The Accademia dei Radici – or in these more egalitarian times, simply Racemi – has done more than most to promote the idea of quality wines from the Salento peninsula. It has three members who have gradually built up impressive holdings around the town of Manduria and the rest of the peninsula. In a generation they have developed from being a typical large-scale, Southern, bulk wine producer to being a leader in the quality market. One key to their success has been exploiting the different styles which can be derived from the Primitivo grape on the different soils of the area – the terra rossa (which contains tufa), the more fertile terra nera, and most demanding of all, the sand down by the coast.
Primitivo is of course the pride and joy of the area. Although it is not originally from this part of Puglia, it has made the western side of the Salento its own so that Primitivo di Manduria is the best known wine from Puglia. Somewhat ironically this is because the seller can help the buyer by commenting that this is the same grape as Zinfandel in California and wine drinkers at all prices levels have heard of that.
Our visit to Racemi took place on a warm spring day and Salvatore took us out in his 4×4 along the rocky country roads to show us the vineyards. In fact this turned into the most fantastic trip in which we saw the large fields of bush vines, the newer cordon trailed vineyards, the olive groves, the Mediterranean macchia (low scrubland full of scented herbs and, at this time of year, spring flowers) and bare rock. I was so entranced by it that I forgot to the take the full range of photos – sometimes the experience is more important than the recording of it. The colour of the soil changed from a deep fertile colour through red to sand. The countryside was breath-taking. One minute you are in the rich agricultural land, then you move to redder soil, then to soil which is so rocky that only the tough old olive will grow productively, then to pure sand … and after that there is only sea.
The tour finished with the area by the sea where now holiday houses, mostly very tasteful, complete for land by the sea. But Racemi have managed to keep some domestic size plots for their top wine, Dunico. By the time we had done the tour it was already 12.45 and all the office workers had disappeared for their lunch. A quick tour of the winery was followed by the all-important tasting. Let’s deal with Primitivo as that is really what the area is about.
The entry level Archidamo, Primitivo di Manduria DOC, Pervini, 2007, comes from the terra rossa and leads with lovely red fruit, fresh and enticing. There is some spiciness and herbs in there too and altogether it is very satisfying. But that’s just the start.
From a marketing point of view, it is interesting that Racemi have chosen to accentuate difference, rather than family likeness in the four top wines, as you can see in the picture below.
The first of the four better quality Primitivo is Felline (which refers to the vineyard area), Primitivo di Manduria DOC, 2008, 14%, the grapes for which are grown in the traditional bush vines (alberello) in the terra rossa above limestone. It was a deep ruby in colour. This wine has a very assertive nose, with the characteristic plum and dark cherry fruit being joined by tobacco and liquorice. Part of the wine has been aged for six months in a mixture of barriques and the larger tonneaux, but with Primitivo the idea is never to mask the fruit. The wine is very soft in the mouth but with good grip and greater persistence. By contrast, Giravolta, Tenuta Pozzopalo, Primitivo di Manduria DOC, 2008, second in line, is from grapes grown on the fertile black soil with some elements of tufa, using spurred cordon (cordone speronato) style pruning which allows for some use of tractors in the work. Less immediate fruit on the nose, the palate is tauter with greater acidity, the wine altogether livelier.
We follow this with Zinfandel, Primitivo di Manduria DOC, 2007, again cordone speronato, and on the fertile, black, alluvial soil but with lower yields than Giravolta. Just in case anyone is any doubt, Racemi have tried planting Californian Zinfandel stock back in Puglia and it turns out wines identical in characteristics to the Primitivo. This example is almost farmyardy on the nose, with pepper and chocolate notes, in part from being aged in large Slovenian barrels. Finally, there is Dunico, Primitivo di Manduria DOC, 2007, whose name presumably reflects duna = dune, as it comes from those tiny, sandy parcels of land by the sea. In this situation, you get about half the yield of the Felline, the first of these four, with corresponding intensity of flavour. A brilliant fresh plum and balsam nose (large oak barrels) and on the palate, richer and with greater depth, but also great balance and length.
This was a text-book account of the difference soil types make to wines which are all 100% Primitivo and which are made in identical or similar ways, with only small differences in the oak used. Many thanks to Salvatore and to all at Racemi.
We also enjoyed:
Alberello 2008, Salento Rosso IGT, made from a 50/50 blend of Negroamaro and Primitivo grapes, basically matured in stainless steel with a tiny touch of oak. Very good ripe fruit.
Sum 2007, 100/% Susumaniello, technically only Vino Rosso da Tavola, grown in the Torre Guacetto area of Brindisi province. Good perfume and then structure, a brown edge to the ruby colour, quite elegant.