At the heel of the boot, the south-eastern most area of Italy greats its visitors with the most stunning landscape of rolling hills, vast plateaus, century-old olive groves, approximately 800 kilometres of coastline and around 300 days of sunshine a year. A bourgeoning winegrowing area coupled with a rapidly evolving hospitality backdrop; Puglia is perhaps the latest best-known secret to be included on any wine lovers bucket list.
One of the destinations I was hoping to go back to this year was Italy’s stunning Puglia (Apulia) region in the south-east of Italy, bordered by the Adriatic sea on one side and the Ionian on the other at the very heel of the country. Think splendid whitewashed historic clifftop villages, beautiful beaches, the iconic Trullo houses, sturdy historic Masserie (the regions’ historic stately farmhouses), endless olive groves, fantastic local Italian food, and off course the many vineyards dotting the beautiful landscape.
Overshadowed by Italy’s world-famous winegrowing regions of Tuscany and Piedmont, Puglia is actually one of the oldest winegrowing areas in the world. The first vines have been cultivated here already some 3,000 years ago. Today, Puglia produces a range of different wine varietals strongly rooted in the region that is increasingly recognized for its excellent quality at affordable prices.
Read on to learn more about Puglia’s leading wine varietal, the Primitivo and more reasons why you should put Puglia on your bucket list.
Why Puglia should be on your bucket list
I have yet to find any part of Italy not worth a visit. In fact, you should not worry at all going to one of the lesser known regions. You will still find a wealth of magnificent historic places, including century old palazzi and churches, outstanding handcrafts, friendly people, great Italian food, and off course excellent wines.
Puglia is one of these places, and in recent years has increase in popularity, luring visitors with attractions such as the stunningly beautiful small Trullo houses, splendid beaches and a strongly growing luxury hospitality.
What to do and see in Puglia
Clearly, the small town of Alberobello, where you can find some of the cutest Trullo houses is a must. Today, the Trullo are home to cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, and some are even available for tourist accommodation.
Right on the coast of Valle d’Itria, Pogliano a Mare is another of the stunning historic villages worth being explored.
Then off course there is beautiful Osturni, called the white city further down the coast and Trani with its splendid Romanesque cathedral sitting right next to the sea.
With more than 40 historic churches and many palazzi dating back to the 17th century, Lecce at the southernmost tip of Italy’s heel absolutely needs to be on your list too.
Last but definitely not least, head to increasingly popular Matera with its stunning cave houses; even though the city belongs to the Basilicata region of Italy, but only a stones threw away from the Puglia border and just one hour from Bari, the nearest international airport for both Puglia and Basilicata.
Beside visiting the beautiful villages, you need to hit some of the regions’ most stunning beaches too. Just outside Pogliamo a Mare you will find the small stunning beach of Lama Monachile bordered by steep rugged cliffs at either side. Starting at Torre Pali and stretching all the way to Torre Vado, the long white sandy coastline of Salento is another great spot to spend some hours at the beach. Another popular spot is the Cave of Poetry close to the town of Rocca, the Beach of Purity at Gallipoli or the beautiful beach at Santa Maria al Bagno.
Finally, if you love ceramics, then you are also at the perfect place in Puglia. Fairly unspectacular as a location, the town of Grottaglie in the province of Taranto is home to a number of fantastic ceramic studios. There is also a ceramic museum, the Casa Vestita.
How to visit a winery in Puglia
There are a couple of things you should be aware when planning a wine tasting trip to Puglia.
The region has made significant strides as an international tourist destination in recent years, however wine tourism is still much less developed compared to the leading regions of Tuscany and Piedmont.
There are very few tour operators offering defined wine tours in the Puglia region yet. Therefore, to date your best option getting around and visiting wineries will be going on a self-guided tour; and you will most likely have to have your own car.
That said, many of the local wineries are happy to welcome visitors and several will offer defined food experiences alongside their wines. However, you will need to arrange your visit in advance to make sure there will be someone letting you in and guide you through a wine tasting.
The wines of Puglia
Puglia is one of the largest winegrowing regions in Italy with more than 200 wineries producing excellent yet still fairly moderately priced wines.
Overall red wine dominates with wines typically bold, fruit-forward, and high in alcohol thanks to the regions hot and dry climate which is softened by cool breezed from the nearby sea.
Among wine lovers, Puglia is perhaps best known for its Primitivo and Negroamano wines whilst the Nero di Troia, another local variety mostly from the northern part of Puglia is relatively unknown internationally but definitely well worth a try.
Introduction to Primitivo
Primitivo today is deeply linked with Italy’s Puglia region. However, the origin of this grape variety is likely to be found in the more eastern parts of Europe, possibly in Croatia.
Quite interestingly, the grape is also grown in the US where it was introduced in the early 19th century under the name Zinfandel. There’s been a bit of a debate going on but finally DNA research proofed Primitivo and Zinfandel are indeed the same variety. Today, you will also find a couple of wines produced in Puglia from the Primitivo grape called Zinfandel.
The name Primitivo is derived from the Italian word ‘primo’ which means ‘first’ and this is due to the early ripening of the Primitivo grape. Primitivo is typically harvested in late August before the other local varietals.
Primitivo grapes are dark-skinned and produce deeply coloured, tannin-driven intensely flavoured wines which are high in alcohol.
However, whilst most of Primitivo wines are red, these days you will also find rosé wines made with the Primitivo grape, typically called Primitivo Rossato.
