What is common between Duoro Boys and the Apulia Wine Identity? You may not find the answer in the Quiz Cards of Debra Meiburg Masterofwine or Oxford Companion to Wines by Jancis Robinson MW. Neither would you find it in any magazine or perhaps anywhere on the net yet.
Apulia Best Wine-The Puglia Boys
Douro Boys is a group of five producers of Douro Valley in Portugal, who got together in 2003 to promote Brand Douro in the export markets since they had contributed significantly to the improvement of quality of still wines that was perceived to be average earlier. Apulia Best Wine is also a group of five producers of Apulia (known as Puglia in Italy) who got together to promote Brand Puglia and send the message to the wine world that Puglia did not make only the bulk wine for North Italy or overseas to give colour or add alcohol to the final blends. Tenute Rubino, Conti Zecca, Candido, Cantine Due Palme and Consorzio Produttori Vini di Manduria are the five ‘Puglia Boys.’
The similarity however ends there. Whereas Douro Boys are family owned wineries, Apulia Best Wine is an Association formed in 2008-09- a Consortium of wineries the last two of which are powerful co-operatives, though producing quality wines. The Consortium has already made a few joint efforts to promote Brand Puglia overseas. It is only now that they had the courage to organise the event called Apulia Wine Identity in the port town of Trani, Lecce, Barletta and Brindisi on the Adriatic Sea.
Apulia Wine Identity
The consortium joined hands with Gambero Rosso-the Italian Wine Guide publication for technical help and convinced a total of 21 producers to participate (which meant financing the costs as well) and invited 49 delegates-journalists, sommeliers and importers from different countries on November 22-27 and arranged for them to visit 4-5 wineries each in one of the five different areas in the region of Puglia, the second biggest wine producing region in Italy.
The object was also to introduce the delegates to introduce the three historic grape varieties- Primitivo, Negroamaro and Nero di Troia and different styles of wines made by traditional and modernistic styled producers some of which starting production barely a few years ago though a majority were selling bulk wine earlier and shifted to bottling and also started making premium wine costing more than even €50 in retail.
Apulia is predominantly a red wine grape producing region, 400 kms long and about 100 kms wide generally. Of late, a few of the white varieties like Verdeca and Fiano del Salento have been introduced and are worth the mention. The quality of red wines has been increasing. There are 25 DOC wines and a couple of them have been earmarked recently for upgrading to DOCG- the highest appellation, says Luigi Rubino. In 2008, out of a production of 7 million hL, only 2 million were DOC wines whereas in 2010 the number of doc wines went up to about 3 million while the total production remained almost the same. The producers hope to increase this by 50% in 3 years.
Export of Puglia wines has been increasing regularly during the last 7-8 years giving the quality producers reason to smile. In 2009, there had been 21% increase while 2010 was strong too. There has already been an increase of 7% in 6 months over 2010 this year, said Rubino while rattling the statistics at the final Chat Show in the beautiful Opera Theater in Barletta on the last day-November 27 . Most of the export (91%) has been to Europe while 6% goes to USA; Asia accounts for merely 3-4%.
Smart participation at the event
Apulia Best Wine roped in 3 Masters of Wines from UK- Time Atkin, Peter McCombie and Sally Easton to take part in the maiden event. André Dominé- author of the best- seller encyclopedia ‘Wine’ was a part of German delegation. Julie Arkell, Chairperson of the Circle of Wine Writers Jane Parkinson, winner of the Louis Roederer International Awards, were a few of the invitees. The Press Release was candid enough to admit it wanted to invite members from the BRIC countries and hence Cavaliere Subhash Arora who the Press Release magnanimously described as ‘a veritable institution of the Indian Subcontinent’s specialized press’ and who was the lone Indian in the group of distinguished guests.
Each delegate was given one of the areas to choose: The taste of ‘the territory of Nero di Troia’, north of the province of Bari, ‘Apulian wines: from sea to the hills’, ‘The Wines of Salento’s Hinterland (which I had chosen)’, ‘Baroque land: wine and culture’ and ‘The ancient land of Messapia: a vine and wine civilization’. These included trips to various wineries for each group; we visited Cantina Paololeo, Cantina Due Palme, Candido and Agricola Vallone, on the outskirts of Brindisi.
Brindisi and Gandhi
Many people may not know that Brindisi was an important port in the previous century, especially for the ships sailing between London and Mumbai. Mahatma Gandhi passed by the port town in 1931 on his way from London where he had gone with a battery of lawyers to legally present India’s case to the British government, says the tour guide taking us through the old town with the old Roman Column, the famous cathedral and the underground excavated city (a part thereof).
People in Brindisi had a lot of respect for Gandhi. The ship had anchored at Brindisi. People were also fascinated by this man who they were told was always with a goat. Mahatma used to drink only goat’s milk, we know. So the fact that he had a personal goat when he travelled is quite believable. There was a big rush of people who went to the ship to greet him. The ship’s departure got delayed but nobody seemed to mind.
As a wine region, Puglia is generally considered to have three parts with each part being so different culturally that if the locals were to talk in the local dialect, they don’t understand a word of each other.
One had an opportunity to taste around 200 wines- enough to convince any Doubting Thomas that the wines from this region are full of sun, are well made and are much better quality with a better aging potential than ever before and that the prices were still reasonable for the quality. Terroir was definitely reflected in the bottle and despite flat areas in most parts, different soils gave different characteristics.
One-to-one Tasting and Top wines
An interesting feature of the event in Trani was the tasting of Top Wines of Puglia where over 30 of the Top Wines selected by Gambero Rosso were showcased at the guided tasting conducted by Marco Sabellico and where each of the producers explained about his winery and presented one wine. Earlier, there was also a tasting by the producers where they could taste their wines on a one-to-one basis with the participants. If they so chose, wines were also being uncorked by the sommeliers in a separate tasting area without the producers being present.
Wines that represent the soil and sun
The general consensus after the 5-day event culminating at a joint session moderated by Marco Sabellico, Editor-in-Chief of Gambero Rosso which had partnered the event giving technical expertise, was that the 2010 was a 4-star vintage for all the 3 varietals. This was based on the average ratings between 86, 85 and 83.5 of the three varietals- Nero di Troia, Primitivo and Negroamaro tasted over the previous three days by the visiting delegates were also announced.
Most people felt that Primitivo were very robust wines-some were dry while the others were quite sweet. High alcohol was an issue with some wines but it appeared that this was a style of making and their clientele liked such wines, it would appear. These wines could be an answer to many novices in India, who claim there is no ‘current’ in wines. Nero di Troia were slightly austere but with ripe tannins. Negroamaro were more diversified in style and made some excellent Rosés too.
On to the next
It was quite a successful and well managed event with southern hospitality quite evident. For a maiden attempt it was a rocking success; no wonder the second edition for next year was already announced by the young and dynamic President Luigi Rubino who also owns the family winery Tenute Rubino near Brindisi. Puglia is an upcoming region for Italian wines and it is very important for the producers to come together and communicate to the opinion makers. In all likelihood there will be more producers wanting to join the bandwagon after the success and the impression created by the maiden edition that has helped Apulia’s Wine Identity.
Separate Articles regarding grape varietals and winery visits will follow in the future editions-editor