Like many European wine regions, Puglia has several different quality levels which overlap when shown on a map. In general, the lower quality regions (IGP in the map above) are the largest in area and the highest quality regions are the smallest (DOCG).
In a recent post on Puglian wines I reviewed two red wines which were quite rich and even a little sweetness, so perfect for barbecues. They were both IGT wines from Salento; now we have two DOC wines which are still fruity a little more serious:
Disclosure: bottles were kindly provided as samples, but opinions remain my own
Marchese di Borgosole Salice Salentino Riserva 2016
The grapes for this wine – over 85% Negroamaro – are fully destemmed before undergoing seven to eight days maceration. Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, with 24 months maturation mixed between tank and wooden barrels.
In the glass this wine is still dark in the body but is already a little light at the rim. The nose has wonderful bramble fruit and exotic spice. The palate is all about fresh morello cherry and raspberry, giving a pleasant tartness, and rich black fruits. The body is full but not huge, and fine tannins help to give a savoury edge.
This is a lovely example of Salice Salentino, an easy drinking wine which is well put together.
From Salice Salentino we head slightly north to Brindisi. Vinification is similar to its southern neighbour except that the 24 months maturation is entirely in wood. Negroamaro is again the principal grape, backed up by Malvasia Nera and Sangiovese.
The nose has sweet – ripe, not sugary – black fruit such as blackberry and black cherry, with some hints of wild herbs. The palate has a nervous energy to it; tart cherry and cranberry and lively raspberry plus some exotic spice and cedarwood. The acidity is marked and thus the wine remains fresh. This would be great with some charcuterie or tomato based dishes.
With the current restrictions on being able to visit restaurants in many countries, eating – and drinking – at home has become the new dining out. As we have been lucky with the weather in Ireland so far this summer the siren call of the barbecue has been heard throughout the land.
How should we choose the wines to drink with our charcoal cooked food? For me there are a few key criteria:
Drinkability: this doesn’t mean a dichotomy between wine that is either palatable enough to be drunk or wine to be poured down the sink, it means a BBQ wine should be approachable, gluggable, and not austere.
Robustness: barbecue food has lots of strong flavours and needs wines that can stand up to it and take it on. There’s little point drinking a delicate Tasmanian Pinot Noir with flame-grilled burgers or sticky ribs
Affordability: barbecues are an informal affair – you’re often eating without utensils, possibly on paper plates, and quaffing multiple glasses, so reasonably priced wine makes the most sense.
Here are a couple of wines I tried recently that perfectly fit the bill – and as it happens they are both from Puglia in Italy.
Disclosure: Both bottles kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own.
Old True Zin Barrel Aged Zinfandel Salento IGT 2018
The name and label design of this wine are more reminiscent of a beer than a wine, and using the better known term Zinfandel rather than its Puglian name Primitivo give it an American image. Is this misleading? Perhaps a little, but the most important aspect of any bottle of wine is the liquid, and its that which I am assessing.
The bright purple colour in the glass gives you an idea of what you’re in for. The nose showcases an intense collection of fruits – plum, black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant among them – plus notes of coffee and chocolate – mocha anyone – and vanilla from the barrel ageing. The flavours on the palate are a continuation, so no surprises there, but even given the richness of the nose the full-on explosion of flavour might take you back. It’s the richness and sweetness together which make this such a mouthful.
On reflection, if this wine suggests that it is a Californian Zinfandel then that it is fair enough as it is exactly in that style!
Stockists: Mortons, Ranelagh; Listons Camden Street; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Gleeson’s, Booterstown; Molloys Liquor Stores; The Old Orchard Off Licence, Rathfarnham
Bacca Nera Negroamaro Primitivo Salento IGT 2018
The Bacca Nera is from the same place as the Old True Zin and is the same vintage, but differs in two main respects; firstly, it has (attractive) conventional packaging with an Italian name, and secondly that Puglia’s other main grape: Negroamaro. It’s a little less deep in colour than the Zin, but we’re not talking Pinot Noir here.
