Top Producers from Puglia and Their Must-Try Wines
Puglia’s star continues to rise in the Italian wine firmament. Heir to a winemaking tradition that has its roots in ancient Greek civilization, Puglia has always been one of the most exuberant viticultural areas of Italy. However, for much of modern history rough, rustic wines that were consumed locally or shipped north for the supermarket export trade have dominated the bulk of Puglia’s wine production.
However, there has been a revolution or renaissance, if you will, in the Puglian wine scene. The overall quality of wines from Puglia has improved considerably in the last several decades due to inspired winemaking by a number of dynamic, quality-driven producers that have moved away from bulk reds to elegant, terroir-focused wines that convey a sense of place. There have also been some dramatic changes in viticultural practices and an infusion of modern winemaking technologies both of which have tended to emphasize quality over quantity. Not surprisingly, Puglian producers have started to receive some well-deserved praise. But this wine revolution is still in its early stages and the best from this determined and enterprising region is perhaps yet to be realized.
Overview of Puglia Wine Zones
The Puglia region has four major wine producing areas. The first is the Salento Peninsula in the southern-most part of Puglia. This flat, fertile and sun-drenched area accounts for more than half (16) of Puglia’s 29 DOC wine zones. The major wine varieties in the Salento are Negroamaro, Primitivo and Malvasia Nera. Salice Salentino and Copertino, whose vineyards lie directly south of the Salice Salentino zone, are perhaps the most familiar wines produced in the Salento. Comprised mainly of Negroamaro, Salice Salentino can contain up to 20 percent Malvasia Nera. Copertino wines are also Negroamaro-based but can contain some percentage of other red varieties.
The Primitivo di Manduria DOC zone lies a short distance east of Taranto in the Salento Peninsula. It is a separate and distinct wine producing area within the Salento and the source of some of Puglia’s best Primitivo wines. Primitivo di Manduria is both the name of a grape and the name of a wine. Primitivo di Manduria wines tend to be dense, dark and joyously fruity.
The Gioia del Colle sub-region lies north of the Salento and a short distance south of the city of Bari. Since this area is at a higher elevation than the Salento, temperatures in the Gioia del Colle DOC tend to be more moderate than in the flat, sun-drenched Salento. The main variety here is Primitivo. Primitivo wines from this zone tend to be somewhat more acidic and restrained than those from Primitivo di Manduria. Gioia del Colle Primitivo is often blended with other red varieties like Montepulciano, Negroamaro and/or Malvasia Nera but if Primitivo is on the label the wine must be made of Primitivo exclusively. The Gioia del Colle wine zone is forging an impressive identity that holds great promise for the future.
A little further north in central Puglia is the Castel del Monte DOC. This rather large wine zone takes its name from the octagonally-shaped, 13th-century fortress that lies south of the city of Andria. The fortress is a landmark of medieval military architecture and one of the great tourist sites of Puglia. The most distinctive wines from the Castel del Monte zone are based on the local Uva di Troia (also known as Nero di Troia) variety. This variety can produce elegant wines with floral aromas and firm, tannic structures. Uva di Troia wines have been gaining increased attention and recognition as some of Puglia’s finest. Uva di Troia wines from the Castel del Monte zone were granted full DOCG status in 2011.
Other noteworthy wines from Castel del Monte zone include those made with the Aglianico and occasionally Bombino Nero varieties. Aglianico is an emerging star in the Castel del Monte zone that holds great promise with the potential to be one of Puglia’s premier red varieties
Listed below are a dozen or so of Puglia’s top-rated producers with brief reviews of some of their flagship wines. Some may be hard to find in the U.S. but are certainly worth looking for. The producers are listed alphabetically by name.
