Leone de Castris – history and quality

The story of Leone de Castris is closely interwoven with the development of quality wine in Puglia. The concern goes back to an agricultural holding which dates from 1665 no less with the cellar still being on the same site today.  We had one of our many ‘Google map’ moments arriving here in the town of Salice (pronounced Sálice), after which the DOC Salice Salentino is named.  The technology did its job perfectly but because of all scaffolding we did not recognise the large and historic building and we ended up in the working entrance to the winery, which was fine.  The old offices are fascinating, a sort of mixture of domestic design and old-fashioned working spaces.  And of course there are many mementoes of the last three hundred and fifty years.  In addition there is a fine museum which tells the story of the family and of viticulture in the Salento. 

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For the literary minded, the family have a number of quotations from Dante to the de Amicis’ one above  ‘… wine adds a smile to friendship and a spark to love. It is the second blood of human kind.’  Amen to that … it could almost be the maxim for the Winefriend website!  

The name of the company and the decisive step came with the marriage of Leone Plantera to Lisetta de Castris in 1925 and the consequent decision to bring together grape growing and wine making. The house is famous for being the first company in Italy to bottle rosé, a huge signal that quality wine was not just about grand Tuscan estates but about quality everyday drinking.  Poignantly, the date being 1943, towards the end of the second world war, the bottles available were American beer bottles.  One of these original bottles is displayed in the wine museum, along with a picture of the five children after whom the ‘Five Roses’ (in English) is named. 

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Of the wide range, both using local grape varieties and some internationals, we tasted the following:

IMG_7649Five Roses, Salento IGT, 2010 – the classic Salento blend of 90% Negroamaro and 10% Malvasia Nera.  2010 was a good year with the grapes benefitting from big day/night temperature differentials, which preserves freshness.  Short maceration (4 hours) on the skins did the trick to produce a brilliant colour on the pink side of salmon pink. Attractive perfumed aromas on the nose and a good palate.

Elo veni, Negroamano IGT Salento, 2010 – 100% varietal wine made from grapes of 30 year old vines, with the wine being aged in stainless steel for six months and a further three months in bottles.  The nose leads with lots of fruit notes, plums and preserved plums, very fresh almost crunchy palate, moderate tannins and a good finish. 

IMG_7654Salice Salentino DOC Riserva 2007 – the same Salento blend as Five Roses but made as a red wine for ageing.  Although de Castris has lines of wine which are aged in barriques, this is more traditional, being matured in large oak barrels, a more neutral approach.   Intense dark ruby red in colour, the wine has a prominent, impressively assertive, nose of plums and fruit under spirit plus subtle oak ageing effects, a very good depth of fruit on a fairly well-knit palate and is still quite tannic – it has a good 10 years of life ahead of it.  An impressive wine at a reasonable price. 

Primitivo Villa Larena IGT Salento – made from the fruit of 30 year old bush vines, 50% of the wine being aged in traditional large oak casks for three months.  Aniseed, black berried fruit and a burnt note on the nose, wonderful Primitivo fruit plus a sort of medicinal note on palate, full bodied, prominent tannins, so quite a lot of extraction here. 

Donna Lisa Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva DOC 2006 – the top wine and regular prize winner with same Salento blend of 90% Negroamaro and 10% Malvasia Nera but from much older vines (70 year old) and matured for 18 months in French barriques, one third of which are new each year.  Intense aromas of plums and black fruit under spirit, liquorice and tobacco, remarkable depth of flavour, very long. At the same time, quite an acquired taste with the high acidity and moderately high if tamed tannins which will giving ageing potential.  Impressive. 

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In this historic winery which continues to produce a large range of wines of consistently high quality, we will leave the last word to Dante:

‘See how the sun’s heat turns into wine

When it is joined with the juice that wells from vine’*

Many thanks to all at Leone de Castris – all the best for this year and hopefully for many more centuries to come.


* translation: Purgatorio XXV, 77-8, C H Sissons, Oxford 1980. 

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