Fun fact: In Italy, production of Primitivo wines is currently limited to the Puglia region although recently winegrowers in Sicily have been allowed to cultivate and make Primitivo wines as well, much to the dislike of their peers in Puglia. As the first releases of Primitivo wines from Sicily are still a few years away, the jury is still out how they will compare with Primitivo wines from Pruglia.
Where to find the best Primitivo wines in Puglia
Primitivo is grown all over Puglia but the most two distinctive areas featuring Primitivo are Gioia del Colle close to Bari and the Manduria area in the province of Taranto in the northern part of the Salento peninsula.
Best food pairings with Primitivo wine
You never go wrong pairing a wine with the foods sourced locally. And certainly, you never go wrong with Italian food. The local eggplant parmesan (melanzane parmigiana) are great with Primitivo as are tomato pasta, pizza and roasted lamb.
Primitivo being a wine that ears on the slightly sweeter side, it is also a perfect match for spicy foods such as curries or sweet dishes including desserts.
7 excellent Primitivo wines to try at home
Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo IGT, Antinori
The well-known Italian wine-making family Antinori is not only producing their excellent wines in the family’s native Tuscany. The two Antinori wine estates in Puglia produce a number of excellent wines including Primitivo, Negramano and a white Fiano.
Primitivo grapes are sourced from the winery’s vineyards located in the Salento where the Tormaresca estate is located close to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Castel del Monte in Andria.
The Torcicoda Primitivo is produced with 100% Primitivo grapes and aged for 12 months in French and Hungarian barrique barrels. It is a fruit-forward full bodied red with aromas of black plums and blackberries.
Mocavero Primitivo Salento
This excellent Primitivo comes from Mocavero winery located in the province of Lecce in the Salento area of Puglia. The winery was founded in 1950 and today is run by brothers Francesco and Marco Mocavero.
To make the Mocavero Primitivo Salento grapes are harvested by hand and once fermentation is completed the wine will be aged in barrels for 3-4 months.
As many Primitivo wines, Mocavero Primitivo features an intense red colour with violet reflections and presents notes of ripe cherries.
Sud Primitivo di Manduria, Cantine San Marzano
Founded in 1962 even before the area of Salento existed as dedicated DOC winegrowing area, Cantine San Marzano were founded by 19 winemakers to lead the region into making excellent wines.
Today, Cantine San Marzano make a large range of different wines, including sparkling, white, rosé and reds from different grape varieties along with Grappa and olive oil. However, the main star of Cantine San Marzano is Primitivo and they produce various different types of this local favourite.
The San Marzano Sud Primitivo is aged in French and American oak for 6 months and comes across with an intensely red colour with violet hues. It offers aromas of black berries and hints of cocoa and vanilla.
It pairs well with lamb or game and hard cheese.
Domodo Zinfandel Rosato Puglia IGP, Cantine San Marzano
If like me, you like rosé wines, there are a couple of really great Primitivo rosé completing the wine range of many wineries in Puglia.
Cantine San Marzano also produces a lovely rosé from the Primitivo grape, which they call Zinfandel (but as mentioned before, Primitivo and Zinfandel are the same grape variety, so it is merely a names game).
The beautifully balanced Domodo Zinfandel Rosato offers aromas of raspberry, cherry, and cassis along with hints of vanilla, muscat and pepper.
Posizione Primitivo, Terrecarsiche 1939
Terrecarsiche was founded – you guessed it – in 1939. Their grapes come from vineyards located in Gioia del Colle and the Itria Valley, two of Puglia’s leading areas for Primitivo.
The winery itself is located in Castellana Grotte in the province of Bari, a location worth visiting for its 3 kilometres long and 60 metres deep caves (grotte means caves in Italian), as well as stopping by at Terrecarsiche for a wine tour with lunch, dinner or a light buffet. Check their website for tour offers.
The winery makes a large range of wines, including different sparkling ones, white and rosé and several red wines from local grape varieties.
Positzione Primitivo is part of Terrecarsiche’s classic collection. Featuring a deep ruby red, the wine has a full, fragrant aroma of plum, cherry and blueberry along with a hint of dried spices and cranberry jam.
The wine pairs very well with roasted meat, cheese, and salami.
Villa Santera Primitivo Rosato Salento IGT, Leone de Castris
The Leone de Castris family is making wine in the Puglia region since 1665. And they are not only the oldest winery in Puglia. They also claim to have made the first rosé wine in Italy at all (in 1943).
The winery is located in Salice Salentino in the Salento area and is one of the few wineries in Puglia that operates its own wine hotel, Villa Donna Lisa.
You will find a large range of wines produced at the winery, including many international grape varieties. But off course, they produce some impressive Primitivo wines including the elegant Villa Santera Primitovo Rosato, a rosé made from 100% Primitivo grapes.
Primitovo Rosato has a light pink colour and offers aromas of redberries.
Leone de Castria offers various tours, including their own wine museum and different food pairings. Check their website for more information.
Notturnia Primitivo Puglia IGT, Farnese
Farnese Vini is part of the Fantini Group, owner of various vineyards across Italy including Tuscany, Campania, Basilicata, Abruzzo, Sicily and indeed Puglia.
You will find a huge range of different Primitivo wines from Fantini Group but you can’t make a mistake with the Notturnia Primitivo. A fruit-forward driven, intensely red coloured wine with chocolate-like tannins, Notturnia Primitivo offers aromas of ripe red berries, and spices.
Pair it with roast lamb or game.
Are you familiar with Primitivo or Zinfandel? Let me know which labels you like the most.