The nose is delightfully spicy at first, then revealing dark berry fruits. In fact “Bacca Nera” means “Black Berry” according to google translate, so the name is apt. On tasting this wine is a big mouthful – round and powerful with sweet and rich fruit – very more-ish. The fruit flavours are both red (strawberry, raspberry and red cherry) and black (blackberry and black cherry), tamed by a touch of bitterness (that would be the Amaro) which adds interest and partially offsets the sweetness.
Stockists: Mortons Ranelagh; Listons Camden Street; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Gleeson’s, Booterstown; Molloys Liquor Stores; The Old Orchard Off Licence, Rathfarnham
These wines both fit the bill perfectly. There’s little to choose between them in quality and just a slight difference in style. With my BBQ ribs I would narrowly choose the Bacca Nera! Now where are my coals…
The Farnesi Vini group – itself a part of the Fantini Group – has three separate wineries in Puglia: Cantina Sava, Luccarelli and Vigneti del Salento. The Salento crowd have different labels within their range, including the “I Muri” for the less-well-heeled (sorry!) and “Zolla” ranges.
The I Muri Primitivo is a long-standing favourite of mine since I first tried it at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin. It is widely available in Ireland, though of course in these difficult times not many wine retailers are open. Still, if you like the sound of this wine then put it on your list to buy when things return closer to normality.
Vigneti del Salento”I Muri” Puglia Primitivo 2018
Consultant winemaker Filippo Baccalaro is not a native of the area – he is from Piedmont – but has spent several decades in the area which make it a second home for him now. The grapes are bought in but from growers with whom Filippo has a long term relationship and don’t dilute concentration in the hunt for maximum yields.
Winemaking is modern, with inoculated yeasts, temperature controlled fermentation and maturation in stainless steel tanks.
Primitivo is of course one of the key grapes of Puglia, along with Negroamaro, and it’s a real sun-worshipper. Ripeness is a key feature of the wines down here and this shows immediately on the nose; intense black and red berries vie for attention, along with exotic spices. Those berries continue through to the palate, which is soft and generous. There’s a rich, luxurious feel to this wine which belies its modest price. Yes, this is still a winner!
If you cast your mind back all the way to February of this year, you may remember that supermarket group Lidl launched a limited release of new French wines in Ireland (here are my posts on the Redsand Whites).
Now they’re going to do the same with a batch of Italian wines, set for release on Monday 13th June, and available while stocks last. The wines in this batch don’t reach quite as high as the more expensive French ones did, but they are still worth seeking out.
Gavi di Gavi DOCG 2014 (12.5%, €9.99)
Gavi is the town in Piedmont (NW Italy) where this wine is made from the Cortese grape (which I always think sounds like a family from The Godfather) – and the wine is sometimes usefully called Cortese di Gavi, in case you forget. Wines from the production area closest to the town are called Gavi di Gavi as we have here.
By the way, if that’s all too confusing, feel free to call it “Gavin”. The wine won’t mind either way.
The wine is clean and unoaked, with pear and stone fruit flavours. It has some texture too, so it could stand up against seafood and lighter chicken dishes. Make sure you give it a chance to warm a little if it’s been in the fridge for a while.
Soave Classico DOC 2015 (12.0%, €9.99)
I suspect I’m not the only person who has been put off “Soave” by the cheap swill on the cheapest supermarket or convenience store shelves – but when it’s done right, it can be a very pleasant drink. Trademark Italian acidity is still there but with soft citrus, pear and apple fruit. The perfect drink for sitting in the back garden – especially if someone else is doing the gardening!
Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2015 (12.5%, €7.99)
Barbera is the grape here and Asti is the province in north-west Italy where it’s made – together with Alexandria next door. As part of Piedmont (or Piemonte to the locals) it tends to fall into the shadow of Nebbiolo, especially Barolo and Barbareseco, the “King and Queen” of the area. Barbera can make top class wines, but even the more economical end of the market gives some very drinkable examples such as this. It’s full of soft, juicy red and black fruit, with a slight smokiness. Remarkable for the price.
Teroldego is the grape in this wine. Haven’t heard of it? don’t worry, neither had I! It’s from the Trentino area of northern Italy, Superiore meaning it’s 12.0% minimum and Riserva meaning it has spent at least 24 months maturing before release.
