I don't believe that there's an objective standard for "the most important" DOC wines made in Puglia. Let's judge them anyway. Clearly, the best DOC wines in Puglia are the Salice Salentino Rosso DOC, the Primitivo di Manduria Rosso DOC, and the Castel del Monte Rosso DOC. The rules for making Puglia’s DOC wines can be difficult to track down, but I’ve found several sources that support the rules I’ve provided below.
Below I've included more detailed rules for each DOC, as well as some wine recommendations in case you're interested. The main reason I'm writing this post is that Puglia has many DOCs but few of them matter to U.S. wine lovers. I'd like to hear from anyone who thinks otherwise, especially if you have recommendations. I've heard good things about the Gravina DOC and the Locorotondo DOC but haven't tasted enough of them.
All of the following DOCs, like any good bar story, come in multiple versions. The red wines, as opposed to white or sweet, are by far the most important and are demarcated by the word “rosso” on wine labels. Also, all of the wines below must be produced and bottled in or around their respected towns, viz. Manduria, Salice Salentino, and Castel del Monte.
Watch Out: These rules change somewhat regularly, but the rules for grape percentages, alcohol percentages, and aging should be basically correct. You never know what the central or regional Italian government will whip up. If you have corrections, please send them in, and please include your sources.
Primitivo di Manduria DOC
The city of Manduria is in the western area of Puglia’s Salento peninsula. This DOC comes in dry and sweet versions. The sweet version is called “dolce.” The DOC is rarely made riserva, but a few wineries, principally Soloperto winery, have created a few. You’ll often seen non-DOC primitivo wines at U.S. wine stores, and this means that the wines were not produced or bottled in or around the city of Manduria and that their grapes were not necessarily grown in or around Manduria. These wines do not have to follow the rules outlined below. Primitivo is genetically identical to Zinfandel, but the wines should not be considered identical because of the environmental and other factors that impact flavor.
Rules for Making Primitivo di Manduria Rosso DOC
Grape: 100% Primitivo
Alcohol: at least 14%
Aging: at least 7 months
Recommended Primitivo di Manduria DOC wines:
Racemi “Felline” 14% alcohol
Masseria Pepe “Dunico” 15.8% alcohol
Consorzio Produttori Vini “Lirica” ??%
Consorzio Produttori Vini “Elegia” ??%
Attanasio DOC 16.5% alcohol
Pirro Varone 15% alcohol
Salice Salentino DOC
The town of Salice Salentino is located 13 miles Lecce, putting it in the center of Puglia’s Salento peninsula. The sea is less than 20 miles on either side. The DOC features Puglia’s most important grape: Negroamaro.
Rules for Making Salice Salentino Rosso DOC
Grape: at least 80% Negroamaro. Malvasia nera di Lecce or Malvasia nera di Brindisi are often used to make up the remainder.
Alcohol: at least 12%
Recommended Salice Salentino Rosso DOC wines:
Apollonio 80 % Negroamaro 10% Malvasia Nera di Lecce 10% Malvasia Nera di Brindisi
Vecchia Torre 90% Negroamaro 10% Malvasia Nera
Cantine de Falco 80% Negroamaro 20% Malvasia Nera
Rules for Making Salice Salentino Rosso DOC Riserva
Grapes: at least 80% Negroamaro. Malvasia nera di Lecce or Malvasia nera di Brindisi are often used to make up the remainder.
Alcohol: at least 12.5%
Aging: at least 2 years
Recommended Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva DOC wines:
Candido “La Carta” 95% Negroamaro 5% Malvasia Nera
Ionis “Suavitas” ??%
Conti Zecca “Cantalupi Riserva” 80% Negroamaro 20% Malvasia Nera di Lecce
Leone de Castris 90% Negroamaro 10% Malvasia Nera di Lecce
Taurino 80% Negroamaro 20% Malvasia di Lecce
Castel del Monte DOC
The Castel del Monte DOC comes in a huge number of versions, including a Chardonnay DOC, Sauvignon (Blanc) DOC, and other random grape varieties. Below are the rules for making the red wine Castel del Monte DOC. The red wine can feature one or all of three red grapes, and a single red wine can be 100% of only one of them.
Rules for Making Castel del Monte Rosso DOC
Grapes: At least 65% of the wine is composed of Nero di Troia, Montepulciano, or Aglianico. Any red grape grown in the region can make up the remainder.
Alcohol: at least 12%
Recommended Castel del Monte DOC Wines:
Tormaresca “Bocco di Lupo” 100% Aglianico
Tormaresca “Trentangeli” 65% Aglianico 25% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Syrah
Rivera “Cappellaccio” 100% Aglianico
Torrevento “Bolonero” 70% Nero di Troia 30% Aglianico
Santa Lucia “Vigna Del Melograno 100% Nero di Troia
Rules for Making Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva DOC
Grape: a At least 65% of the wine is composed of Nero di Troia, Montepulciano, or Aglianico. Any red grape grown in the region can make up the remainder.
Alcohol: at least 12.5%
Aging: at least two years
Recommended Castel del Monte Riserva DOC:
Rivera “Il Falcone” 70% Nero di Troia 30% Montepulciano
Torrevento “Vigna Pedale” 100% Nero di Troia
Santa Lucia “Le More” 100% Nero di Troia
The white wine Castel del Monte DOC or Castel del Monte Bianco DOC, can feature the white grapes pampanuto or bombino bianco. The rosé is primarily composed of the nero di troia and/or bombino nero grapes.