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Sip by Sip through Puglia

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Nestled in the southern corner of Italy, Puglia stands as a testament to the country's rich history, diverse culture, and exceptional viticultural heritage. With its sun-drenched landscapes, dramatic coastlines, and a tapestry of vineyards that stretch as far as the eye can see, Puglia has emerged as a haven for wine enthusiasts and travellers seeking an authentic taste of Italy.

Puglia, often referred to as the "heel of Italy's boot," boasts a history steeped in agriculture and winemaking that spans centuries. Ancient Greek settlers are credited with introducing viticulture to the region, establishing the foundation for what would later become a renowned wine-producing area.

Throughout history, Puglia's strategic location along Mediterranean trade routes has exposed it to diverse cultures, leaving an indelible mark on its winemaking practices.

A brief history of Puglia

In the 1st millennium BCE, Illyric (modern-day Albanians) and Italic people settled in this fertile strip of land.

Illyrian people & Empire.

Moving ahead to the 8th century BCE, Greek settlers from Sparta arrived, establishing themselves from Salento down south to Tarentum, now known as Taranto. This blend of cultures continues to shape Puglia's identity.

Skipping forward, the Romans enter the stage. Around 272 BCE, they replace the Greeks, fostering the growth of wheat, olives, and wine, like a symphony of abundance! Despite a hiccup at Cannae in 216 BCE, where Hannibal's forces score a win, the Romans remain in control of the area.

Enter the legendary Via Appia by 190 BCE, connecting Puglia to Rome like an ancient GPS. Meanwhile, the amphitheatre in Lecce showcases Roman architecture, and the empire eventually fades in 476 AD, leading Puglia in a new direction.

The Byzantine Empire takes the reins, facing Lombard and Saracen challenges. Puglia stands strong, with the Byzantines protecting Gallipoli's (A peninsula located in Turkey, specifically in the European part of the country, between the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles Strait). A calm period follows until the Norman invasion, a game-changing event.

It’s now 1059, when Robert Guiscard, the Norman powerhouse, transforms Puglia into a cultural hub, leaving gifts like the relics of San Nicola and the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari.

Basilica di San Nicola, Bari.

Hold onto your hats as "Stupor Mundi," or Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor, arrives. Puglia becomes his canvas, with castles and Romanesque gems like the Cattedrale di San Sabino in Bari and the Castel del Monte in Andria.

Castel del Monte. Andria.

Around 1250, The Angevin French dynasty claims Puglia, only for the region to transition to the Aragonese in the 1500s, fortified against Turkish incursions. The subsequent ebb and flow of power unfolds through the Habsburgs, Bourbons, and French, shaping Puglia's destiny within the broader political panorama.

In 1860, Puglia unites with the Kingdom of Italy, and Mussolini's vision stimulates agricultural abundance. The tapestry frays during World War II as the Allied forces liberate Puglia from German occupation. Today, cities like Bari, Brindisi, and Taranto bear the scars of this tumultuous time.

Puglia’s wine tradition

Puglia's wines are as diverse as its landscapes. The region's terroir, marked by a Mediterranean climate, limestone-rich soils, and sea breezes, lends a distinct character to its wines. Among the treasures of Puglia are its indigenous grape varieties, each with a unique story to tell.

Primitivo grape: The Jewel of Puglia

Perhaps the most celebrated grape of Puglia, Primitivo, tells a story that stretches across centuries and continents. Known for its lush, dark fruit flavours and velvety texture, Primitivo has garnered international recognition. Many wine historians believe that Primitivo shares a genetic link with California's Zinfandel, tracing its roots back to Croatia's Crljenak Kaštelanski grape. Today, Primitivo wines range from bold and jammy to elegantly structured, captivating both novice and seasoned wine enthusiasts.

Primitivo Grape.

Negroamaro grape: Soulful Elegance

Negroamaro, with its intriguing name translating to "black bitter," embodies the essence of Puglia's character. This grape thrives in the region's sun-soaked vineyards and produces wines that showcase deep, dark fruit flavours coupled with a distinct earthiness. Negroamaro wines often display an enticing balance between richness and freshness, making them an ideal complement to the region's hearty cuisine.

