Every wine area needs someone special. The less well known the area is, the more important the standard bearer becomes. In general terms, Puglia has been known for volume and much of this vast production has come from the flat lands of the northern part of the region. According to ancient sources the Dauni tribe settled in this area – helped by Diomedes who later was buried on a picturesque island off the Gargano peninusula, it is said. In recent times, the wine has been anything but legendary, except perhaps for its volume. The vast majority is not bottled but goes into northern Vermouth production or into high volume reds. But that doesn’t mean that there is no potential for quality here. A few producers stand out, one for sheer quality, for a demonstration of what can be achieved here, and others for imagination and the courage to try something completely different …
Alberto Longo is a medium sized company based just outside the walled town of Lucera. From two estates totalling 35 hectares, he produces 270,000 bottles, which makes him medium sized in Puglia where most of the quality wines come from a relatively small number of large producers. He produces 11 wines, eight from the Lucera area, two Falanghina-based from San Severo further north and one from Manduria, a Primitivo of course.
The family has roots in the area and Alberto pays fulsome tribute to the work of his parents. However, it is quite clear that wine production went off in a new direction under Alberto Longo. The new vineyards were planted in 2002 and production got under way in 2005. Having heard a lot of eulogies (quite correctly) to old vine Primitivo in the Salento area, it remains to be seen what quality can be achieved in the future by these infants when they grow up. What is already clear is that magic is being done in the vineyard and the winery. And the opportunity of the new generation is to think laterally, to experiment and to create a new image for the area as a whole.
First up, what about Falanghina in two styles? This grape variety is said to be native in the San Severo region, which after all is not that far from Campania where it is a staple. It makes a fine sparkling wine, Le Fossette Brut, which is given some more complexity by being kept in the pressurised tanks on its lees for six months. It is appropriately neutral on the palate, with a really attractive softness in the mouth, good persistence and a refreshing finish. By contrast, Le Fossatte as a still wine, 100% Falanghina again, has a very assertive nose and good fruit, having been held at 0° for a night to intensify the flavours. It takes real skill to make wine in such different styles from the same grapes.
And while we are on the subject of sparkling wines, what about a company dedicated to classic bottle-fermented sparkling wines in Puglia? Quite a few wineries have a sparkling wine in their repertoire. There is a local demand and the Charmat method lends itself to preserve the fruit flavours of grapes picked early to provide the necessary acidity. But only d’Araprì in San Severo have made a commercial success out of the intense labour of bottle-fermented fizz. (Polvernera in Gioia del Colle has a lot of bottles maturing but not yet released.) d’Araprì use the local Bombino bianco grape and work on the toasty, yeasty flavours which make up for its relatively nuetral flavour. The base wine is fermented in barrels, stirred daily for three months, with the second fermentation taking place in bottles where the wine stays for two years for the interaction of dying yeast and wine to do its transforming magic. We tasted the Riserva Nobile 2006, which is quite intensely yeasty with some floral notes, some fruit, and then a very intense and typical, pleasantly bitter finish. Not everyone will like the style but it is a creditable effort and is a prize winner.
In Puglia any winery of notes has to have a fine rosé – both the tradition of wine making here and the summer heat demand it. Longo’s is made from Negroamaro grapes and is a really striking ‘pale red onion skin’ colour, very distinctive, heading towards orange. The wine is dedicated to Adele, Alberto’s mother, Donnadele 2009 and has a beautiful, smooth palate. The flavours are not at all jammy, as Negroamaro can be. A big advantage here is the large day/night temperature difference, which can be as much as 20 degrees, and preserves freshness. If Longo can make the most of this, why can’t others?