Top Puglia Wineries and Their Wines
Carvinea is located near Carovigno which is just a few miles south of Ostuni in the upper Salento countryside. Here Carvinea grows native Primitivo and Negroamaro as well as some Montepulciano, Aglianico and Petit Verdot. With the assistance of acclaimed consulting winemaker, Riccardo Cotarella, Carvinea consistently produces high-quality, award-winning wines that rank among Puglia’s finest. Production is limited and demand is strong so Carvinea’s wines are hard to find in the U.S. but well worth the effort.
Wines from Carvinea worth looking for:
Negroamaro Salento Rosso IGP 2013 (about $25)
This wine is made entirely of Negroamaro from 50 year-old vines. The wine is aged in French oak barriques for 12 months and then rests for 9 months in bottles prior to release. Intoxicating aromas of blackberries, plums and a hint of espresso fairly soar from the glass upon pouring this full-bodied, structured and textured wine.
The Chiaromonte winery was established in 1826 in the Gioia del Colle DOC region south of Bari in central Puglia. This region is recognized as the ancestral home of Primitivo in Italy and Chiaromonte specializes in Primitivo-based wines. All of the estate’s vineyards are certified organic and Nicola Chiaromonte, the current owner and manager of this family-owned and operated estate, has dedicated himself to producing quality wines. Numerous awards and rave reviews of his wines testify to the success of his initiatives.
Wines from Chiaromonte worth looking for:
“Contrada Barbatto” Muro Sant’Angelo Gioia del Colle Primitivo 2009 (about $30)
This wine is named after the Barbatto vineyard from which the wine’s Primitivo grapes are sourced. After fermentation in stainless steel tanks the wine is aged for 16 months in a combination of stainless steel and wood casks. It then spends an additional 6 months in the bottle prior to release.
This is a full-bodied wine that offers up intense black-fruit aromas followed by ripe plum and black currant flavors that percolate in thick waves throughout your mouth and taste buds. The wine’s aromas and flavors, balance of tannins and acidity as well as its tremendous depth and texture are some of the best Primitivo that Gioia del Colle has to offer.
Cantina Due Palme
Cantina Due Palme was founded in 1989 in Cellino San Marco when three large wine cooperatives decided to merge into a single entity. Cantina Due Palme has grown over time and today it is one of the largest cooperative wineries in the Puglia with some 400 growers that collectively account for an astonishing 6,200 acres of vineyards in the upper Salento region. It has an extensive portfolio of wines that ranges from dry red and white wines to sweet and even some sparkling wines. Despite its size and cooperative framework Cantina Due Palme is generally recognized as one of Puglia’s finest producers and year-after-year produces some simply amazing wines.
Wines from Cantina Due Palme worth looking for:
“Selvarossa” Rosso Riserva Salice Salentino 2012 (about $33)
The Selvarossa is Cantina Due Palme’s flagship wine and is a serial recipient of Gambero Rosso’s coveted “Tre Bicchieri” award. Selvarossa is a blend of 85 percent Negroamaro and 15 percent Malvasia Nera. It is full-bodied with plum, blackberry and some vanilla flavors and round, velvety tannins. It is smooth, enticing and a real crowd pleaser.
Feudo di Santa Croce
Cantina Tinazzi is an Italian winemaking company that has facilities in both Puglia and the Veneto. It’s Puglia estate, Feudo di Santa Croce (now known as Feudo Croce), was established in 2001 in Carosino, about 6 miles east of Taranto in the Primitivo di Manduria zone. Here they produce both red and white wines from traditional Salento grapes such as Primitivo, Salice Salentino, Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera and Malvasia Bianca.
Wines from Feduo di Santa Croce worth looking for:
Primitivo di Manduria LXXIV 2010 (about $21)
The Primitivo di Manduria LXXIV is the flagship wine of Feudo di Santa Croce. It is made entirely of Primitivo di Manduria and is a full-bodied, muscular wine that will have special appeal to those that like big wines - and then like to crank it up a notch. It is a generous wine with ripe, black fruit flavors with a hint of spice, a velvety texture, modest tannins and 14.5 percent alcohol, all of which make it an ideal companion for equally-weighty dishes such as grilled beef, lamb, game or aged cheeses.