This wine has lots of character – it’s zippier than a gobshite from Rainbow! Super fresh acidity makes it mouthwateringly tasty and really food friendly.
At first glance this might appear a bit more expensive than the other wines – but it’s a double sized bottle! Magnums are great fun at parties, so buy a few for a BBQ and you’re sorted! Nero d’Avola is a popular grape in Sicily, giving spice, dark berries and chocolate. It’s very drinkable, just make sure you don’t get carried away on a school night!
Larger format bottles are nearly all named after Biblical figures such as Methuselah and Salmanazar – the Magnum is the exception as it was named after a Private Investigator*
Salice Salentino DOC Riserva 2013 (13.5%, €9.99)
Now we’re in the heel of Italy’s boot, in Puglia. Salice Salentino is the staple of Italian restaurants everywhere – for good reason! It’s made from the Negroamaro grape which translates as “black and bitter”, but if there is any bitterness it is pleasant. What it does have is spicy black fruit, and it’s so more-ish! A barbecue wine that you will want to carry on drinking after the food has all disappeared.
Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2011 (13.5%, €9.99)
Up to now, all the wines I’ve recommended have been in the easy drinking style. This is a bit different – not for the uninitiated, unless you are prepared to try something new. The heart of Tuscan wine is Chianti, particularly the original central area which is now Chianti Classico.
This is a Riserva – aged in barrel for 24 month then 3 further months in bottle. It has the full on Chianti experience – tobacco, liquorice, cherry and a touch of vanilla. This should keep for another five years at least, and will soften and mellow over that time. Who am I kidding? This is going to be drunk within a week!
This series of articles each covers two wines that have something in common, and most likely some point of difference. Compare and contrast is the order of the day – so make mine a double!
Vigneti del Salento I Muri
The I Muri Negroamaro has been a firm staff and customer favourite at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin (Dublin) for many years – it even featured as one of my favourite reds from their wine fair earlier this year. Now Sweeney’s are also stocking its twin, with a very similar looking label (don’t ask me the colour difference, I’m partially colourblind).
So where are they from and what is the difference?
Salento is the south eastern part of Puglia (technically Apuglia in English I suppose), the heel of Italy. This peninsula separates the Adriatic Sea from the Ionian Sea, and thus no point is ever more than 30 kilometres from the sea.
The wine here has often been quite fiery – powerful but rustic – and was historically used to (illegally) beef up the paler reds from further north in Italy. The grapes most planted are the local specialities Primitivo and Negroamaro – and that’s exactly what we have here.
Winemaker Filippo Baccalaro is the driving force behind Vigneti del Salento, owned by the Farnese group. He likes producing fresh whites and soft, approachable reds with as little intervention as possible.
Vigneti del Salento I Muri Primitivo IGT Puglia 2013 (€16.50, Sweeney’s and other independents) 14.0%
After years of guessing it was finally proved that Primitivo is the same variety as California’s Zinfandel. Some Puglian producers are now even using oak to make their wines in a pseudo Californian style and using Zinfandel on the label for exports. Further research showed that the impressively unpronounceable Crljenak Kaštelanski from Croatia is the same grape, before finally (for now) finding the oldest ancestral name of Tribidragdown the Dalmatian coast a little.
This Primitivo is far from rustic – it has the expected dark colour, full body and firm tannins but delivered in a smooth package, where each of the components are well balanced. There’s a milk chocolate character to the texture, topped off by blueberry and red berry fruit.
Vigneti del Salento I Muri Negroamaro IGT Puglia 2012 (€15.95, Sweeney’s and other independents) 13.0%
Even a basic proficiency in Italian will give you a clue as to how Negroamaro tastes – black and bitter. But not so bitter that you can’t drink it; like many Italian wines there is a certain tartness or bitterness to the fruit, but all the better for it. Who would choose tinned black cherries over fresh ones?
The rougher edges of the grape have been rounded off by four months in French and American oak (not much of which was new, I suspect). Black cherry and blackberry fruit are accompanied by spice and dark chocolate. Acidity is prominent to keep it fresh but not so much that it tastes sour.
