EXPLORE

Puglia Ripe for Discovery

puglia

Puglia’s wine industry is one with a past — for better and worse. Its wine production, whose history dates back to antiquity, accounts for 17 percent of Italy’s total production. Daniele Cirsone, representing Movimento Turismo del Vino Puglia, acknowledges that until recently, Puglia’s wineries concentrated on inexpensive table wines. Some estates’ farms shipped their grapes to Italy’s north for blended wine and vermouth production. Some stock headed to France to bolster the structure of wines in years when their local harvest was insufficient.

One thing that has helped upgrade the reputation of Puglia’s wine industry in the last decade is the implementation of new technology, such as more efficient cooling systems and overnight grape harvesting. Beyond innovation, however, representatives from six wineries and consortiums we toured in June affirmed that the way to move Puglia’s wines into higher worldwide esteem would be to go back to its winemaking roots, but express them more effectively in and out of the bottle.

TENUTE MATER DOMINI epitomizes the best of the old and new, right down to the Roman ruins that punctuate their vineyards. Marketing Director Andrea Fattizo states that although the brand is relatively new to Puglia’s industry (established 2003), they are combining the legacy of the area’s 400-year history and their proactive efforts to address worldwide consumer demand for wines made to a higher standard. The winery’s mission is to have wine drinkers “see the contrast of ancient tradition and modern advances.”

Represented in the United States by Soilair Selection (www.soilairselection.com), and available in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the winery is in the process of expanding its reach into California and other states the old fashioned way — by pounding the American pavement three to four times a year, with educational sessions for buyers and sommeliers, and numerous consumer tastings.

“Certainly, the perception of Apulian wine has improved in recent years,” affirms Fattizo. “However, one thing that continues to be a challenge for us is that the reputation of our wines has been too focused on the grape varieties and not enough on the lands where the vines grow. Although many American consumers and buyers know Negroamaro and Primitivo, it is where and how the grapes are grown that impact the quality of the wine.”

Fattizo notes one way they get that message out is by explaining their winery operations are based in the DOC Salice Salentino and IGT Salento appellation areas, which are shaped by clay-loam soils, 300 days of sunshine per year and salinity imparted by proximity to the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. While the southern tip of Puglia is noted for its extremely ripe and sweet indigenous grapes, the winery is creating balanced reds through cultivation of Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot.


WINE TO WATCH

Tenute Mater Domini Marangi Salento IGT

Retail Price: $16
Grape Varietals: 100 percent Negroamaro
Tasting Notes: Plummy black fruit flavors with ample acidity, which lingers through the finish.

Tenute Mater Domini  Marangi  Salento IGT

“In the last five years things have changed for Puglia in that we are now more present in the foreign markets, and people are more aware of the quality of our production,” insists Vito Palumbo, export manager of TOMARESCA, at a tasting on its Bocca di Lupo Estate in the Castel del Monte. “Puglian wine offers the drinker the best way to taste something that is at once new and familiar. Puglia nicely straddles wines of the New World and the Old World, between Tuscany and Chile.”

According to Palumbo, since its inception in 1998, Tomaresca has worked to make the U.S. trade aware of Puglia’s full potential as a wine production region through stateside road shows, U.S. brand ambassadors and eno-tourism initiatives aimed at beverage media, industry professionals and consumers. He feels Tomaresca’s wines, imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estate (http://www.smwe.com/about/contactUs/), are contributing to a greater industry objective of overcoming the prejudice that brought Puglia to be known as the “Cellar of Europe” (producing huge volumes without good quality).

“We aim to produce wines that appeal to the modern wine drinker, but maintain the integrity — the perfumes and flavors — of our land during the process,” says Palumbo. “We promote the fact that our Masseria Maime Estate in Salento is one of the most innovative wineries in Puglia and Italy, and that our Bocca di Lupo Estate is 100 percent certified organic. We emphasize sustainability, such as a photovoltaic plant on the rooftop of the Bocca di Lupo Estate and a new project that will measure our carbon and water footprint.”

