Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot, is a long, mostly flat region with a prolific production of wine. In the past, the region often surpassed Sicily and Veneto in output, though Apulia’s former title of “Europe’s wine cellar” no longer carries much weight.
As traditional markets for strong blending wines have diminished, Apulia’s producers have increasingly put the accent on premium quality.
Some have come forth with good to excellent wines: ripe, hedonistic, exotic reds obtained from native red grapes such as Primitivo, Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera and Uva di Troia.
Apulia has 25 DOC zones, the most of any southern region, yet, like its neighbors, it produces a small percentage of classified wine (just over 2%). Despite rapid improvement, Apulian wines have yet to establish a clear-cut reputation for excellence, though they are widely appreciated for value abroad.
Apulia can be divided roughly into two viticultural sectors by a hypothetical line crossing the region between Brindisi and Taranto. To the north, the terrain is rolling to hilly and the climate is temperate, even relatively cool at certain heights in the Murge plateau. Dry wines from there tend to have moderate strength, with impressive fruit, good acidity and ample bouquet.
The low-alcohol, blackberry-perfumed Uva di Troia is the typical red wine of the Castel del Monte / Daunia district. South of the Brindisi-Taranto line lies Salento, a flat peninsula that extends between the Adriatic and Ionian seas to the easternmost point of Italy, and here is the beating heart of Apulia’s red wine production.
Though hot, it is not quite torrid, thanks to the play of sea currents and the breezes that waft across the Adriatic from the Balkans. Salento’s traditional wines were the powerful, inky reds from Primitivo, Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera. But increasing attention is being given to fresher reds and rosés, as well as to some unexpectedly bright and fruity white wines.
Primitvo di Manduria, the early ripening variety of Salento is related to California’s Zinfandel. Though it once served primarily as a blending wine, Primitivo from a new wave of producers has shown undeniable class in a style that stands comparison with its American counterparts.
Among the many DOCs of Salento, Salice Salentino stands out for its robust red and refined rosé, though wines from such appellations as Squinzano, Brindisi, Alezio and Copertino can show unexpected class. The Salento IGT applies to red wines that often carry individual names. White wines also show promise, Chardonnay in particular, though Salento is also renowned for flowery rosés that rank among Italy’s finest.