Puglians, especially those from the Salento peninsula, are passionate about their favorite dance, the Pizzica. Once believed to be the remedy for a tarantula spider bite, this frenzied dance was originally accompanied by only tambourines. There has been renewed interest in … Continue reading
Wine in Puglia
Wine grape cultivation on this region’s hot plains goes back to at least 700 BC, and the geography and conditions could hardly be better suited. The Salento Peninsula, which makes up Italy’s narrow heel, is mostly low-lying and flanked by the Ionian and Adriatic Seas. This makes for breezes from both sides that help to temper the heat of the fierce summer solleone (lion sun). Winters are usually brief and mild in this part of Italy.
In the 20th century the priority was quantity; not quality, as many growers participated in the frowned-upon business of cultivating high yields and shipping their masses of strong, dark grapes north in bulk to French, German, Spanish and northern Italian wine producers. By adding the powerful Puglian grapes producers could beef up their own weaker vintages in years when their grape harvest was poor.
It was rare to find estates bottling their own wines. Although there are still co-ops sending grapes to France to make Vermouth over the last 20 years or so this activity has declined, as a host of new bottlers have been set up to make their own labels, with often fantastic results.
Primitivo is known to many wine enthusiasts for sharing the same DNA as the Californian Zinfandel. It is grown mainly in the south-western corner of Puglia, just in from the Ionian coast. Here the landscape is dry and stark, the horizon obscured only by olive groves and the occasional whitewashed village. This grape produces strong wines with an alcohol content as high as 15%, which has much to do with the glaring summer sunshine in Puglia. The sun also helps to lend these wines hints of liquorice and red cherry, which is balanced by a crisp inherent acidity. An excellent example is the full-bodied DOC Primitivo di Manduria.
Another variety is the Susumaniello grape that is only grown in Puglia. Formerly this variety has only been cultivated and sold as a wine to be added to other wines. More recently many wine-makers are now experimenting with this grape making new wines with delicious results. Read more about this variety here.
The Negroamaro grape tends to be grown closer to the Adriatic coast in northeastern Puglia. The scenery in this part of the region is a little rockier. Wines made solely with Negroamaro are often on the sweet side, so the grape is usually blended with Malvasia Nera—known for its softening qualities—to create robust reds and rosés that have spicy characteristics. Many reds made with Negroamaro can also be chilled. The most famous name here is Salice Salentino, a DOC producing reds, rosés and whites. These whites tend to be made from chardonnay grapes.
Whites are grown less frequently, but there are some excellent local varieties to discover in Puglia like the ancient Fiano, the rare Verdeca and Bombino Bianco, which were traditionally only grown en masse to be used in blends, but can be cultivated to craft wonderfully delicate and subtle wines.
In 2013, Wine Enthusiast Magazine declared Puglia as the best wine destination in 2013. Read more here. And Wine Spectator’s very informative iPhone/iPad app, Wine Ratings+, lists 18 wines from Puglia with ratings of 90 or above.
Now I know why I lose weight in Italy! There is now yet another reason to consume olive oil. Yesterday there was an article in the NY Times about yet another advantage of this healthy oil – “The research found that compared to other oils and fats, extra virgin olive oil was more likely to increase a person’s feelings of satiety after a meal. But another phase of the study showed that just imparting the scent of olive oil to food – by adding an aromatic extract – reduced the amount of calories people in the study consumed and improved their blood sugar response.”
80% of Italy’s olive oil comes from Puglia, the Mediterranean’s elixir for health…a perfect reason to join Unique Backroad Journey’s trip to Puglia in October. We will visit a olive tree farm that makes organic olive oil on the premises.
Food and wine is HUGE in Italy and France. Each region has both food and wine that has developed over time based on location, types of soil and weather conditions.
For instance, Puglia is known for its pasta which is made from the hardest of wheats called durham (latin for hard) wheat is high in protein and low in gluten. Low levels of gluten in the wheat make it unsuitable for bread, which needs high gluten content in order to rise. The most popular pasta shape in Puglia is or orecchiette which means little ears. They are still made by hand in many places.
Different shapes of pasta are supposed to be better for some types of sauces than others. Here is a chart of some pasta shapes.
Click on picture to make larger.