Winery Website (Italian only)
Gianfranco Fino founded his eponymous winery in 2004 with the purchase of a small, three-acre vineyard with 50 year-old vines in the Manduria region in southern Puglia. Over the ensuing decade he purchased additional vineyard properties and today the estate covers 37 acres that include some old-growth vineyards with some vines approaching a century in age. The success of Gianfranco’s gritty determination to utilize ancient vines of native varieties to produce the best high-quality wines he could was officially recognized in 2010 when he received the coveted Winemaker of the Year award from Gambero Rosso, one of the first winemakers from southern Italy to be so honored.
Wines from Gianfranco Fino worth looking for:
“Es” Primitivo di Manduria 2013 (about $78)
“Es” is made entirely of Primitivo di Manduria grapes from vines that average 60 years of age. The grapes are partially dried on the vine prior to harvest in late August. After maceration and fermentation the wine is aged in a combination of new and second-passage French oak barriques for 9 months then rests in bottles for an additional 9 months prior to commercial release.
This wine has an almost impenetrable, inky-black color that opens slowly with aromas of cedar, dried spices and balsamic. It is full-bodied and opulent in a fleshy, ripe style with smooth, almost sweet tannins and not a hard edge anywhere. It has a full, grippy finish with lingering herbal notes.
With its sheer weight, intensity and abundance of dark fruit flavors it is a one-of-a-kind expression of Primitivo. It is an impressive effort from one of Puglia’s most accomplished producers.
Leone de Castris
Originally established in 1665, Leone de Castris is the oldest winery in Puglia. Situated in the small rural town of Salice Salentino, it is one of the top producers in the Salento area and the Puglia region overall. It has extensive vineyard holdings scattered throughout the Salento area and produces a wide range of interesting and reliable wines all of which rank high on a quality-to-price basis. It also year after year turns out a number of award-winning, internationally-recognized wines from native varieties. You can read more about the Leone de Castris winery here.
Wines from Leone de Castris worth looking for:
“Per Lui” Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva 2012 (about $34)
This Salice Salentino is made entirely of Negroamaro grapes lightly dried on the vines prior to harvest in early October. After fermentation the wine is aged in French oak barriques for one year and then spends an additional year ageing in the bottle prior to release for sale.
Per Lui is a substantial, layered and complex wine with an invigorating 15 percent alcohol level. It has a dark, dense, nearly black color and a gentle swishing of the glass releases heady aromas of rich, ripe dark fruit and kitchen spices that follow through in the flavors. It is well-balanced with good acidity, distinct tannins with plenty of grip and will age well for another 10 to 15 years.
Filippo Cassano founded Polvanera in 2003 when he bought and restored an ancient farmhouse located a few miles north of the town of Gioia del Colle in central Puglia. The estate currently has about 62 acres of vineyards of which about 60 percent is allocated to Primitivo and the remainder to various other red and white native varieties.
All Polvanera’s wines are certified organic. Consistent with Filippo’s goal of minimizing human intervention in both the vineyards and cellaring operations he eschews the use of oak for ageing any of the estate’s wines. He maintains that wood ageing masks the purity and fundamental characteristics of the Primitivo and other native varieties. Consequently, his wines tend to have good definition and sense of place.
Wines from Polvanera worth looking for:
“17” Gioia del Colle DOC Primitivo 2010 (about $26)
This wine is made entirely of Primitivo from 60-year old Alberello-trained vines. The grape skins are macerated on the must for one month and the wine is aged in stainless steel tanks for 18 months. The wine then spends an additional year ageing in the bottle prior to release.
The “17” Primitivo is a well-structured, dense wine with a good tannic backbone. It has a dense, juicy texture, smooth tannins, a long-lasting, spice-tinged finish and a bracing 16.5 percent alcohol.
