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Puglia Is On A Roll
Lana Bortolot and David Ransom
photos by Lana Bortolot

The Tasting Panel swapped out the predictable Pinot Noir for Primitivo over Thanksgiving as New York Editor Lana Bortolot and contributor David Ransom attended the Apulia Wine Identity in Southern Italy.  They joined 60 wine professionals from 21 countries in a symposium, organized by the Puglia Best Wine consortium, for the express purpose of getting up close and personal with southern grapes. Two years ago, Lana and London correspondent Steven Spurrier attended the inaugural event. The grassroots consortium—and the region—have made significant strides since then.


When Puglia Best Wine launched its education and promotion initiative two years ago, it fell to four of the founding consortium wineries—all of them co-ops—to introduce the region and its wines. It was hardly a fair representation of the "can do" of this province (also known as Apulia), tucked into the heel of Italy's boot and long ignored. 

 

The revamped symposium—two years in the making—featured 163 wines of some 21 producers, including a number of small wineries whose aim is farming and producing authentically. At long last, Puglian winemakers are paying attention to the vineyard and the cellar, and recognizing not only can their indigenous grapes stand on their own, they can even compete with the finest wines.

"Puglia is trendy at the moment," said consortium President Luigi Rubino, an MBA-type who heads the family winery Tenute Rubino. He was joined by Marco Sabellico, the lead taster for Italy's prestigious Gambero Rosso, and a host of wine VIPS who conducted en primeur tastings of Nero di Troia, Primitivo and Negroamaro.



 

What else was different? More talk about terroirsomething no one really spoke of not so long ago. Dominated by a semi-arid plateau, Puglia is a hardscrabble landscape, suited for sheep and other agriculture, and for many years, it was the outpost for heavy industry such as steelmaking and petrochemicals.

Once known as "Europe's wine vat," Puglia's wines were blended for the bulk market. Now, as it's shifting to a more local-capital economy, it's bringing wine right along with it. In the last ten years more than 80 individual labels have come on the market.

   
Gianfranco and Simona Fino of Manduria.

While co-ops still dominate the scene in terms of volume, the new breed of smaller producers are making wines using techniques well established in other regions, such as low yield harvesting and more attention to wood-something not thought of in the past.

 
Elder statesman: Dario Cavallo.
Leaders in this new wave include Gianfranco Fino's Manduria winery and Dario Cavallo's Mille Una in Salento. Fino's winery, founded in 2004, boasts 55- to 90-year-old vines, farmed organically. His are traditionally styled, beautifully crafted wines from Primitivo and Negroamaro.

And it is the elder statesman, Cavallo, who is pushing the envelope with high-powered and, at times, high-alcohol wines, and garnering the admiration of his peers. One such example: Capitolo Laureto, a phenomenal Negroamaro-based wine with 19% abv and without over-extraction.

"Our wines were very tannic and aggressive and very distinctly connected to the land," said Enzo Scivetti president of Onav,  the Italian National Organization of Wine Tasters. "But now we see these are diverse and expressive features that make the wines important."

Giuseppe Baldasssarre, who moderated the Primitivo tasting, said a renewed interest in the history of the land has encouraged a younger generation to not only stay here and take up the mantle, but to give the region a new identity.

"Puglia was historically not a region with a lot of communication and support between wineries. Now, with a new generation, there is more bonding and collective effort."