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Episode #229: From Grit to Grapes – How Puglia is Redefining its Wine Culture

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Puglia, the sun-drenched heel of Italy’s boot, has long been one of the country’s largest wine producers, but historically more for quantity than quality. But as with its tourism, in recent years things have turned around and it has been celebrated for its robust red wines like Primitivo and Negroamaro. Alongside these and other bold reds, increasingly, wine enthusiasts are turning their attention to Puglia’s emerging white and rosé wines. We explore how Puglian winemakers are redefining their craft and bringing a fresh perspective to their region’s rich wine heritage.

untold italy puglia tours

Show notes

In the next in our series on Italian wine with Untold Italy’s Olivia Windsor and her partner Andrea Mitti Rua from Italian Wine Tales, we continue our focus on individual wine regions, looking to the southern region of Puglia. Italian Wine Tales is their online resource on Italian wine and for wine tours or winery recommendations (sign up for their newsletter here). Their previous episodes introduced us to Siciians Marsala wine (episode 221) the famous reds Brunello di Montalcino (episode 213), Barolo (episode 206) and Tuscan reds (episode 196), white wines (episode 189) and some sparkling wines (episode 179) as well as talking about Anreas home town of Turin in episode 226. In this episode, we are talking how Puglia, though one of Italy’s biggest wine-producing regions, has risen from the ugly duckling of Italian wine, to be the hot new thing. We learn about their robust reds, crisp whites to pair with the local Orecchiette pasta and their unique teardrop rosé production. 

DISCOVER: Untold Italy’s unique small group Puglia Tours.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. Australian Liv and Italian Andrea run Italian Wine Tales – an online resource where you can learn more about Italian wine in a fun and approachable way. Liv also leads many of our Untold Italy Tours, which include tours of Puglia
  2. Wine appreciation and tasting can be a little bit intimidating at times, so at Italian Wine Tales they aim to talk about Italian wine in a friendly way. To make it accessible to everyone, but providing all the information to get you accustomed to Italian wines
  3. Olivia and Andrea are getting married in Umbria in June and she just did their wine order for their wedding. They are having a little Brindisi (a toast) in the local piazza afterward the ceremony and have ordered some sparkling wine from one of their favorite wineries in Umbria. They do a sparkling rosé and a sparkling white – called Cinino, which means ‘little thing’ in Umbrian dialect
  4. In this episode, Liv and Andrea are digging into the wine scene in Puglia
  5. Puglia is in southeast Italy, right in the heel of the boot. It’s by the sea and is a lovely region to visit, especially in summer
  6. Wine production is becoming an important part of their economy and is historically a bit part of life and society there
  7. It wasn’t until the 1970s that a big change in terms of wine production in Puglia started to happen.  It began, mostly focused on a red wine called Negroamaro, a red wine. To this day, there is a lot of red wine produced there with Negroamaro or Primitivo, the most famous ones
  8. For the North American listeners, you might know the Primitivo as Zinfandel. It is the same grape, just produced differently
  9. Puglia, for a long time, has been one of the biggest wine producers In Italy, but it was all bulk wine being sent all over Italy and even in France to cut wine
  10. The white Puglia wine was also used as the base for Vermouth
  11. Very recently has Puglia wine has become ‘up and coming’ in the Italian wine world. They’ve improved their methods of producing in the cellar, as well as in the vineyards. It still hasn’t reached its full potential and is definitely a wine region to watch
  12. Because of this, you can get a lot of really good value wines from Puglia at the moment
  13. Andrea and Liv feel it will be interesting to see the wines coming out of this region in years to come
  14. Puglia generally has been a bit under the radar., in general – not just in wine making, but also in tourism. It has been quietly doing its own thing and going about its business all this time and now, people are discovering all its secrets and delights