The red equivalent is Capoposto 2007, 100% Negroamaro, subject to long maceration and then aged in neutral containers. Our example was four years old but was still remarkably youthful, with lip-smacking dark cherry and plum fruit, and was classy and persistent. Three top reds followed in quick succession. First, there is the Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera 2008, one of the smallest DOCs in Italy with just four producers one of which is the cantina sociale of Lucera. The name comes from the local dialect, to bring and to take, and more importantly, is a blend of Nero di Troia, Montepulciano and, surprisingly, Bombino Bianco. (Longo is currently in protracted negotiations with the authorities to make the white grapes optional, as he wants to make a reserva of real substance.) Even with this mix, the wine has a brilliant fruit palate with lots of characteristic savoury notes and excellent persistence. A great everyday wine, though sadly in England its costs £13 – OK a Friday night wine.
The flagship wine is 100% Nero di Troia from low yields and a single vineyard, Le Cruste 2007. The name refers to the layers of friable limestone of the vineyard. This wine is oak aged, with a mixture of barriques and tonneaux and of first, second and third years of use. The grapes are picked late, in the first ten days of October and the result is a gorgeous rich nose and palate, excellent balance and potential for ageing. This is a class act and worthy recipient of acknowledgement at national level and in export markets.
And then of course there is Syrah, the current darling of forward thinking producers in Italy. This one is named 4.7.7 Syrah, 2007, named after the birthday of Longo’s son, so a bit of a favourite. Syrah can be burnt and over-done in Italy, but this isn’t – beautifully made, perfectly balanced, intense fruit, rich and drinkable.
Many thanks to Alberto Longo, to Patrick Sandeman for the recommendation to visit here, and to Michele Digregorio for a very memorable visit. A selection of the wines are available in the UK from Lea & Sandeman. A commitment to quality in vineyard and winery can produce outstanding results on the flat plain of the Daunia!
Even in a fortnight’s visit you can’t cover the whole of Puglia and it is fair to say that the northern most section, the province of Foggia, got short shrift. It was a bonus therefore to catch up with one important producer from this zone at the London International Wine Fair in 2011, where in fact Puglia was pretty well represented. Teanum are based in San Severo and produce a large range of wines of which I tasted no fewer than 15 … I would style them as a new world approach to Southern Italian grape varieties. All the typical Puglian varieties are present but what is typical of the province is that the reds are dominated by the Montepulciano grape variety, as is the case in the neighbouring region of Abruzzo.
Here are a selection of the wines:
Alta Bianco 2010, 100% Bombino: as the staple white grape variety of the northern plain of Puglia, Bombino bianco is turned into some interesting wines and a sea of dull ones. This good example is slightly herbaceous in character and has the characteristic whiff of dried almonds; it’s quite soft in the mouth, a good everyday wine in a fairly neutral style.
In white they also produce a blend, Favùgne (named after the hot wind of the region, this blend being Bombino,Trebbiano, Malvasia), Falanghina, Vento (Falanghina and Chardonnay), as well as:
Òtre bianco 2009: a second 70% Falanghina, 30% Chardonnay blend, but this time from the best grapes and fermented and aged in barrels. Pleasant floral nose with vanilla notes, the Chardonnay really comes through on the palate. Good structure.
The red wines are based on Montepulciano, Aglianico, Nero di Troia and Negroamaro, plus Primitivo which is grown in the Salento peninsula – so the whole range of Puglian varieties, plus those from neighbouring regions.
Òtre Fish 2010: not surprisingly I was urged to try this without any introduction and asked what I thought … it was obviously something a bit different. The wine is made by initial carbonic maceration (holding perfect bunches of grapes under a protective layers of carbon dioxide to enable the fermentation process to start within the individual grapes before crushing) and then the black Negroamaro grapes are crushed with minimum coloration – ie as though you were making a white wine. The result is a sort of rosé but hopefully with the extra fruit character brought about by carbonic maceration. And of course it is intended to go with fish. The result is not as delicate as the Favùgne Rosé, but is pleasant and with enough structure to stand up to food and indeed fish.
From the red range we could choose:
Vento 2009: I found this a bit livelier than the straight Nero di Troia: Alta 2009, which was surprisingly soft with good fruit and moderate tannins, though this latter wine won a ‘two glasses’ award from Gambero Rosso. Vento is a Nero di Troia/Primitivo blend, which is fresh, with attractive red berried fruit and extremely good at the price.
