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Delhi Wine Club
The Apulian Wine Experience

Posted: Tuesday, 16 October 2012 13:39

The Apulian Wine Experience

October 16: Puglia is the Italian region full of riches with exotic sounding native grape varieties, that gave her the first introduction to wine when she was there teaching English as a foreign language, writes Susan Hulme, Master of Wine, who admits that she had experienced more of the wines from Locorotundo at the time but liked the local wines and shares with our readers the experience of her visit in June this year.

Puglia (or Apulia) has always had a special draw for me. When I was younger I lived in the region's capital, Bari, teaching English as a foreign language. In those early days I didn't know much about wine except that I liked drinking it.

The region of Puglia forms the long heel-shaped part of Italy, in the deep south. It is a beach lovers' paradise, bordered by two seas, the Adriatic and the Ionian and famous for long stretches of coastline, turquoise seas, dazzling white Baroque cities and scorching hot summers. Even in early June when I visited this year, the temperatures reached 34° C (when Delhi was a cool 44° C -editor). This southern Italian region has an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as a wonderful variety of seafood that seems the natural inheritance of a narrow strip of land bordered by two seas.

What about wine

In the past, Puglia has been known as an area for large-scale bulk wine. These wines were often shipped to Northern Italy or even to parts of France, if rumours are to be believed, to beef up thinner or weaker wines from cooler climes. However, in the last few years Puglia has bottled more of its own wine and seems to be taking great strides to assert the identity of its native grape varieties full of character.

Three black varieties have a stronghold here:

Negroamaro (the name translates as 'black bitter'); Primitivo (the name means ‘early ripening’) aka Zinfandel in California, and the intriguing Nero di Troia, previously known as Uva di Troia and said to be a direct descendent from ancient Greece and perhaps from the city of Troy itself.

There are some delightful white varieties too, including Falanghina and Greco and the relatively new crossing Fiano Minutolo.

Apulian Wine Experience

My hosts on this visit were The Apulian Wine Experience who had very ambitiously set out to pair some of the best cuisine from the leading restaurants of the region during the evening, with extensive tastings of some of the best wines during the day. Despite some organisational problems (not much evidence of air conditioning during the humid daytime tasting, red wines served too warm most of the time and in the evening the food served too cold and too late at night), there were many triumphs and enriching experiences to be had.

Joy of the Hill

One such triumph was the pre-conference trips to some of the key DOC's. For two days prior to the conference, smaller groups of about 10-12 wine writers/ journalists set off on mini-tours of vineyards & winery visits to several of the DOCs within Puglia. We had to make our preferred choice of tour in advance and luckily I chose to visit Gioia di Colle (Joy of the hill) which I found to be the home of some of the most interesting Primitivo of the region.

I found the wines made from the native varieties to be of high quality and very interesting. Below is a brief description of some of the aromas and flavours of these wines.

Primitivo: DNA analysis has shown that Primitivo and the Californian Zinfandel are from the same Croatian parent grape variety so the names are often used interchangeably on wine labels when sold in different markets.

The wines are deeply coloured, often big, bold and alcoholic with very sweet red and black berry flavours and aromas as well as dark cherries. The Primitivo di Manduria DOCG typifies this style and at times some of the wines we tasted were so rich and powerful (with some real or imagined residual sugar and alcohol levels as high as 16% or more), that they reminded me of a less sweet version of Port, or the Amarone styles of Valpolicella. Most were a bit too heavy and the flavours were too 'soupy' for my taste but I can see how the powerful alcohol and sweetness of these wines could impress.

On the other hand, the wines from Gioia del Colle DOC were better balanced. The alcohols were 13.5-14%, they were less 'soupy' with clearer flavours and gravelly textured tannins balancing the natural exuberance and sweetness of Primitivo's lush black cherry flavours with a little intriguing bitterness and dryness. They pair much better with much of the local food such as the Parmigiano or Orecchiette-based pasta dishes.

The Negroamaro lives up to its name in that it has more of an impression of bitterness on the palate because of its firmer, more noticeably chewy tannins. It also has distinctive smoky, tarry, oily aromas at times and lacks that fruity friendliness of Primitivo, but this often makes it a better food match. It can have a dark chocolate bitterness to the flavour.

The Nero di Troia is more difficult to pinpoint in terms of specific aromas. It does seem to have a haunting, freesia-like fragrance now and then but often seems a bit more awkward in the mouth with crunchy, more rustic tannins on the palate. It's an intriguing variety but more of a work-in-progress in terms of the winemakers learning to manage and get the best out of the tannins.

Wines from these fascinating local grape varieties are gaining a lot of interest in the UK and are well worth seeking out.

Susan Hulme MW

Susan Hulme became a Master of Wine in 2005, winning also the Madame Bollinger Tasting Medal, awarded for an outstanding performance in the tasting part. She is a panel judge for the IWC and a regular contributor to Decanter tasting panels. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers, former chairman of the Association of Wine Educators (AWE) and the editor of its Newsletter. She has been on the Institute of Masters of Wine Events Committee since 2008. Susan runs her own wine education and consultancy company, Vintuition, based in Windsor, Berkshire and provides training and wine courses for the trade and public. A major part of her work is running in-house training and WSET exams for wine sales executives. As a young woman she spent a few years in Italy - magical Sicily, followed by Puglia and Naples.


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