Red Wines

  • Most of the wine produced in Puglia is red or rosé. The main grapes are Negroamaro, Primitivo and Uva di Troia
  • Puglia is a very hot region – with hot summers and mild winters. Therefore, the wines are usually quite alcoholic
  • The wines are big, fruit-forward. It’s hard to drink them by themselves, better to drink them with a meal
  • They pair perfectly with the food of the region. There are a lot of vegetable-based dishes in Puglia, but also a lot of meat-based dishes, too, not just seafood from being coastal. They do have traditional dishes with sausages and baked lamb which go perfectly with the Primitivo from Manduria or another red – Bombino Nero
  • These wines may be familiar on the palettes of those who are used to drinking what the UK, calls ‘New World wines’ – from California, Australia, etc. They are bold and pack a  punch
  • If you like a big, bold red and you would like something top quality from Puglia, you should go for Primitivo di Manduria DOC (DOC being the quality mark). This is a really strong, full-bodied wine. It’s aged in a barrique and you can expect tastes of candied fruits, fig, almonds, licorice and tobacco
  • It is a delicious wine, but one definitely to have with food  – too heavy to have at aperitivo hour

What is a barrique?

  • A barrique is a wooden barrel into which you put the wine to age – particularly red wine
  • With wine that has been in a barrique, you will often find an aftertaste of licorice or tobacco, even vanilla
  • The wood, usually oak that it’s made of is important. Some wood is grown in parts of Europe, like Slovenia or France, specifically grown just to make barriques as it is very important
  • They would not use American oak, not just because they’ve got the European oak, but also because it’s a little bit more porous
  • You have to smoke the wood before you use it
  • The more you use it over time, the better it is as it absorbs the wines
  • It lets the wine breathe – being porous it means air can filter through in and out, and it helps the wine age correctly

Where will we find these wines?

  • One of the main hubs in Puglia is Bari, which is the capital (which you can hear about in episode 224) which sits on the coast but you would need to head out to the main wine-producing areas for tasting – the Valle de Itria, Martina Franca, and Cisternino
  • Alberobello is a great place to visit – not only for the wine production itself but because it’s also a very beautiful town
  • It has the typical Pugliese houses, the white cone-shaped Trulli. It’s a magical experience to visit towns and villages with the Trulli
  • Locorotondo is another town that we visit on our Untold Italy Puglia tours. They produce a lot of wine there and there’s even a place there where you can even go and have an aperitivo in the vineyards. You can walk there from the town
  • The Itria Valley is full of vineyards but if you are based in Lecce, you’ve got to get out a little bit further out as they don’t do much wine nearby
  • Ostuni produces a lot of wine. They’ve got a specific red wine called Ostuni DOC which is also produced in France under the name Cinsaut and in South Africa, it’s known as Hermitage
  • It’s an easy red wine, a little lighter than others from Puglia so you could have this one with your aperitivo
  • If you go all the way down to the very south of Puglia, you have the very beautiful Salento area which is  great for beaches
  • Their beaches are stunning and so is some of their wine
  • They produce a lot of wine and because it gets very hot in Salento, it is really high in alcohol
  • Manduria is an amazing wine-producing area, and it is said that that is where the best of the best Primitivo comes from

Wineries

  • Normally on the podcast wine episodes, we mention the bigger wineries because it is often not so easy to visit a small one on your own
  • But his recommendation is for a small winery, which is a bit easier to visit. Morella is in Manduria and it is run by an Australian woman and her husband, producing a variety of Primitivo wines
  • It’s a biodynamic winery which means it is interesting to visit to find out all the extra things that are involved with that – like following the cycles of the moon
  • They are making top quality, award-winning wines there
  • It’s a really small winery and if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience, you could go there. Since the wife’s Australian, they speak English, which makes things a lot easier. With many small wineries, English is not spoken so you would have to go with a guide to get the most out of your experience
  • Another good winery to visit is I Pastini – a winery in the heart of the Itria Valley sitting in a beautiful area between Locorotondo and Martina Franca
  • The goal of this winery is to recover and promote the ancient grape varieties that were originally found and grown in the Itria Valley
  • It’s a good one to visit also because their website is very easy to navigate in regards to booking a wine tasting in English, which is often not the case
  • When we talk about Italian wineries, always remember to book a visit in advance (if you can at all) because, unlike in some countries, you can’t just show up and have a tasting

White Wines

  • Puglia also produces some great white wines, as well as sparkling. They are even starting to make some interesting Spumante – for those who like sweet sparkling wine
  • With the white wines, the main grapes are Verdeca, Malvasia, and one, most of us are familiar with – Chardonnay
  • Olivia loves the Verdeca in particular. On our Untold Italy tour of Puglia they go to a secret winery where they have a delicious Verdeca
  • Every time they go there, Liv has to buy a bottle – it’s mineral and crisp with green apple and flower notes. It’s absolutely perfect to accompany seafood, which, of course, Puglia has a lot of
  • It’s also good to pair with one of the typical regional dishes – the Orecchiette con le cime di rapa (pasta and a type of broccolini). The Orecchiette is the typical pasta shape of Puglia, named because of their resemblance to little ears