Comparison and Preference
This is very much a question of style and preference rather than a difference of quality; do you prefer dark chocolate or milk chocolate? Tasted side by side at a barbecue hosted by D, a fellow DNS Wine Club member and a food blogger, the group was almost evenly split on which they preferred – and everyone liked both of them, with just a minor preference for one.
So my advice is: buy both, and choose according to your mood!
I’ve already picked out five whites from the Sweeney’s Wine Fair that really impressed me, so now it’s turn for my selection of reds. But first a brief introduction of the people behind the name:
Apparently, for those who like that sort of thing, Sweeney’s also have a great range of artisan cheese from Sheridan’s cheesemonger.
So now for the reds:
5 Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012 (Liberty Wines, €15.95, 2 for €28.00)
A favourite with Sweeney’s staff and customers alike for a few years, I Muri hails from the heel of Italy – the beautiful region of Puglia. The most important local grape is Negroamaro, literally translated as “black and bitter”, and while this wine is listed as a 100% varietal Negroamaro it shows no bitterness. It does have black – blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with a savoury edge but a polished finish.
Aragonez is the Portuguese name for the grape known as Tempranillo in Spain (well, in Rioja at least). Alicante Bouchet is a teinturier, the term for a (very rare) type of grape with red flesh, so both the skin and flesh give colour to a wine.
Do you remember the scene in the film Ratatouille where restaurant critic Anton Ego tastes the eponymous dish and is instantly transported to his childhood? Tasting Herdade de Rocim gave me exactly the same sensation, except I was magically transported to a summer barbecue, drinking wine. I think it’s a sign.
Check out the vintage! The current release is 2011, so it’s quite rare to see older vintages on the shelves, even in a good independent wine merchants, but this is entirely deliberate; Finian bought several cases of this when it was released and has kept it in bond to be released when ready. And boy, is it ready!
It has all the hallmarks of good Chianti Classico – liquorice, tobacco, acidity, tannin, black cherry – but the extra years maturing have seen them knit into a smooth, harmonious whole. I think it’s now closer in style to its big brother Badia a Passignano, which still remains the smoothest Chianti I’ve experienced.
Hearsay at the Wine Fair suggested I might be in the minority liking this bottle (it’s not the first time and certainly won’t be the last time I’m in a minority); reflection has led me to believe that some people who are used to drinking young Chianti prefer, or at least expect, the components mentioned above to stand out individually. If that is more to your taste then I suggest trying the 2011 Marchese, reviewed here.
2 Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero 2011 (Findlater WSG, €20.00, 2 for €34.00)
While also in the north of Spain and often using the same grapes as Rioja, Ribera del Duero isn’t a clone of its more famous counterpart. For a long time only the renowned Vega Sicilia made wines drunk elsewhere in Spain, never mind exported. Now the region’s reputation is on the up, with national heavyweights such as Torres joining the ranks of local producers.
Tempranillo here is usually known as Tinto Fino, and often has support from Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. However, even on its own it can show darker fruit than in Rioja.
Celeste has a nice name and a pretty bottle, but the contents surpass both of them. Bright red and black fruit are offset by creamy vanilla from the oak. It has wild strawberries rather than the poly-tunnel farmed ones that cheap Rioja can have, with blackberry and cherry riding shotgun. It’s a serious wine, yet it’s a fun wine.
1 Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon 2012 (Distinctive Drinks, €16.00)
This wine is a rockstar – it stood out as the best wine of any colour from the whole tasting as it was just so interesting and funky. Lots of fresh berry fruit is accompanied by smoke, earthiness and just a hint of farmyard.
Looking into the story of the Domaine is fascinating – it deserves a full post all to itself. The name of the wine is a direct translation of “Empty Sky”, a Bruce Springsteen song, which evoke memories of 9/11 for the owners who were working just one block away when the planes hit.
The blend of this wine has changed every year depending on the grapes available locally and how each variety fared in a particular harvest:
I love the complete honesty of co-owner Jonathan Hesford when discussing the first two vintages of this wine (2008 and 2009):
I’m not sure how these wines will age. They have the potential to develop even more fragrant aromas but don’t have the tannin structure of my other red wines.