Li Veli – Tuscan wine aristocracy in Puglia
The masseria, the building at the centre of an agricultural estate, is a very important part of Puglian rural life. If you search the web for this word you might get the impression they have all been turned into luxurious country hotels, which some of them have. These originally fortified grand estate buildings functioned as agricultural centres from the 1600s onwards during the period of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (though some claim they go back to Norman times). They housed the workers and the animals, had the facilities to create olive oil and wine, and of course provided suitably grand dwellings for the nobility.
It is therefore perhaps not entirely inappropriate that the Masseria Li Veli has been bought and restored by the Falvo family, modern Tuscan wine aristocracy, on the back of the sale of the Avignonesi wine business. The restoration started in 1999 and there are now 33 hectares under vines, mostly Puglian but with some international varieties. 70% of the vineyards have been replanted but alberello still rules the roost, these small bushes being perfectly adapted to the rigours of the Puglian climate – the soil (a mixture of soils but critically over water-retaining lower levels), the winds and the endless sun. Yields here in these quite harsh conditions are very low – 55-60 hectolitres per hectare, a level that is less than half what can be produced for bulk wine. Work is basically by hand though ploughing can be done by tractor. They report that agriculture is organic though they have not sought accreditation.
We start our tasting with the Puglian pink: Rosato, IGT Salento, 2010, pictured below, a lovely pale salmon in colour, mildly fragrant, fresh fruit (ripe plums, even strawberry) on the palate, delicious and drinkable. It is made from the Negroamaro grape and is known as a ‘one night wine’, not because of its quaffability, but because of the short maceration. They work very hard at keeping the grapes and the fermentation cool – and have some very up-to-date temperature-controlled horizontal fermentation vessels – and this has really paid off. I will comment on the white Vedeca on the Valle d’Itria pages as it really belongs there – the grapes are grown further north in Puglia.
One of the marks of antiquity in this area is the so-called ‘limits of the Greeks’ road which runs on the edge of the estate, a nod at the period when the tip of the Salento was culturally and politically Greek, in other words, the imaginary line which divides Byzantine and Longobard cultures. In homage to this, the estate’s Primitivo is called Orion. Fortunately, this makes no difference to the quality of the wine but the word intended in Greek is horos (‘limit’), not oros (‘mountain’). Orion, IGT Salento, 2009 shows excellent use of oak, with this fine fruit-led wine, have just 2-3 months in second use barrels. Fine red fruit, medium-bodied, again very drinkable and delicious. By contrast, Passamante 2009, uses the same oak treatment for Negroamaro, showing more black fruit, rounder, with good acidity. To complete our Salentine trilogy we taste Susumaniello 2009, increasingly used as a monovarietal by more ambitious producers. These vines were planted in 2002 and the resulting wine is aged for nine months in second-use barriques. Again well-judged use of wood, attractive red fruit nose, good depth of flavour, medium in length – well worth exploring. The top wine made from a local grape is called Pezzo Morgana Salice Salentino DOC Riserva 2008. Selected Negroamaro grapes, from a mixture of new and old vines grown in a vineyard next to the masseria, the wine is matured for twelve months in French barriques and a further six months in the bottle before release. Our example had only been in the bottle for two weeks (ie bottled for Vinitaly in April) but still showed a beautiful tobacco and balsam nose with rich fruit, great depth on the palate, surprisingly elegant and drinkable at this tender age but with a decade of development in it.
In sum, Masseria Li Veli combines ancient viticulture and contemporary winemaking of a very high standard (with an informative website) and is a great model for Puglian quality wine production. Many thanks to Alessia Nebuloni for a splendid visit and all the best as this venture gets further into its stride.
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