Negroamaro Grape.

Fiano and Greco grapes: White Whispers of Puglia

While reds dominate Puglia's landscape, the region is not without its enchanting white grape varieties. Fiano and Greco, with their origins in ancient Greece, produce white wines that are a testament to Puglia's multifaceted viticultural heritage. Fiano wines are characterized by their aromatic complexity, offering notes of citrus, honey, and floral nuances. Greco, on the other hand, unveils a vibrant acidity and mineral backbone that beautifully mirrors Puglia's coastal influences.

Fiano Grape.

Beyond the well-known varieties, Puglia boasts a treasure trove of indigenous grapes waiting to be rediscovered. Varieties such as Primitivo Nero, Bombino Bianco, and Susumaniello are gradually gaining attention, offering wine enthusiasts a glimpse into the region's untamed viticultural potential.

Bombino Bianco Grape.

A Journey Through Puglia's Winemaking Regions

Puglia is divided into several distinct winemaking regions, each with its own microclimate and terroir. The Salento Peninsula, for example, experiences hot, dry summers and is known for producing intense Primitivo and Negroamaro wines. The Murge Plateau, with its limestone-rich soils, lends elegance to both red and white wines. The northern Daunia region, marked by its proximity to the Adriatic Sea, boasts refreshing whites and unique rosés.

Map of Puglia's Wine Regions

Region: Salento Peninsula

The sun-drenched Salento Peninsula, stretching out into the azure waters of the Ionian and Adriatic Seas, is a land of fiery passion and intense flavours. Its hot and dry climate, characterised by scorching summers, infuses its wines with an irresistible vibrancy. Among the jewels of Salento's viticultural crown are the Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes. Primitivo, known for its deep, robust red wines, offers a harmonious symphony of blackberries, spices, and a hint of Mediterranean herbs. On the other hand, the dark-skinned Negroamaro lends itself to wines that dance with dark fruit flavours, velvety textures, and a touch of rustic charm.

Spread across Salento with four production estates and an office in Brindisi, Tenute Rubino boasts a vast vineyard area of 275 hectares (679 acres), yielding 1.2 million bottles annually. Focusing on native Salento varieties, such as the rare Susumaniello, they offer an acclaimed 100% Susumaniello wine called Torre Testa. Wine-tasting options cater to various preferences, including the all-encompassing Numero Primo event featuring tours, tasting, and estate-prepared foods.

Established in 1665 by Duke Oronzo, Leone di Castris has a rich history and an extensive wine range. Highlights include Five Roses, a potent blend of 80% Negroamaro and 20% Malvasia, the fruity Salice Salentino, combining Negroamaro and black Malvasia, and Donna Lisa available in both white and red versions.

Five Roses. Leaone di Castris

Founded by sisters Francesca and Annamaria Bruni, Vetrère emphasises organic and historic vineyards dating back to the 1600s. The duo combines tradition and modern winemaking to produce exceptional red, white, and rosé wines. Their stand-out creation, the 2015 Cré, is a white Fiano grape wine that earned a prestigious bronze medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

Cre wine. Vetrere Winery

Region: Murge Plateau

Elegance from Stone and Soil Transitioning to the Murge Plateau, a landscape adorned with rolling hills and limestone-rich soils, a different facet of Puglia's winemaking artistry unfolds. The cool breezes sweeping across the plateau temper the summer heat, allowing grapes to develop their flavours at a leisurely pace. This unhurried maturation process imparts a unique elegance to both red and white wines. Like the elegant Primitivo-based blends, reds exhibit a refined structure and an interplay of red fruit notes, balanced by a subtle minerality drawn from the limestone terrain. The plateau's chalky soils also breathe life into white wines, endowing them with a crisp acidity and a delightful complexity that captures the essence of the Murge Plateau's character.

Some notable wineries in the area:

Rivera Winery: Rivera Winery, located in the heart of the Murgia region, is renowned for its commitment to quality and innovation. Their Murgia IGT wines capture the essence of the terroir. One of their standout wines is the "Il Falcone," a red blend of Nero di Troia and Montepulciano grapes. This wine is bold and structured, characterised by dark fruit flavours, hints of spices, and a firm tannic structure. Another gem is the "Puer Apuliae," a white wine crafted from Chardonnay grapes. It boasts a rich and complex profile with notes of tropical fruits, citrus, and a touch of oak. Rivera's wines beautifully express the unique characteristics of the Murgia landscape.