Òtre Aglianico 2008: they work hard to keep the tannins down in this wine, made from the extremely tannic Aglianico variety. The grapes are pressed when the must gets to 8-10% of alcohol and therefore there is no extended skin contact. 50% of the wine is then matured in oak barrels. Typical plums and prune flavours of this variety but medium tannin level only.
Gran Tiati, Gold Vintage 2008 is the top wine of which only 6,000 bottles are made. The standard Gran Tiati is 70% Aglianico blend with Syrah and Montepulciano mainly matured in American oak, while the selection is 100% Montepulciano. It has extraordinary soft concentrated fruit and is savoury, with some chocolate and herb notes; remarkable.
Other reds from Italian grape varieties include: Canticum (100% Montepulciano), Òtre Primitivo.
It is clear that Teanum have very good wines and a clear marketing strategy through the various Alta, Vento and Òtre lines. They are a credit to the Foggia province and an example of the versatility of Puglian winemaking.
Fujanera shows perfectly the quality potential of northern Puglia. Most of the quality wine in Puglia is associated with the south or the middle of this long region. The north of Puglia is much more associated with bulk wine production with yields up around the 250 hectolitres per hectare mark, most of which becomes blending wine or has to turned into industrial alcohol. A name like Alberto Longo, featured on this website, are the exceptions which prove the rule. To these names can be added Tenuta Fujanera just outside the town of Foggia. But there is a connection with the Puglian past here. The company is now being run by the younger generation, Giusy Albano and her brother, while their father continues to have a critical role – he makes the wine. Yes, in the past they were in bulk wine production, but from 2003 onwards they have focused on just 12 hectares of vineyard (tiny by Puglian standards) and on quality.
They currently make four wines:
Bellalma Falanghina, IGT Puglia 2011 – this is the current vintage which makes a fine showing from the Campanian variety Falanghina: attractive jasmine aromas and then a mild peach palate with a touch of something more exotic, perhaps pineapple. Reined-in fruit and refreshing acidity; quite an elegant wine. But the real surprise is the ability to age. We also tasted the 2010 where the palate had really filled out in an impressive way. Probably at its peak now but there could be more surprises in store.
Re del Cuore, Rosato, IGT Puglia 2011 – an innovative blend for a rosé of Nero di Troia, Montepulciano and Sangiovese. These are the three red grapes of northern Puglia but even so most rosés feature Negroamaro. Giusy says that they did try a 100% Nero di Troia but it really didn’t work so it is helped out here by the hint of plum fruit from Montepulciano and the savoury character of Sangiovese. Mid salmon in colour, some underlying fruit sweetness but then a fine tannic structure from the three varieties which can all do tannins. The ‘king of the heart’, the name of the wine, is balanced and highly drinkable.
Arrocca, Nero di Troia, IGT Puglia, 2011 – for quality Nero di Troia is the grape variety of northern Puglia. It may be difficult to grow, relatively pale in colour and seriously tannic when young but it has fine red fruit, is only medium bodied (in a land of big reds) and ages beautifully with all that acidity and tannin. This 2011 is all about potential. You could drink it now (with grilled meat) but you would do much better to ‘lose’ it in the cellar for 3-5 years and see what unfolds. While you are doing that you could drink:
Lamadàli, Negroamaro, IGT Puglia 2010 – Negroamaro is something of a workhorse grape variety throughout Puglia and especially on the eastern side of the Salento). The name may mean ‘’black bitter’ but while it is deep coloured it actually has a surprisingly sweet, ripe fruit, palate (and hence makes very good rosé). This version has the characteristic farmyards smells and black fruit and is drinking well now.
We can look forward to more quality wines from Fujanera. There is a modestly oaked Nero di Troia in the offing half of which is aged in stainless steel to preserve freshness, while the other half resides in large, neutral, oak barrels to give some softness and roundedness to the wine. That will be worth waiting for.
Fujanera wines tasted and available at Vini Italiani, London, January 2013, who also stock Alberto Longo
Return to the Puglia home page