Feature Wine

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

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London, Central

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Puglia, the Heel of Italy’s Boot.

Mediterranea vinesSituated at the south-eastern tip of the Italian peninsula – essentially the heel of Italy’s boot – Apulia (Puglia in Italian), is 7th (out of 20) in terms of size and population.

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 Puglia, a local wine industry was already thriving. Today, Puglia 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.

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. The climate is Mediterranean (warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters), and the soils mainly calcareous overlaid with iron-rich topsoil.

Despite being almost surrounded by water – Puglia is bordered by both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, giving it one of the longest coastlines of any region in Italy – it is a very dry region. In fact the Roman’s named the region a-pluvia, which means “lack of rain.” Its few rivers are torrential and what rainwater there is permeates the bedrock to provide an abundant source of groundwater.

Principal wine centres include Lecce, Martina Franca, Manduria (known for Primitivo), and Salice Salentino. More than 60% of the production 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, to be (legally and illegally) blended into local wines.  Today, while this practice has essentially stopped, only about 2-3% of production is DOC and still only a quarter of production is sold in bottle.

The flagship red grape of Puglia is Primitivo, a relative of California’s Zinfandel grape. 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 the Salice Salentino and Squinzano DOCs in the south. It is Italy’s 6th most planted grape, and can produce full-bodied, intense, and spicy wines: dark fruit aromas and flavours, with just the right touch of acidity. 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 mainly in the north and centre of the region, near Foggia and Barletta, and represents the base of the Castel del Monte DOC wines. An interesting grape, it appears to be losing popularity amongst growers, who seem to prefer Puglia’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 there’s still a lot of bland Trebbiano planted. The rosés of Puglia (often made from Negroamaro) deserve more attention than the whites.

Puglia 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 the land like a colorful patchwork: literally an immense farm producing tomatoes, artichokes, lettuce, fennel, peppers, and onions. Add to this being surrounded by a sea full of fish.

Typical dishes include seafood (raw and cooked), 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).

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