Feature Wine

Agustí Torelló Mata
Cava Kripta DO Gran Reserva
Spain, Penedes, Cava
$83.50 / bottle

Feature Restaurant

Bertoldi's
London, Central
Italian

TWC Blog

Here we'll provide you with information to help you discover incredible wines from around the world. Join us on our travels and learn more about our latest finds. We'll also share with you tips and tricks for selecting, storing, and enjoying your wine.



One of Italy’s Best Kept Secrets

Alberobello Truillo Close UpMost visitors to Italy are not familiar with Apulia (Puglia in Italian), or the wonderful beaches, architecture, food, and wines on offer. We visited the region in 2009, to see our friends at Vinicola Mediterranea, and found that after only a few days it was difficult to leave. We were hooked!

Situated at the south-eastern tip of the Italian peninsula – essentially the heel of Italy’s boot – Apulia is 7th (out of 20) in terms of size and population. Geographically it is the least mountainous region in Italy, mainly made up of broad plains and low-lying hills, the highest parts (found in the north) only reach 1150 metres amsl.

Despite being almost surrounded by water – it is bordered by both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, giving it one of the longest coastlines of any region in Italy – Apulia is a very dry region. Its few rivers are torrential and what rainwater there is permeates the limestone bedrock to form underground watercourses. Groundwater is abundant, and the region is famous for the many caves and potholes that were formed by these subterranean processes.

Apulia is one of the richest regions in Italy archeologically speaking.  Initially settled around the 1st millennium BCE, a succession of conquests that followed by the Greeks, Romans, Hannibal, the Carthaginians, the Romans again, the Goths, the Lombards, the Byzantines, and in more recent times the Normans, Turks, and French, left notable reminders of the various cultures and civilizations, from distinctive pottery to buildings and structures.

Classic Apulian architecture reflects Greek, Arab, Norman, and Pisan influences, and Lecce – known as the Florence of the south – has some of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Italy.  We walked through the town for hours, and at almost every turn we would come across another building that was more breathtaking than the last. In the middle of town, in the Piazza Sant’ Oronzo, there’s a beautifully restored Roman amphitheatre used today for concerts and plays.

However there is probably nothing as unique architecturally as the “trulli” of Alberobello (see the photo), a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are many theories about the construction of these dwellings (it’s an active living community), and I think the one we loved most was that they were built without mortar so they could be easily dismantled when the taxman was coming, so that the owners could avoid paying property taxes!

Southern Italy has a proud wine history, growing grapes and producing wine for over 4,000 years. In 2000 BCE, when the first traders arrived in what’s known today as Apulia a local wine industry was already thriving. Today, Apulia produces approximately 50 million cases of wine annually (3rd in Italy in terms of production and larger than Chile’s total annual output), with quality rising with every vintage. There are 25 DOCs in the region, and 6 IGTs.

Principal wine centres include Lecce, Martina Franca, Manduria (known for Primitivo), and Salice Salentino. More than 60% of the production of wines in Apulia is red wine, and for years the region was known a supplier of bulk wine, much of which was sent to the north of Italy, and other parts of Europe apparently, to be (legally and illegally) blended into local wines.  Today, we are told this practice has stopped and more inspired winemaking is taking place. After numerous tastings we can certainly attest to the latter.

The flagship red grape of Apulia is Primitivo, a relative of California’s Zinfandel grape (more on that in a later post). Primitivo wines are luscious, rich and full, yet definitely “food wines”.  The best examples come from Primitivo du Manduria DOC, and if you haven’t tried our version from Vinicola Mediterranea it’s worth a look.

Negroamaro (literally meaning “black bitter”) is an indigenous grape, often found in the wines of Salice Salentino and Squinzano. It is Italy’s 6th most planted grape, and can produce full-bodied and intense wines. Dark fruit aromas and flavours, with just the right touch of acidity to help with food matching. The 2007 version from our producer is now on the list of a few restaurants in Toronto.

Uva di Troia (literally “Grape from Troy”, reflecting the region’s Ancient Greek influence) is grown in Foggia province to make the Castel del Monte DOC wines. While it’s an interesting grape, it appears to be losing popularity amongst growers, who seem to prefer Apulia’s better-known red wine grapes.

For white wines, the Bombino Bianco and Verdeca grapes show the most promise, and Chardonnay can be good too. But for lunch or a light dinner, the rosés of Apulia (often made from Negroamaro) are the best.

Apulia is also one of the most fertile regions in all of Italy, on a par with the Po Valley in Italy’s north. Olive trees, wheat, and vines, cover Apulia like a colorful patchwork: literally an immense farm producing tomatoes, artichokes, lettuce, fennel, peppers, and onions. Add to this a sea full of fish, restaurants don’t find it necessary to complicate things: they just combine the superb ingredients and the dishes seem create themselves.

Typical dishes in Apulia include seafood, Orecchiette (literally “little ears”) pasta, roasted lamb, flavored breads, and fresh sheep’s milk cheese (ricotta, pecorino, and “Burrata di Andria,” which must be consumed within 24 hours to be properly appreciated). Desserts are great, but two of the best gelataria in Italy were right in Lecce. Jocelyn is going to write about her gelati search in a future post.

We enjoyed a lovely seafood lunch with our friends from Vinicola Mediterannea at Ristorante Casablanca on the coast near San Cataldo, so close to the water that waves would occasionally break under the restaurant and splash inside. Lecce has a full range of restaurants, including casual family-oriented spots on the famous Via Vittoria Emanuelle, but we found a lovely spot tucked in an alleyway – called Volo Restaurant – just a few steps away from Sant Croce, and only open in the evening. There we enjoyed lovely fresh made pasta and regional specialties.

If you do get a chance to visit Lecce, we recommend staying at the Risorgimento Resort. Located just a few steps from Via Vittoria Emanuelle and Piazza Sant’ Oronzo, the staff were great, the rooms beautiful and well appointed, and the rooftop bar/restaurant was an amazing place for aperitivo as the sun starts to set. Just another reason to return to Apulia.

Closer to home, Bertoldi’s Restaurant in London just completed a Festa Regionale for Apulia, but many wines from the region are still available on their wine list. All selections are also available by the glass.

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