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How Radici del Sud Highlights the Potential of Southern Italian Wines

The Radici del Sud event is an event focused on wines made with native grapes in the southern Italian regions of Puglia, Abruzzo, Molise, Calabria, Campania, Sicily, and Sardegna. Even though lesser-known wine areas and grapes have become quite trendy and in the limelight lately, it is still often hard for smaller producers in such areas to make their voice heard. Therefore, Radici del Sud is an event that has an important function to broadcast native grapes and winemaking in southern Italy. I feel very fortunate to have been invited for the last few years, and also to often have contributed by helping to invite international wine professionals and spreading the word about southern Italian wines.

Radici del Sud, which is going on its 17th year, just took place the other week in Sannicandro di Bari. This year saw a return of international journalists not only from Europe but also from Canada, the US, Japan, etc. We had the opportunity to taste many southern Italian wines made with native grapes. We also did mini-outings to a couple of wineries where the producers had prepared vertical tastings for us to show the potential of their wines. Here, I am thinking especially of Primitivo and Nero di Troia wines.

In this context, I will look closer at a couple of key factors, or considerations, that I think are important for understanding the current wine scene in southern Italy.

  • Freshness, elegance, and drinkability as new keywords
  • A new dynamic vintner generation where collaboration is key
  • The longevity, i.e. aging potential, of wines such as Primitivo and Nero di Troia
Sannicandro di Bari_Radici del Sud_Puglia1

A change of style in southern Italian wines

Well, this can be discussed depending upon the point of view. In my opinion, there has been, and is, an undergoing change of style in winemaking not only in southern Italy but in Italy in general as well as globally. The trend is leaning towards fresher, more fruit-forward, elegant, and drinkable wines. This does not mean that there are not those who produce wines that are still more concentrated and powerful to probably satisfy a market that nevertheless desires such wines. When I talked to some producers in the Primitivo area earlier this year, they stressed that, yes, there has been a change in style but that lately many seem to go back to producing more opulent wines. That said, I will continue on the line that there has occurred a change in style.

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the various expressions of Primitivo from Puglia talking both about the history of the Primitivo grape and the main production areas. The three main areas for the production of Primitivo in Puglia are: Gioia del Colle, Manduria and Salento. Gioia del Colle and Manduria are DOCG appellations while Salento is an IGT area. If we look closer at the main characteristics of each area, we can pinpoint that freshness, minerality, and elegance are typical for the Gioia del Colle Primitivo wines while in Manduria the Primitivo wines have a higher concentration in both aromas and taste. In Salento, the Primitivo wines are generally dry, less alcoholic, and often have a good sapidity. See more in my article Distinct Styles of Primitivo from Puglia and Which One Leads to the Future in Somm TV Magazine.

The different expressions in style of the Primitivo were further highlighted in a seminar and wine tasting at Vinitaly this spring, organized by Radici del Sud in collaboration with Chef Giacomo Racanelli from Aromi Ristorazione. I was in a panel together with Maurizio Valeriani of Vino da Bere, Maurizio Gily, a well-known agronomist, oenologist, and wine writer from Piemonte, and Nicola Campanile of Radici del Sud.

We led the tasting of the following wines:

  • Primitivo Gioia del Colle, Chakra Rosso 2019 – Giovanni Aiello Enologo per Amore (used barrique and tonneau)
  • Primitivo Gioia del Colle, Riserva 2019 – Fatalone (12 months in big barrels)
  • Primitivo Gioia del Colle, Senatore 2017 – Vini Coppi (12 months in oak)
  • Primitivo del Salento 2019, Cupertinum (barrique)
  • Primitivo del Salento 900 2017 – A.A. Duca Carlo Guarini (only cement)
  • Primitivo del Salento Patrunale 2017 – Palamà (12 months in used barrique)
  • Primitivo di Manduria 12 e mezzo 2020 – Varvaglione 1921, (french barrels)
  • Primitivo di Manduria Anima di Primitivo 2019 – Claudio Quarta Vignaioli (only steel)
  • Primitivo di Manduria Masseria Vecchia 2018 – Tenute Cerfeda (only steel)

What emerged as the connecting thought when tasting the nine Primitivo wines from Gioia del Colle, Manduria, and Salento was their freshness, fruit-forwardness, elegance, and drinkability. The wines from Claudio Quarta and Tenute Cerfeda had only matured in steel tanks while the wine from Duca Carlo Guarini had only aged in cement tanks. In these three wines, the fruit and drinkability really came to their fullest expression, and in the Primitivo matured in cement, there was the added bonus of a certain structure and complexity.

At Radici del Sud, this year, the lightness, freshness, and elegance in wines were noticeable in the Primitivo wines of Fatalone, of course, who is a bit of a pioneer winemaker in Gioia del Colle applying organic and biodynamic methods and who has a clear and linear philosophy about sustainability. Also, the Pietraventosa winery in Gioia del Colle makes Primitivo wines with a focus on freshness and elegance, especially their Voler Volare. Giovanni Aiello is another smaller producer who makes Primitivo IGT wines with whole-cluster fermentation giving them an extra complexity.