Il Falcone. Rivera

Tormaresca Winery: Tormaresca, part of the Antinori family's portfolio, is another prominent winery in the Murgia region. Their Murgia IGT wines offer a blend of tradition and modern winemaking techniques. A notable example is the "Bocca di Lupo," a red wine produced primarily from Aglianico grapes. This wine exhibits a deep and concentrated character, featuring dark fruit aromas, earthy undertones, and well-integrated tannins. Tormaresca's "Roycello" is a captivating white wine produced from Chardonnay and Fiano grapes. It displays a fresh, crisp profile with citrus notes and a pleasant minerality. Tormaresca's Murgia IGT wines showcase the region's potential for producing exceptional red and white wines.

Boca di lupo. Tormaresca Winery

Region: Daunia (area of Foggia)

Adriatic Breeze and Coastal Treasures Traveling north to the Daunia region, the Adriatic Sea's proximity graces the land with refreshing sea breezes that kiss the vineyards, resulting in wines that are a celebration of coastal allure. Daunia is home to an array of white wines that sparkle with the vivacity of citrus fruits and a tantalising minerality. Vermentino and Bombino Bianco, among other indigenous grape varieties, find their voice in these maritime-kissed vineyards. Daunia's unique rosés add a touch of novelty to the region's winemaking tapestry, with shades ranging from delicate pink to vibrant coral, and flavours that mirror the sunlit charm of the Adriatic coastline.

The primary vineyard areas are situated north and south of Foggia city. Heading north towards the regional border with Molise, you'll find San Severo and Lucera, home to the San Severo and the intriguing Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera DOCs. To the south lie Orta Nova and Cerignola, each boasting their own DOCs. All four of these key viticultural zones fall under the Daunia IGT designation.

Daunia IGT wines are crafted from a blend of Italian classics and globally renowned varieties, a common practice for IGT wines. The lineup includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay as prominent representatives of the latter group. On the Italian side, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Pinot Grigio take the stage. A special mention goes to Uva di Troia, a dark-skinned, thick-skinned grape variety that proudly represents Puglia as the region's indigenous gem.

Cantine Teanum: Cantine Teanum is a prominent winery in the Daunia region, celebrated for its commitment to sustainable practices and innovation. Their Daunia wines are a testament to the area's rich viticultural heritage. Their Favugne range offers a taste of six local grapes: Falanghina, Rosato Nero di Troia, Rosso San Severo, Sangiovese, Nero di Troia and Primitivo.

Falanghina Wine. Teanum Winery

In Puglia, winemaking is an inseparable part of the cultural mosaic, a mirror reflecting the people's ancient traditions and modern aspirations. As you traverse the distinct winemaking regions, you'll discover that each sip encapsulates the history, landscapes, and soulful artistry of the land. The passionate hands of Puglia's winemakers, guided by generations of expertise, coax the grapes into wines that are as rich and diverse as the Italian cultural heritage itself.

Whether you're savouring the robust intensity of Salento, the refined elegance of the Murge Plateau, or the coastal allure of Daunia, each glass of Puglian wine offers a glimpse into the heart of this enchanting region.

As Puglia continues to assert itself on the global wine stage, modern winemaking techniques and sustainable practices are gaining ground. Winemakers are investing in state-of-the-art facilities, experimenting with oak ageing, and focusing on organic and biodynamic approaches. This blend of tradition and innovation ensures that Puglia's wines remain relevant and captivating to a diverse audience of wine enthusiasts.

Puglia's wines, with their deep-rooted history and diverse flavours, reflect the region's essence—a place where the past and present intertwine harmoniously. As you uncork a bottle of Primitivo, savour the richness of Negroamaro, or explore the nuances of Fiano, remember that each glass is an invitation to embark on a journey through time, terroir, and the captivating heritage of Puglia.

Cheers to the stories woven into every sip, and may your exploration of Puglian wines be as profound as the landscapes that birthed them!

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