Palumbo feels Tomaresca’s Icon Wines represent the highest quality of their production in their two estates: Bocca di Lupo, 100 percent Aglianico; and Masseria Maime, 100 percent Negroamaro. However, he believes the flagship for the U.S. market is Torcicoda, from its Masseria Maime Estate in Salento.


WINE TO WATCH

Tomaresca Torcicoda 2011
Retail Price: $20
Grape Varietal: 100 percent Primitivo

Tasting Notes: Bright aromas of cherry, licorice, spice and tobacco. In the mouth, the wine is full and structured. “Torcicoda is different from most Apulian Primitivo and American Zinfandels, as it is a modern, elegant interpretation of an old varietal,” says Palumbo. “It is the first Apulian to get into the Wine Spectator’s TOP 100 wines, and rewarded our efforts to blend passion, tradition and innovation.”

wine - Tomaresca Torcicoda 2011

A dinner of lobster linguini, fried mixed seafood and fish croquettes at a fashionable waterfront trattoria provides the perfect sensory backdrop for CANTINE RIVERA’s white wines. The convivial ambiance prompts Marketing Manager Sebastiano De Corato to open up about Cantine Rivera’s challenges, even with the support of a solid importer (Bedford International Ltd., www.winesfrombedford.com) and distribution by Southern Wine & Spirits.

De Corato points out that they need to work closely with their U.S. contacts to ensure their wines don’t disappear into a huge portfolio. “As people can only remember so many brands, I regularly go to the United States as I find it is the most effective way to get the word out,” he confides. “Having U.S. wine journalists and industry people visit Puglia, meanwhile, is just as important. We have to be thorough in how we explain Puglia’s wine so (our U.S. reps) in turn can sell them. The more shelf space we get, the more the image of the Puglia wine industry will improve.”

De Corato acknowledges that while budget brands like Ecco Domani have offered Primitivo reds for years, this underscores the need for his winery and others to put “real Apulian wines by real Apulian winemakers out onto the shelves and into the hands of decision makers, not product using Apulian juice being made elsewhere.”

“It is important that we craft wines that tell a story about who we are and what these wines are really about, from a historic and terroir standpoint,” says De Corato. “These days, there is no question that our producers have the right equipment, making techniques and winemakers. We need to better exploit the potential and versatility of our indigenous varietals.”


WINE TO WATCH

Cappellaccio Aglianico Castel del Monte D.O.C. Riserva
Retail Price: $22
Grape Varietals: 100 percent Aglianico

Tasting Notes: Bright garnet red with a rich bouquet of red berry fruit, leather and spice. It has a spacious, warm mouth and a lingering finish.

Cappellaccio Aglianico  Castel del Monte  D.O.C. Riserva

Barbara Mottura represents the third generation of MOTTURA WINERY, focusing on marketing and quality control at their estate in Tuglie, in the southern reaches of the Salento Peninsula. While she acknowledges 90 percent of their production is sold primarily in Italy, two years ago Mottura took the bold step of entering the U.S. market with the assistance of Allied Beverage Group (www.alliedbeverage.com).

Mottura notes that while their higher-end Le Pitre and Vini Mottura wines are finding an audience in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, they feel introducing American consumers only to their best wines with indigenous varietals Negroamaro and Primitivo is the best way to present their case. According to Mottura, a major advantage Mottura’s wines have is that they are compatible with the “American consumer’s palate.”

“I feel we will make a greater impact with consumers through our red flagship wines,” says Mottura. “We need to take advantage of the fact that our region is most famous for the harvest of those two grapes and the reds. Once we become better known, we can submit wines with other grape varietals to the U.S. marketplace.”

Mottura also points out that since 2006, the winery has invested money in cloning and other agricultural experiments, and bringing in respected wine consultants from Tuscany and Piedmont to help advise them on marketing and branding. Their latest investment is in a training system for the vineyards to ensure optimum growing conditions for the grapes, especially as temperatures can run as hot as 100 degrees Fahrenheit even during the harvest season.

