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How Remarkable Native Grapes Are Revitalizing Wine in Southern Italy

Puglia and Radici del Sud was one of my first destinations for wine in southern Italy earlier in the summer when things started to open up again, allowing for events to be organized. This was my fourth Radici del Sud event, and I also had a small hand in the selection of some of the wine writers being invited. We turned out to be quite a Scandinavian-dominated group with four Swedes and four Danes (a mix of importers and journalists) combined with other mostly European writers. We had a fun, “rolig”, “sjov”, “divertente” week together filled with wine and food experiences from all over Puglia and the southern regions.

What is Radici del Sud?

Radici del Sud is an event that is highlighting wine made with indigenous grapes, but also olive oil and food, from the most southern regions of Italy. It embraces Puglia, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Abruzzo, Molise, Sicily, and since last year also Sardinia. It is an event that goes on its 17th year in 2022. It consists of one part press tour and, another part, that is a wine competition. It used to be an event that lasted for seven days of full immersion into the wine culture of the south, but this last year it had been shortened to five days. I think that the new shorter format was a good choice because seven days, even though amazing, could be a bit taxing for both body and mind. I also liked the slightly slower pace of the “pandemic” version of Radici del Sud 2021, where there were fewer journalists and importers due to the travel restrictions. However, it allowed for time to think and better absorb the many different impressions. Overall, it is an event where you really get the possibility to learn about and soak up the essence of the south.

The Wine Colors of Southern Italy

This year, due to the Covid restrictions, the press tour rather consisted of daily visits to wineries either for lunch, afternoon, or dinner. The traditional rosé wines from Puglia and the other southern regions were, of course, a part of the experience. It is indeed important to convey the culture of the rosé wine, and how it is linked to the native grapes and the local terroir. Whether it’s a Negroamaro, Primitivo, Nero di Troia, or Bombino Nero when talking about Puglia, they all express a sense of place. Furthermore, the colors are intense, almost bold sometimes. Even if the color is not the important thing, in the sense that rosé wines do not need to have the trendy Provence color, in the end, it is somewhat important, because the full, often dark, and intense color is the trademark of southern Italian rosé wines. It is the color of the grape, the terroir, the tradition.

Eric Asimov says in the recent article A Rosé by Any Other Color in New York Times,

“The color of a wine can convey a lot about its character. But color is easy to misinterpret, and sometimes reveals less than it seems. […] This seeming paradox arises because analyzing the color of a wine requires an understanding of context and many variables. Too often, people make reflex judgments of a wine based solely on its color. […] Far more important is a winemaker’s intent. Is the goal to make the best wine possible, however that is judged? Or is it to make the palest wine possible?”

Another thing that is interesting, as MW Elizabeth Gabay stressed at a tasting a couple of years ago in Guagnano, Negroamaro rosé wines are indeed gastronomic wines because of their structure and tannins. (See Negroamaro Rosé Wines at Their Best in Puglia) I believe that also Primitivo, to a certain extent, and Nero di Troia rosé wines can be considered gastronomic wines. We had the opportunity to taste the different expressions of Puglia rosé wines when visiting Coppola 1489 winery in Gallipoli (Negroamaro), Bonsegna winery in Nardò (Negroamaro), Pietraventosa winery in Gioia del Colle (Primitivo), and by tasting Nero di Troia and Bombino Nero rosé wines at the castle in Sannicandro di Bari.

The question of traditional rosé wines is not limited to Puglia but is also key in other southern regions. For example, in Abruzzo with its Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo rosé made with the powerful Montepulciano grape, the Gaglioppo or Magliocco rosé from Calabria, the Aglianico and Piedirosso rosé wines, or why not the Tintilia rosé wines from Molise.

Wine Tendencies in Southern Italy

Perhaps I do not want to be as bold as to talk about new tendencies, but rather interesting aspects that I have noticed. I am also here thinking in terms of change over the last few years that I have been traveling for wine extensively over southern Italy, as well as attending Radici del Sud events. It might also just be that I have learned more every year, and thus not have been seeing things clearly before. Anyway, bear with me if you find my comments superficial.

I think that the quality level of the Nero di Troia wines is improving every year. During the last couple of wine competitions, I have found the flights of Nero di Troia we tasted to be on a more constant level, and balanced. I was not alone in commenting on this in our jury group. The oak is less invasive and the wines are less rough or “nervous”. Whether it depends on a change in style or that there are more producers working together to raise the bar in dealing with the Nero di Troia grape, that can be discussed. This grape that sometimes goes under the nickname the “crazy horse” for the difficulties in handling it both in the vineyard and in the cellar. In any case, I am happy about the steps forward because it is one of my favorite grapes that can give rise to wines with a wonderfully elegant character.

