As I’ve tasted more and more of Puglia’s best wines in search for those that balance unique and expressive qualities with low prices, a few things have become clear. First off, Puglia winemakers have an impressive ability to create fine wines that cost less than $4. My next post will extol these wines and wineries and provide a list of my favorites. Secondly, many of the wines that cost between $10-$30 dollars a bottle offer outstanding characters—and right after I’d gotten so used to seeing the $30 mark as the opening price for wines in Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley. And thirdly, you still have to be careful. Some of the wines in Puglia are over extracted and unbalanced, likely as a result of a wine-making history that I discuss here.
I’ve decided that it’s time to create a rating system for the wines I share on this blog: 1-10. For now, it’s simply going to rate the balance of uniqueness and expressiveness with low prices. For example, with Apollonio’s 2000 Divoto, even though it was my favorite wine this month, it did not get the highest rating because it is also more expensive that other wines. The idea here is to share wine, not stock a cellar. Please feel free to leave a comment or email me for more details.
Apollonio Winery - $29 - Buy Here
2000 “Divoto” Rosso Riserva DOC Copertino (70% Negroamaro, 30% Montepulciano)
Winner of this year's Vinitaly Grand Gold Medal award for the 2001 vintage, Divoto begins with an incredible, full, and complex nose of plum and cracked pepper. The complexity brought me back sip after sip to experience the wine with awe. It has some of the best spice I’ve ever had, like drinking hot chocolate with chili pepper: It is aggressive. Great with lamb, steak, or duck with thick, elaborate sauces, the wine combines the incredible tannins of the two grapes excellently, leaving the mouth feeling clean, even after so much character.
Apollonio Winery - $11
2007 “Fanali” Rosato (100% Negroamaro)
Made in the old tradition (winemaker Massimiliano Apollonio never takes the grape skins out until bottling), the wine is more amber than rose colored. It has a nose of roses, embers, and honeysuckle and full, viscous body. It tastes of honey, light toast, and apricot. It has the unique characteristic of tasting like the fruity tips of the tastes of fruits, like the sweetness of pear, apple, and raisin. The wine’s flavors all pull back then return in force for a long finale. The long and short is that it tastes like sun, like summer, on an emotional level.
Castello Monaci - $11
2007 "Emera" IGT (Chardonnay and Verdeca)
Verdeca, a grape native to Puglia that is used to make white wine, has often disappointed me by being too bubble-gummy and bitter, but Emera wonderfully balances it with Chardonnay. The wine succeeds at tasting like the Mediterreanian, with a crispness paired with orange. Instead of bitterness, the pith of orange and lime makes it perfect for seafood. A little butteriness also helps. The wine ends a little clunky, however.
Bortrugno Winery – (Sorry, can’t find this one in the U.S., proof that Italy keeps some of its best wines for itself – 7.00 euro)
2007 “Arcione” Brindisi Rosso DOC (85% Negroamaro 15% Malvasia Nera di Brindisi)
With a big nose of a dank Napa tasting room and dark currant, it tastes just are massive. The Negroamaro provides a softness to the full body that almost makes it levitate before it is swallowed. Sometimes, with a full mouth, the mouthfeel is absence, and somehow this is good. Upon swallowing, a gush of dark fruit lasts for minutes: A very long finish. Great with food with even tannins.
Cantele Winery – $21
2006 “Teresa Manara” Rosso (100% Negroamaro)
A wine that shows Negroamaro’s similarity to Petite Verdot, it has a nose of licorice and butter cups and the first flavor on the tongue is violets. A soft, balanced spice comes from all corners of the mouth. Full bodied and very thick. A slight bitterness is apparent on the top of the mouth. A “tough as nails” wine, it does not share the softness of many wines focusing on Negroamaro. The finish is long and gently and gradually leaves the mouth with the spice lingering yet a little more. Good with complex sauces and meats.
Castel di Salve - $9
2007 “Santi Medici” IGT (80% Negroamaro, 20% Malvasia Nera di Lecce)
Castel Di Salve is known for creating a reliable product and this wine is a wonderfully safe wine that will please many palates—including those new to Pugliese wines—but it is not very expressive. Well balanced, nice dark cherry and plum. Offers the characteristic softness of the Negroamaro grape.
Feudi di Guagnano – $10
2005 Rosso DOC Salice Salentino (80% Negroamaro, 20% Malvasia Nera)
The nose is the nicest part of the wine, with juicy fruit and strawberry. In the mouth, the flavors become watery and the wine lacks structure. No tannins, and very little finish other than a stickiness that leaves the mouth feeling mucked up.
Cooperativa Agricola Santa Barbara - $8
2004 “Barbagli” IGT (100% Primitivo)
A very dry, dusty nose or “dry taste of romantic skies” to begin, the wine then moves into green bell pepper with an overall herbaceous, biting quality. Very luscious and very soft: It tastes balanced like a well aged wine even from 2004. The finish is crisp but not austere. Good for those who like bell pepper in their wine.
Vecchia Torre – (An great winery that again does not export to the Unite States. Or anywhere for that matter. 5.00 euro)
2005 Leverano DOC Riserva (70% Negroamaro, 30% Montepulciano)
Aroma of charcoal, barnyard, like rotted dark fruit. The taste is burned blueberries, root beer, and vanilla; a disappointment from one of my favorite wineries. The wine is not balanced or reliable: It changes with each sip but doesn’t evolve. Pairs well with aggressively killed animal.
Vecchia Torre – (3.50 euro)
2006 “Salice Salentino” DOC (90% Negroamaro, 10% Malvasia Nera)
Exhibiting all that a Salice Salentino can be, the wine is also uniquely expressive. Nose of dark fruit and smoke. The mouthfeel is soft and leathery, almost suede. It is aggressively bright and equally deep and complex. It does a remarkable job of balancing seemingly contradictory flavors. Dry, it is good with roasted meats.
Cantine De Falco - $9
2006 “Salore” Salice Salentino DOC (80% Negroamaro, 20% Malvasia Nera)
A nose of wet embers, peat, bark, and red fruit with notes of licorice and chocolate, the flavors are intense and over the top, from violet and lilac, to burned wood. The finish tops even this, with strong tar and aggressive tannins; too aggressive to drink by itself and too aggressive to pair well with most meals. For a winery a highly respect, this is a miss.
Leone De Castris – $8 - Buy Here
2008 Messapia IGT (100% Verdeca)
Nice lemony nose and summer flowers. A medium body with a cleansing, refreshing acidity. Flavors of unripe pineapple, it is a slightly bitter. Great for summer salads with fruit.