become as important as Tuscany in the next few years.

From the coast opposite Naples the region stretches all the way south to the bottom of the country.  For years often the poor relation, but in its time it has been most important. The best know city, Brindisi, dates back to the times of the early Greeks when it was a most important port for trade and military use.  Towards the end and shortly after the Second World War Brindisi was the temporary Capital and today is home to Italy’s main navy.

After years of little or no development in the area now life is changing fast with the wine world being no exception.  The best known wine and grape variety too from the region has to be Primitivo which if we travel across to California is known as Zinfandel.  Dark, bold and rich with ‘black fruit gum’ flavours and it makes an ideal accompaniment to the well-flavoured ‘country’ food from the region.

However there are others to know such as Negroamaro used as the primary grape for Salice Salentino another red wine produced within its ‘DOC’ [controlled and defined area] which should be velvety smooth yet having a dry savoury taste with the firm tannic finish that one often finds with grapes grown in hot, arid regions such as this.  Watch out for the newly re-named Nero di Troia which is often used for blending as its high tannins can bring balance to the sometimes over-sweet and almost port-like grapes.

The climate tends to means there is little production of white varieties.  Over the years large quantities of very ‘average’ white has been produced for the French vermouth industry and you will come across many different ones.  Local examples of moscato, trebbiano, malvasia are seen along with little known bombino bianco and bianco d’Alessano but also too international varieties [see below]. But slowly this is changing and as production methods improve so do the whites where a highly aromatic variety known locally as Fiano has now been renamed to Minutolo so it will not be confused with a similar variety gown in Sicily. I might comment that I am not sure this is a good idea as it may cause confusion but then hopefully a few years on who will remember and simply accept.

Many grape producers, who are after all mainly farmers, have taken advantage of the inevitable EU handouts and have planted what we call international varieties. To me this is a shame but in an ever-increasing commercial world I can understand it.  This does have the advantage that stores will offer wines easily recognised by the consumer but produced in Puglia, so that Puglian Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and even Chardonnay are now not unknown.  One can but hope that once the consume if these ‘multi-national’ wine tire of these somewhat ordinary wines they will be encouraged to look for the truly regional and indigenous wine examples.

It takes around 3 hours to reach the region from UK with direct flights from several regional airports.  The budget airlines are offering good rates and there is plenty of varied accommodation, restaurants and interesting shopping in the towns and cities.  However to me the joy of Puglia is its difference to much of Italy.  It has a distinct personality of its own and its people, whilst being very much ‘of the country’, have a regional respect, pride, honesty and yes, sophistication, knowing that Puglia was has a special place in Italy’s past and is rising up to do so again.

I hope this has tickled you fancy and given you a new region to discover – have fun and see you next time.

Andrew andrewh@georgehill.co.uk