Rosé Wine

  • In Puglia, they also make fantastic rosé wine – which might not commonly be something associated with Puglia and they have a very interesting way of producing rosé there
  • Normally when you produce rosé, you either have a blend of red and white wine together, or you leave the juice of the red grape in contact with the skin – because the color of the wine is taken by the skin. You do not leave them in contact for long – a couple of hours, maybe six at most
  • In Puglia very differently, they have an interesting system called sistema “a lacrima”, which translates to ‘teardrop system’
  • They put the red grapes in bags and they gently press/squeeze it so that the must/juice down like tears. So it stays in contact with the skin for a very, very limited amount of time. They produce their rosé wine in this way, which is very unique
  • They use one of the most famous red grapes of the region – Negroamaro for it, so if you like Negroamaro, but you would like something a bit lighter, you can try the rosé wine
  • To pair food with this, something a little lighter, like some fish, a pasta dish, baccala (salt cod), or also for a nice aperitivo. It would be perfect to sip by the beach
  • When Liv and our guests are on tour in Puglia, the rosé is always everyone’s favorite because the trips are timed so that the weather’s always balmy but not too hot, but not too cold
  • Everyone’s enjoying their rosé with all the delicious things that they eat – from the creamy burrata, to the beautiful fresh seafood including the raw Pugliese, sashimi-style seafood – it goes with perfectly
  • You can enjoy it with the Taralli, the little Pugliese biscuits/savory cookies. These crunchy, moreish snacks come flavored with lots of different things
  • On our tours, they learn to make Taralli biscuits – very dangerous because you won’t ever stop making them

Visit Puglia?

  • With Puglia usually, and definitely, if you want to visit wineries – you will need a car to get it around
  • We mentioned in our Bari episode that it is a good base if you’re not going to have a car because you can get to a few places like Polignano, Monopoli or Lecce, but besides that, Puglia can be difficult if you don’t have a car
  • Part of the beauty of visiting Puglia is that you won’t find things are a slick operation. It’s more rustic and you’re meeting people that are trying new things and doing things a little differently, and they themselves are learning along the way
  • This makes it so much more charming in a lot of ways than some of the slick, professional experiences, that do the job but where you don’t get the charming, face-to-face local experience
  • The Pugliese people are very hospitable – so generous, friendly and welcoming. When you visit these wineries, it’s not a commercial experience – it’s very authentic

Do the Pugliese wines keep and ship?

  • Given that the quality of the wine production is improving constantly, now you can, especially with the Primitivo, cellar the red wines, especially the ones aged in the barriques
  • The Ostuni DOC, the Bombino Nero, or the white wines are ones to just drink in the now. That’s not because they’re not very good – they are delicious but they are just ready to drink and don’t keep well
  • For shipping, it would be the ones that keep that are worth shipping – so the Primitov and reds that are kept in the barriques
  • Most of the wineries will shop. For Australia, it always is incredibly costly because of the distance, but to the US/Canada it is usually pretty reasonable to ship

When to visit Puglia for wine tasting

  • Visiting Puglia in winter is probably not a great idea as you will find most of these wineries and many tourist businesses will probably be closed
  • One reason to maybe visit in winter, ( which is on Katy’s bucket list) is to go at Christmas time to see the decorations in places like Locorondoto
  • The best time to visit is probably late Spring to early Fall/Autumn
  • Their tourism is not as mature as the other side of the country, and they like to have a nice long break, after working really hard in the summertime
  • Visiting in peak summer is not ideal because It gets so hot. If you’re going then you’re going to want to be spending time by the sea or in your villa swimming pool – you’re not going to want to do a lot of sightseeing in the heat
  • Temperatures are up at about 35 to 40 degrees Celsius, so above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and often gets even hotter
  • This heat, of course, is what helps them make amazing wine
  • Liv, Andread and Katy all love Puglia and it is exciting because they haven’t reached their full potential yet – in everything from wine to tourism, there are lots of interesting hotels that are being developed there

More on Italian wine from Andrea and Liv

The website for Liv and Andrea’s fantastic online wine resource is www.italianwinetales.com. You can follow them too on Instagram @italianwinetales. They also have their Facebook group ItalianWineLovers where people share their favorite wines and have a bit more of a collaborative discussion about Italian wines and what everyone’s drinking at the moment.