While whites are not yet available stateside, Mottura notes their Le Pitre Salento Fiamo will probably be their first white for export. While the Fiamo varietal is not totally indigenous to the area (it is widely associated with Calabria), what makes it “Apulian” are the clay-loam soils of the Salento area.


WINE TO WATCH

Le Pitre Primitivo del Salento 2010
Retail Price: $20
Grape Varietal: 100 percent Primitivo

Tasting Notes: Dark stone fruit and spicy notes are enlivened with blackberry and blueberry flavors.

wine - Le Pitre  Primitivo del Salento 2010

VIGNE e VINI, managed by the Varvaglione family since 1921 with distribution by Devino Wine Importers in Texas (www.devinowines.com), is the only winery of the six that I had visited previously during a 2006 “eno-tour.” I was struck by the difference seven years made. Changes included better-organized production facilities and a well-appointed tasting room.

Export Sales Director Fabio Cascione says their evolution is more than skin-deep. The team works closely with an on-site enologist as well as two major universities (Università Di Udine and Università Di Bologna) to improve the production standards on their 120-hectare estate. While their vineyards nearest the facility produce Primitivo and Negroamaro varietals, the company is also going bold in their white production and a new line of wines procured from organic farming and winemaking techniques.

“To change international perceptions about our wine, the first step was enhancing our machinery, then enhancing our research and development and hiring the best people,” says Cascione. “As we purchase more advanced equipment, we can better understand how the process can yield better results. You cannot carry on the commerce of good wine without continuous investment.”

Cascione adds that the up-and-coming generation of wine drinkers in the United States and 35 other countries will also have an impact on how fast the message of Puglia’s strengths as a wine production area will spread. “Wine professionals, especially sommeliers, are pursuing food-friendly wines with rich color and full body,” he says. “The younger generation (ages 21-45), whose tastes they are addressing, gravitate toward something with more fruit-forward flavors, which are smooth and have a nice balance of natural tannins.”


WINES TO WATCH
Schiaccianoci Negroamaro del Salento
Retail Price: $14.99
Grape Varietals: 85 percent Negroamaro, 15 percent Malvasia Nera IGP

Tasting Notes: Aromas of ripe fruit, oak and spice are very intense. On the mouth, it is round and smooth with fruity notes and a carob aftertaste.

wine - Schiaccianoci Negroamaro del Salento

With an estate dating to 1665, you would expect LEONE de CASTRIS to have a leg up in raising Puglia’s prominence as a region. Indeed, there are fantastic milestones. Bottling wine commercially since 1925, they were the first winery to bottle a Rosé in Italy. Their moderate-range Donna Lisa line is inspired by Donna Lisa de Castris, who organized women in the area to keep the winery going during World War II, while the village’s men were away fighting. Preserved bottles of their marque brand, Four Roses, are displayed in light boxes in the museum section of their winery, adjoining the tasting room.

According to Adriano Sicuro, who heads the export division, Five Roses figures prominently as a leader for Puglia wines in the U.S. market. While they have worked closely with Winebow, Inc. (Giuseppe LoCascio, (201) 930-2450; www.winebow.com), they are now starting to expand from major markets like Los Angeles and New York and move into second tier markets, such as Dallas and Nashville.

“Thanks to our efforts and the support Winebow provides us, (and other Puglia wineries), the reputation of Puglia wines has grown tremendously in the States since 2006,” Sicuro informs me. “This is due to our passion and sense of duty, combined with the improved know-how our wineries have acquired. (With updated machinery), we can express things that set us apart like our culinary heritage and our lands’ natural attributes. I believe in our Puglian products because we have proven ourselves; we need to now spread the message.”


WINES TO WATCH
Villa Santera Primitivo di Manduria DOC 2011
Retail Price: $20
Grape Varietal: 100 percent Primitivo

Tasting Notes: Inviting aromas of spiced cherries and black fruits complement undertones of tobacco and dried plums. It is a full-bodied wine, warm and soft on the palate with flavors that continue to evolve into the finish.

wine - Villa Santera  Primitivo di Manduria  DOC 2011