Read more about Radici del sud in my previous article Radici del Sud – The Event for Autochtonous Grape Lovers.

The winemakers from areas such as Mamoiada and Mandrolisai in Sardegna are another great example of how Cannonau, Bovale, and Monica wines can have a beautiful fruit-forward expression, and be light and elegant without any overbearing oak notes. Some wineries to mention here are Bentu Luna, Fradiles, and Famiglia Demelas in the Mandrolisai area, Mussennore and the traditional Giuseppe Sedilesu in the Mamoiada area, Nuraghe Crabioni in the Sassari area, and several others.

A young dynamic generation of winemakers

Now, if we continue on this line of thought with a trend leaning towards fresher and more vertical wines, it could also be connected to a younger generation of vintners and winemakers taking over their family winery or starting off fresh by recuperating older vineyards. Of course, the market trend also plays an important part. However, if we look at who was participating at Radici del Sud, we can see tendencies toward younger wine producers from many of the southern Italian regions.

If we start by having a look at the Mamoiada area, there has been a sort of rebirth or restart since 2019 when the Mamoiada vintners’ association was founded anew. Since then many younger vintners have emerged, and in collaboration with the more established ‘older’ and experienced wine producers, they are taking significant steps forward. It has fueled beautiful energy and a change of style in the winemaking toward lighter and fresher wines. In Sardegna, this is not only limited to Mamoiada but we can see the same tendencies in the Mandrolisai area and probably also in other areas of the island.

The Mamoiada Producers_Photo by Rowena Dumlao Giardina1
Here are some of the Mamoiada producers. This photo is from another visit to Mamoiada and is not linked to the Radici del Sud event. Photo courtesy of Rowena Dumlao Giardina.

Furthermore, the same goes for the other regions where at Radici del Sud the energy and power of initiative of producers such as Tenuta delle Ferle from Sicily, Terre di Maria from Puglia, Terra Lavoro and Viticoltori Lenza from Campania, and the vintners from the Costa degli Dei in the Vibo Valentia area in Calabria was evident.

Southern Italian wines with longevity

Nero di Troia

The considerable aging potential of Primitivo and Nero di Troia wines was highlighted during a couple of vertical tastings at this year’s Radici del Sud event. It once again showed, just as mentioned earlier, how freshness, minerality, and elegance are the key denominators in these wines. Primitivo is so much more than only concentrated, overmature, and powerful wines and Nero di Troia is starting to find its way as a monovarietal wine. I am not saying that more concentrated Primitivo wines from Manduria are something all bad, rather that power in the form of freshness and elegance is more to my taste.

The first vertical tasting was of the Nero di Troia wine Il Falcone at Rivera winery close to Andria and Castel del Monte in northern Puglia. They are a classic winery and a bit of a leader when it comes to believing in the potential of the Nero di Troia grape. Marco De Corato (De Corato family are the owners of Rivera winery) told us about how they some years ago carried out research into the Nero di Troia grape with the help of Professor Attilio Scienza. They found that the clone Nero di Troia Canosino (from Canosa) with small berries seems to be the better grape version to easier reach maturation. They also harvest later so the grapes can reach full maturation and avoid having green tannins.

We got to taste Il Falcone, their flagship wine, which is made with 70% Nero di Troia and 30% other local grape varieties. We tasted the vintages 2016, 2011, 2005, 1999, and 1994. It is a wine that gives an expression to the complexities of the Nero di Troia grape and the territory close to Castel del Monte in Northern Puglia. If we look closer at a couple of vintages, then 2011 had a nice grip and a complex nose yet it was smooth and elegant. 1999 and 1994 were the two vintages that were just amazing for how well they have aged. Both had a vibrant freshness, still rich fruit, sapidity, minerality, and nice aromas of spices, such as tobacco, shrubbery herbs, forest floor, macchia Mediterranea.

The 1999 had a more vibrant freshness but as Eniko Dub, a fellow writer, said, 1994 was still one step more impressive because it was 5 years older than 1999, and even so, it was so energetic and elegant.

When it comes to Nero di Troia, we can say that austerity, complexity, and elegance are the keywords.

Read more about Puglia and Nero di Troia in my article Nero di Troia – A Wine Worthy of Greek Gods at #Radicidelsud2017 in Puglia.

PrimitivoFatalone winery

We had two vertical tastings of Primitivo from Gioia del Colle, namely of the Primitivo Riserva wines from Fatalone winery and the Primitivo Riserva wines from Pietraventosa winery. Pasquale Petrera and his family at Fatalone winery can be considered trailblazers when it comes to making Primitivo wines in true and authentic Gioia del Colle style. Pasquale’s father and grandfather were, as I understood, the first to start bottling monovarietal Primitivo wine in Gioia del Colle in 1987. They are organically certified since 2000 and they are very attentive to being as sustainable as possible, for example, running their winery on solar energy and having a zero carbon footprint.