They are also preparing to launch a podcast of their own that later on in the year. You can also connect with Liv on @livguine, or meet her in person on one of our Untold Italy Tours

SUBSCRIBE: To the Italian Wine Tales newsletter here.

Untold Italy’s Puglia Tours

We have amazing tour itineraries in Puglia in spring and fall. The Untold Italy Puglia Tour departs from Bari and includes visiting gorgeous places such as Lecce, some stunning coastal towns, local food and wine producers and artisans, as well as the magical city of Matera. If you would like to learn more about these trips head on over to the Untold Italy Tours website where you will find a complete day-by-day itinerary and more.

untold italy puglia tours

About our guests – Olivia Windsor and Andrea Mitti Rua

Olivia, an Australian who moved to Italy in May 2019, and Andrea, an Italian from Piemonte, Northern Italy are based in Rome and have recently launched the Italian wine site Italian Wine Tales, where you’ll find not only the best wines to try, but also information on all the Italian wine regions, the best wine tours and wine clubs you can join. Follow them for Italian wine inspiration on Instagram @italianwinetales, join their Facebook group Italian Wine Lovers or sign up for the Italian Wine Tales newsletter here.

Olivia writes a blog called Livguine, named after her love for pasta and her nickname Liv.  She has explored the country south to north, working in agriturismi and organic wineries before settling in Turin, Piedmont for a time after meeting a local Piemontese Andrea. They are both now based in Rome and Olivia hosts various Untold Italy Tours throughout the year in Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany Capri and Puglia.

You can find Liv and Andrea on these channels:

Untold Italy Tours

Join Liv on one of the many Untold Italy Tours she hosts around Italy. Untold Italy Tours helps you discover your authentic Italy and discover the Italian places, faces, stories, and tastes whose memories linger for years to come.

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Places mentioned in the show

  • Manduria – Puglian city, whose name is thought to mean field of horses
  • Bari – capital city of Puglia
  • Lecce – elegant Puglian city
  • Alberobello a town in Puglia known as the city of Trulli
  • Valle de Itria – area in Puglia where you’ll find the towns of Martina Franca, Locorotondo, Cisternino and Ceglie Messapica (and lots of Trulli)
  • Martina Franca – a town in Puglia, with a charming old quarter full of winding alleys and white-washed houses
  • Cisternino – picturesque town in Puglia
  • Locorotondo – town in Puglia, listed as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy
  • Ostuni – gorgeous town in Puglia, so famous for its white-washed houses that it is known as the white city – la Città Bianca

Recommended wine/wine makers

  • Morella – Morella is a small winery in Manduria
  • I Pastini – 18-hectare vineyard run by the Carparelli family in the Valle d’Itria between Locorotondo and Martina Franca

Food & Drink

  • Cinino – Umbrian wine, the name means ‘little thing’ in the Umbrian dialect
  • Negroamaro – dark-skinned grape variety that’s been associated with Puglia for at least 1,500 years
  • Primitivo – also known as Zinfandel, as is known in California. It is a black-skinned grape from Puglia and also found in Croatia and Montenegro
  • Uva di Troia – ancient purple-skinned variety from Puglia, named after the Puglian town of Troia
  • Bombino Nero – a grape used in the regions of Puglia, Basilicata, and Lazio, as well as Sardinia
  • Ostuni DOC – grape from Ostuni, also known as Cinsaut in France
  • Antinori – wine producer with a winery you can visit to try a variety of wines including Brunello
  • Verdeca – white grape variety from Puglia
  • Malvasia – an aromatic white wine from Puglia
  • Chardonnay – popular around the world, this is also a grape used for white wine in Puglia
  • orecchiette – the little ears-shaped pasta
  • cime di rapa – broccoli rabe used in local dishes
  • Taralli – Pugliese snack of small round crisp bread

Resources

  • Brindisi –  the word means to make a toast
  • barrique – a type of wooden barrel

Resources from Untold Italy

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