Racemi, or Accademia dei Racemi as it is formally known, is an organization of 5 vineyards and winemakers united by a common goal of improving the quality of wines from southern Puglia. Established in 1998 under the guidance of Gregory Perrucci, the wineries are committed to traditional winemaking practices of the region with an emphasis on native varieties like Primitivo and Negroamaro. The Accademia has also saved some ancient varieties, like Susumaniello and Ottavyanello, from the brink of extinction and nursed them back to life. The Accademia dei Racemi has within its short life contributed significantly to the quality-over-quantity wine revolution underway in Puglia.
Wines from Accademia dei Racemi worth looking for:
“Sinfarosa” Primitivo di Manduria Zinfandel 2011 (about $17)
This wine is made entirely of Primitivo from 70 year old vines in the estate’s Sinfarosa vineyard in the Manduria zone. The wine is aged half in wood casks and half in steel tanks. This wine is complex and full-bodied with an intense dark fruit profile and robust tannins. It’s ready to drink now but will also age well for at least another decade. It is a wine of exceptional quality at a discount price.
Rivera is another winery that has become a touchstone for quality wine production in Puglia. In the process the Rivera estate has also highlighted the great potential of the Castel del Monte DOC zone for producing quality wines. While Nero di Troia is the main indigenous variety in the Castel del Monte area other native red varieties like Bombino Nero, Montepulciano and Aglianico are also grown in this area.
The de Corato family has owned and managed Rivera and has consistently since its founding in 1940 emphasized production of quality wines from native varieties. Their wines tend to have intense personalities that exhibit a strong sense of place. The Rivera winery is one of the premier producers in the Castel del Monte zone and has played a prominent role in Puglia’s wine rebirth.
Wines from Rivera worth looking for:
“Il Falcone” Castel del Monte Riserva 2008 (about $28)
This wine is a blend of 70 percent Nero di Troia and 30 percent Montepulciano and a few other local varieties. The grapes are harvested in mid-to-late October and the wine is aged for 14 months, half in French oak barriques and half in large French oak casks, after which it is combined and then aged for an additional year in bottles prior to release.
Il Falcone is a deep, rich and structured wine with soft tannins and lots of juicy, dark-fruit flavors. It is a compelling wine emblematic of the high quality of wines produced today in the Castel del Monte zone.
“Cappellaccio” Castel del Monte Aglianico Riserva 2007 (about $22)
Cappellaccio is made entirely of Aglianico from Rivera’s vineyards in the Castel del Monte area. The wine is aged for 14 months in a combination of French oak barriques and large French oak casks (botti). It spends an additional 12 months in the bottle before release for sale. This medium to full-bodied wine has spicy, herbal aromas, ripe plum and berry flavors and firm tannins. It’s complex wine with a strong character that never loses its structure and seductive touch.
Tenute Rubino consists of four production estates scattered throughout the Salento region and an administrative office in Brindisi. It is a large operation that produces about 1.2 million bottles a year of which approximately three-fourths are exported world-wide. The estate has an extensive lineup of wines but emphasizes those made with varieties native to the Salento area of Puglia.
Wines from Tenuta Rubino worth looking for:
“Torre Testa” Susumaniello IGT Salento 2013 (about $30)
Susumaniello is a little-known, late-ripening red grape variety grown in limited quantities in the Salento area and a few vineyards around Brindisi. While typically used as a blending wine a few producers have begun marketing wines made entirely of Susumaniello and some have garnered very favorable reviews. While it’s still a rarity it has experienced some increase in popularity in recent years.
Tenute Rubino’s Torre Testa is made entirely of Susumaniello grapes harvested in early October and subsequently dried for 2 to 3 weeks. After fermentation, the wine is aged in steel tanks for 5 to 6 months and then 12 months in French oak barriques and an additional 12 months in the bottle prior to release for sale.