I also believe that the Sicilian red wines participating in the competition at Radici del Sud, such as Nerello Mascalese and Nero d’Avola, were of a high and steady level. The wines of Sardinia participating in the event also added an important boost of quality to the event.

What we tasted and who we met at Radici del Sud

At a visit to Coppola 1489 winery in Gallipoli, we learned more about how the Negroamaro can excel in different versions of itself, so to say. Under the guidance of Giuseppe Coppola, the owner, and Giuseppe Pizzolante Leuzzi, their oenologist, we got to taste Negroamaro in the expression of sparkling, white, rosé, and red wine. It was interesting to see how the Negroamaro grape holds its own in different forms. Did you know that they started to make the Negroamaro as a white wine for the first time in 2004 because they had very few white grapes at hand that year?

At a vertical tasting of Rèfulu IGP Greco Bianco (2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019) from Casa Comerci winery in Calabria, we discovered the aging potential that the Greco grape in Calabria can have. The acidity and saltiness run like a backbone in all the wines followed by the minerality, making them into very elegant wines. We also got to taste Jancu! IGP Greco Bianco Aranciato (2019 I believe) which is their macerated wine. I do not use the term orange wine here, because I think that Casa Comerci with Jancu! shows how a macerated wine can be something elegant and understated, yet, with a powerfulness that goes beyond those wines that only seek power with over-maceration.

Estrosa rosé wine , Pietraventosa winery

At our visit to Gioia del Colle, we got an insight into different angles of Primitivo from Gioia del Colle thanks to Pietraventosa winery and Coppi winery. At a tasting at Pietraventosa winery, Marianna guided us through her and her husband’s take on the Primitivo grape as a small winemaker in the Gioia del Colle area. They want to make fresh, elegant, and enjoyable wines. (Learn more in my WinesOfItaly LiveStream interview with her a couple of years ago.) We also visited Coppi winery which is a historical winery in the Gioia del Colle district that is a bit larger and has had, and have, an essential role of working for the furthering of Primitivo from Gioia del Colle. Two different producers in Gioia del Colle, two different micro-expressions of Primitivo from Gioia del Colle, that both are key for its development.

Lame del Sorbo DOC, Vinica

I also wanted to mention a couple of interesting newcomers that I tasted, such as the low intervention wines from Vinica winery in Molise. They told me they were the first winery producing “natural” wines in Molise. Their rosé wine Lame del Sorbo DOC is just an amazingly fresh, fruity, and enjoyable wine. I then passed by the booth of Guido Lenza of Lenza Viticoltori (I will talk about his wines in a future article) to taste his amazing white Greco and Falanghina wine, named after his wife Ida, and his lovely Aglianico wines. He told me to go taste a new winery from Cilento, namely the Tenuta Massanova, where I was intrigued by their Fiano DOP 2019. A winery to look closer at for sure.

Another wine I found interesting was the rosé wine Barberosa Rosato Benevento IGP 2020 made from SimoneGiacomo winery close to Benevento in Campania. This is a rosé wine made with the Camaiola grape which until very recently went under the name Barbera del Sannio.

Having fun at Coppi Winery

RadiciLive

After Radici del Sud, I, Tanisha Townsend, Rowena Dumlao Giardina, and Darrel Joseph decided to organize a live stream to talk about our impression of the Radici del Sud event. We invited Marino Palmirotta, Export Manager at Coppi winery, Marianna Annio, owner of Pietraventosa winery, Beniamino D’Agostino, owner of Botromagno winery in Gravina, and Anna D’Amico, co-owner of D’Arapri winery in San Severo. They gave us interesting input about wine in Puglia and in the south. Learn more below.

Relaxing after Radici del Sud

After the Radici del Sud event, I went for a few days on my own to Lecce and then to northern Puglia to relax for a bit. I stayed at the B&B of Gabriella, Massimilano Apollonio’s wife, which is a mini apartment with a cool minimalist design. If you go to Lecce you should definitely contact her. Thereafter, I headed to D’Araprì in San Severo where Anna, Maria Antonietta, and Girolamo always are super nice and welcoming. I got to see the new part of the wine cellar (last time I was there they had just acquired the space and were about to start the renovation), their new winery building, and I had a tour of the vineyards with Anna. It is always exciting to learn more about how they are developing and moving forward with their sparkling wine production.

Then they surprised me by having planned two days in their summer house by the sea in the Gargano area. What better way to conclude my Puglia tour?

Katarina Andersson

Seen often at wine events streaming live, Katarina is a wine writer, wine educator, social media strategist, and translator. She is the founder of WinesOfItaly LiveStream. She has been a guest at The Cellar, hosted by Richard Glover, at Wine Two Five, a podcast hosted by Stephanie Davis and Valerie Caruso, and at the Twitter chat #WiningHourChat founded by Li Valentine.

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