Fatalone Winery_Vineyard_Puglia1

We tasted the vintages 2019, 2018, 2005, 2000, and 1995 of their Primitivo Riserva. Pasquale says that their main goal during the maturation process in 750-liter barrels of Slavonian oak is to let the wine breathe. They do not want any influence from the oak, rather Pasquale stresses that it is very important for the Primitivo to spontaneously go through the micro-oxygenation process. In that way, it develops the typical notes of blackberry, mulberry, clove, black pepper, shrub herby notes, and the aftertaste of almonds that is so unique for Primitivo wines from Gioia del Colle.

There is a clear refined style that shows a connecting thought through all the Riserva wines from Fatalone. 2019 was a barrel sample and it already had developed beautiful notes of darker red fruit, forest floor or macchia Mediterranea, spices, and saltiness as I mentioned above regarding tertiary notes. All the wines were amazing, however, I wanted to mention the vintages 2000 and 1995 for really showing the powerful elegance and aging potential of Primitivo from Gioia del Colle.

Fatalone Winery_Gioia del Colle_Puglia1

The 2000 had notes of red and darker mature fruit, pomegranate, macchia Mediterranea, saffron, minerality, and saltiness. It was very smooth with a taste of mature but still juicy fruit, and the typical aftertaste of almonds. The 1995 was just as impressive and outstanding even now being very vibrant and full of energy. It had developed further with notes of mature fruit, lavender, chinotto, licorice, seaweed, or a sort of humid saltiness other than the usual aromas. It was still fresh on the palate, with a bit of earthy taste combined with mint, the minerality, saltiness, and almond, to name a few denominators.

Primitivo – Pietraventosa winery

Marianna Annio and her husband Raffaele Leo decided to become wine producers back in 2005 as a way to valorize the local territory and the Primitivo grape. Raffaele was working as an engineer at a large company, and he did so until very recently, that produces vessels, mainly steel I believe, for fermentation and maturation of wine. While getting immersed in the wine world, Raffaele and Marianna became more and more convinced to take up viticulture and winemaking as a way to reconnect with previous generations in their family on Raffaele’s side, that had been grape growers and wine producers in the past.

The name of the winery – Pietraventosa – embraces the essence of the local territory, namely the rock (=pietra) and the wind (ventosa=windy). The winery is located at about 350-400 meters above sea level on the Murge plateau where the soil is characterized by karst limestone. The winds are blowing in from the sea which is very beneficial for viticulture in the area. This, together with being organically certified and respecting nature and traditions in combination with innovative techniques in the winery, makes Pietraventosa one of the leading Primitivo producers in Gioia del Colle.

Pietraventosa Winery_Gioia del Colle_Puglia1

On one of the evenings during the Radici del Sud event, we had a vertical tasting of their Primitivo Riserva wine, that is the vintages 2016, 2015, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2007, and 2006. I happened to sit next to Raffaele himself while Marianna was leading the tasting. Raffaele told me that already from the beginning his and Marianna’s idea was to show the aging potential of Primitivo from Gioia del Colle. Today, we can see how their conviction and hard work have given the desired results. The 2016 and 2015 are still young and shows sign of the typical freshness, minerality, fruit-forwardness, the ‘balsamic’ touch followed by a hint of iron (or hematic, bloody). In the 2015, this feeling of ‘blood’ or iron was stronger.

2010 and 2011 were interesting each in their own way and still in evolution. There were clearer notes of mature and rich fruit, shrub herbs, tobacco leaves, and other spices. The taste was fresh yet very smooth and with a good grip. 2007 and 2006 were beautiful proof of how Primitivo indeed can age. Just as with Fatalone’s wines, they here showed how the tertiary notes come forth combined with good acidity and smoothness. 2006 enveloped the tongue in a velvety and elegant way with nice notes of tobacco, something toffee or chocolate-like, but still dry and not overly sweet. 2006 might have reached its maturation curve and in that sense 2007 was perhaps more vibrant, but I still liked the 2006.

Pasquale Petrera_Fatalone Winery_Gioia del Colle_Puglia1
Here I am with Pasquale Petrera in his barrel room.

Just a quick recap of the core concepts discussed…

…here my aim was to underline some key factors regarding the Radici del Sud event this year. Apart from being a bit of a ‘restart’ after two long years of the pandemic, it was also an event where a fresh, fruit-forward, elegant, and easily drinkable (without being simple) wine style could be traced; a younger generation of vintners and winemakers; and a highlighting of the longevity and aging potential of, for example, Primitivo and Nero di Troia wines.

Giovanni Aiello_Barrel Room_Puglia1
A peek into the barrel room cellar at Giovanni Aiello2’s new winery.
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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