The 2013 Susumaniello has a deep ruby cast and enticing red berry aromas. The wine is medium-to-full bodied with some plum flavors accented with some lively dried cranberry and red berry flavors as well. It has good acidity, modest tannins, pleasant cherry-stone bitterness on the finish and a bracing 16 percent alcohol level. The 2013 Torre Testa was the recipient of a coveted Tre Bicchieri ("Three Glasses") award from Gambero Rosso.
Marchesi Antinori, one of the most historic and famous names in the Italian wine world, founded Tormaresca in Puglia in the late 1990’s as part of a broad-based initiative to expand both nationally and internationally beyond its traditional Tuscan base. The Tormaresca winery consists of two facilities: a large, 620 acre estate named Masseria Maime in the Salento DOC and a smaller - but still large - 320 acre estate named Tenuta Bocca di Lupo in the Castel del Monte DOC. Both estates grow a mix of traditional, native grape varieties from their respective regions in addition to some “international” varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Tormaresca has been producing some outstanding wines since its founding. With the assistance of consulting winemaker, Renzo Catarella, the Antinori team has proved to be very adept at combining ancient wine traditions and varietals with up-to-date winemaking technology and techniques.
Wines from Tormaresca worth looking for:
“Bocca di Lupo” Aglianico Castel del Monte 2011 (about $50)
Bocca di Lupo (which translates literally as “mouth of the wolf” but colloquially means “good luck”) consists entirely of Aglianico grapes from Tormaresca’s organic Castel del Monte vineyards. The wine spends 15 months ageing in small oak barriques and then rests for an additional 24 months in the bottle prior to release. The Bocca di Lupo exhibits the best qualities of Aglianico from the Castel del Monte zone with rich, aromatic flavors, firm structure, a rich and earthy - but not heavy - mouthfeel, good tannins and a long, pleasantly acidic finish.
“Trentangeli” Castel del Monte Rosso 2011 (about $24)
This wine is a “Super-Puglian” blend of 65 percent Aglianico, 25 percent Cabernet and 10 percent Syrah, all harvested when slightly overripe. The wine is aged 10 months in oak barrels and then rests in bottles for 9 months prior to commercial release. Although some “international” varieties are included in the blend, the wine is fully southern Italian in style with earthy aromas, a fleshy texture, spicy and bold dark fruit flavors and a persistent finish. You will find yourself coming back time and again to this pleasing, very drinkable wine.
This winery flies under most consumers’ wine radar screens and is just now starting to get the attention and critical praise it deserves. In 2010 I interviewed Giovanni Zullo, the third-generation owner/manager of this family estate, and was duly impressed with his wines. Since then his wines have only gotten better and with it has come greater critical acclaim and name recognition.
The Viglione estate is located near Santeramo in Colle which is a short distance west of the town of Gioia del Colle. Located on a hilly plain about 1,500 above sea level, the estate is at the highest point in the Gioia del Colle DOC zone. While Viglione focuses on production of Primitivo wines it also grows some other traditional native varieties and some Merlot. Primitivo, which is genetically related to Zinfandel, is especially celebrated in this area because it is believed to have originated in the Gioia del Colle area.
Wines from Tenuta Viglione worth looking for:
“Marpione” Gioia del Colle Primitivo Riserva 2011 (about $18)
The wine is made entirely of Primitivo harvested from 60-year-old vines. It is aged for two years in large oak barrels followed by four months in barriques. It has 14.5 percent alcohol.
The wine has an intense, opaque black color with a slight violet edge. A gentle swishing of the glass reveals fragrant, earthy and spirited aromas of red berries with some spice notes that are wonderful to sniff. The taste is full and intense with plum and other ripe dark fruit flavors supported by good acidity and tannins. This is a great expression of Primitivo, true to the variety and the spirit of the Gioia del Colle DOC and supported by inspired winemaking.
Note – prices indicated are averages of national retail prices but prices will vary from store to store. Since availability is not guaranteed and stores may sell out of the selections it is best to call or check their website for availability and price before making the trip.
August 3, 2016
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