I’ve enjoyed many visits to the beautiful Puglia region, the ‘heel’ of Italy’s boot-shaped outline and a land of gnarled, ancient olive groves, impossibly romantic whitewashed hilltop villages, the famous ‘trulli’ beehive houses and a dramatic coastline. From bustling port cities like Brindisi, to the historic baroque architectue of Lecce, there is also wonderful regional cuisine and, of course, wine.
Puglia feels far-removed, not just from powerhouses like Venice, Rome and Florence, but from the tourist trail of Naples and the Amalfi Coast – though those are relatively close, in neighbouring Campania. Of course tourism is big business around the timeless agricultural landscapes crammed with vines, olives and fruit orchards, but in general there is a slow kind of vibe down here.
Salento Food and Wine is a UK company specialising in products sourced direct from the region. That involves all sorts of things from pasta and extra virgin olive oil to conserves and baked goods. But it also includes wines from two carefully-chosen esates, Castel di Salve and Romaldo Greco. Castel di Salve was established in 1885, but its ancient wine cellar had been abandoned for many years, until restored in 1992 by a descendent of its founder. Their vineyards are spread across the Salento peninsula, with a variety of microclimates and soils, the oldest vineyards around 30 years old.
Romaldo Greco was founded in 1973, and Romaldo’s son, Antongiulio, is now heavily involved and part of the winemaking team. Their vineyards extend over 15 hectares on four different estates, and whilst soils are generally clay, they say small but significant differences allow a real diversity in wine production.
The indigenous Negroamaro and Primitivo varieties are the focus of both companies, and both are capabale of world class wines. Castel di Selve also grows the local variant of Malvasia, the Malvasia Nera di Lecce, while Verdeca is another favoured white wine variety. Romaldo Greco has also experimented with ‘international’ grape varieties including Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
(2019) The Verdeca variety is grown both here in Puglia and in central Italy around Emilia-Romagna. Unoaked, this offers notes of fresh-sliced pear and a hint of summer meadows, the palate also showing a pear and pear juice fruitiness, but as is often the case with Verdeca, there's a herbal, green twang to this too, and a bittersweet twist of chicory to the acidity, giving it a dry, savoury and food-friendly character despite the overtly fruity opening.
(2019) This blend of 35% Primitivo, 35% Montepulciano and 30% Malvasia spends 12 months in French Allier oak barrels, another 12 in steel and finally five months in bottle before release. The aromas are very classic: subtle cedar and pencil-shavings over tobacco and cherry, a rounding senses of fleshy black plum beneath. That Primitivo hit of intense, dramatic, concentrated fruit sweetness assaults the palate; serious fruit drive here, edged with tart liquorice and plum and cherry skins, the 15% alcohol adding to the power of this wine that really - really - needs a chunk of mature cheddar, an aged Parmesan or maybe even a spicy curry to contend with the powerhouse style.
(2019) This blend of Negroamaro and Syrah comes from vineyards near Lecce with a higher proportion of clay, and it spends six months in older French oak barrels. Dense, dark and savoury, it is not quite so aromatic as the plush 'Versus' Negroamaro, but there's a vinous, vine-fruit ripeness. In the mouth the creamy, dark and sweet fruit swells, a firm rasp of tannin and acidity backs up, the oak not noticeable, but just rounding out the tart cherry freshness of the finish.
(2019) Like the Negroamaro 'Versus', a low yield of 50hl/ha for this Primitivo that spent nine months barriques. Plummy, deep and polished, the nose has some graphite and cedary tones, but an Agen prune and curranty darkness too. The super-sweet ripeness of the fruit powers through on the palate, jammy and ripe, you could spread it on toast, thick with fruit and unfurling tannins, but there is a dry, juicy cherry acidity that bites in the finish, freshening the picture of a very smart Primitivo: big but not blowsy.
(2019) What a beatiful example of Negroamaro this is, hand-harvested with a yield of 50 hl/ha and aged 15 months in barrel. It has a dense, crushed black cherry and kirsch nose, very aromatic and refined, with little edges of Sandalwood and cedar. In the mouth loads of bittersweet character, a chicory bite of acidity and plum skins against the depth of fleshy, juicy fruit. This has real tang and edge, liquorice and spices keeping it dark and savoury into the finish. Watch the video for more information and food matching ideas.