Some critics have labelled Puglia and Sicily ‘the new California’ for their ripe and fruit-forward wines. Nick Dumergue explores the wines from these up-and-coming southern regions at a new trade event in Italy, and picks his favourites.
Should Puglia and Sicily ever join forces and declare their independence from Italy, the combined output of this new country would make it the fifth largest wine producer in the world.
Okay, it’s an unlikely scenario. But equally ridiculous is the fact that while each region produces roughly twice the annual volume of Australia, their wines remian largely unknown to most British consumers.
The main reason for this is the historic role of Puglian and Sicilian wineries in supplying robust, deeply coloured reds, in bulk, to bolster inadequate, dilute wines from the north. The regions’ wines have been present in northern Italian, French and German bottles for decades, though the practice is now illegal.
A renaissance in southern Italy, based on superior vineyard management and cellar practices, is now beginning to show promising results in bottled wine, though this category still accounts for a slim minority of the total production.
Puglia is noted mostly for its red wines, made from relatively unknown grape varieties. The principal players are the native Negroamaro – literally ‘black and bitter’ – which covers 30,000ha (hectares) or one quarter of all plantings; Primitivo, recently proven to be one and the same as California Zinfandel, and instrumental in raising the profile of Puglia; Uva di Troia, increasingly referred to as Nero di Troia; and Malvasia Nera.
Early attempts to blend these with French international varieties helped to create some familiarity for consumers, although generally the grapes are interesting enough to stand alone. Even a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, can mute the indigenous characters.
With over 150,000ha of vineyards, Sicily has more hectares under vine than any wine region in Italy. It competes with the Veneto and Puglia to be the largest producer. But less than 10% of total production is bottled.
While Puglia is mostly red, two-thirds of Sicily’s production comes from still white wine. Yet Sicily’s best known grape varieties are black. Nero d’Avola is its trump card and is the most widely planted red grape on the island.
It blends well with the native Nerello Mascalese, Frappato and Perricone, while international grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are also widely used. Syrah shows the best results, being close in profile and rumoured to be of similar parentage, but the most interesting wines are dominant Nero d’Avola.
For whites, Catarratto covers around a third of Sicily’s vineyards and was historically favoured for providing quantity for Marsala production.
The Grillo grape now produces finer Marsala and is showing potential for aromatic, dry table wines of distinction. The other white grape of note is Inzolia – also written Insolia or Ansonica – produced either as a single varietal or blended with Catarratto and/or Grecanico. These are unique expressions with a future worth following.
Some commentators have labelled Puglia and Sicily as the new California. The climatic conditions might be similar but flavours remain uniquely southern Italian and the wines are some way behind their American rivals.
With greater understanding, though, the potential exists to make some fine wines here in the future. Here’s a few to be going on with.
Donnafugata, Ben Ryé, Passito di Pantelleria, Sicily 2003
100% Zibibbo from the island of Pantelleria. Naturally sweet from dried, late harvest grapes. Gentle, pure orange marmalade aromas – fresh and delicious. Caramelised notes of honey and dried figs on the palate. Lifted and carried acidity to aid the sweetness with a long pure and clean length. A great substitute for Sauternes. £18 (375ml); Har, Vin
Cusumano, Cubia-Insolia, Sicily 2003
Aged in large botte, resulting in a less aggressive, soft, full and round style. Lovely rounded acidity supporting depth and a long finish. A very good modern example and best consumed over the next two years. £15; Euw
Donnafugata, Vigna di Gabri, Sicily 2003
Made from Ansonica and 20% barrel fermented to add weight and a spicy note. Perfumed, tropical and pure aromas leading to a structured and complete palate. Has a fullness of body to partner a variety of food. Up to 3 years. £15; Har, Vin
Fondo Antico, Grillo Parlante, Sicily 2003
An aromatic example displaying florality and perfume. Plenty of depth and rounded mouthfeel with a gentle floral and spice note. Lovely interplay between juicy fruit and acidity with the length to suggest good drinking until 2006. £9; Bia, EaW
Marchesi Antinori, Tormaresca Chardonnay, Puglia 2003
Very clean and restrained. Elegant ripe peach flavours, buoyant acidity in a very precise and well made style. Excellent value Chardonnay with elegance. Up to 2 years. £5.99; BWC
Trulli, Premium Selection Chardonnay, Puglia 2002
Shows a surprising freshness with a chalky minerality from Salento, deep in Italy’s heel. Barrel fermented with good integration between fruit and oak. Complete palate with amply ripe fruit, balanced acidity and a long length. A lot of classy Chardonnay for the price. Up to 2 years. £5.99; IWS
Planeta, La Segreta, Sicily 2003
Made from 60% Grecanico with Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Fiano. Multi-layered complexity. Rich, aromatic and full mouthfeel with a broad, complete length and lifted acidity. Drink soon. £8.49; EnW
Torrevento, Castel del Monte Bianco, Puglia 2003
70% Bombino Bianco and 30% Pampanuto. Fragrant, steely and mineral with a hint of stone fruits. Broad yet fresh with a very dry finish and a crisp lift of acidity. Unusual in its lack of fruitiness but freshness indicates early consumption. £4; TrW
Conti Zecca, Nero, Puglia 2001
70% Negroamaro and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 18 months in barrique. Deep, semi-opaque colour and a multi-layered depth on the nose. Seriously structured tannins providing a platform for rich, dark berry fruit. An impressive extraction with a refreshing lift of acidity destined for a long future. 2–8 years plus. £18.05; HBa
Cottanera, Fatagione, Sicily 2001
85% Nerello Mascalese, 15% Nero d’Avola displaying a perfumed freshness and vanilla notes from a year in barrique. Succulent, ripe yet lifted berry fruit, depth in a clean modern fashion. Has the structure to age for 5 years plus. £14.50; Ast
Cusumano, Nero d’Avola 2003, Sicily 2003
Very clean example with pure raspberry fruit aromas and soft silky palate weight with
a juicy lift. Tannins are ripe and supportive with the purity best enjoyed soon. £8.99; Euw
Donnafugata, Sedara, Sicily 2002
100% Nero d’Avola with a vibrant ruby colour. Immediate fresh berry explosion, very pure with a minerality and a gentle spice note. Clean, modern, unique flavours; a juicy, succulent length; and good palate weight. A very attractive style with fresh fruit tannins. Up to 3 years plus. £10; Vin
Donnafugata, Tancredi, Sicily 2001
Varietal expression of 30% Cabernet and 70% Nero d’Avola. Purity of fruit and structure of tannins with an excellent depth and a long, complex length. Cabernet seems to work better in Sicily than Merlot, allowing the juiciness of Nero d’Avola to shine through. A well-balanced, grown-up wine with a future of over 5 years. £20; Har, Vin
Felline, Alberello, Puglia 2002
Rich, spicy and savoury palate with pure, vibrant and juicy rounded fruit. Soft tannins and moreish. A lovely example and best up to 5 years. £6; Wtd
Felline, Primitivo di Manduria, 2002 Puglia
Silky smooth fruit profile yet with a power from oak. Slightly sweet although slick red berry fruit. Tight tannins and fruit structure with the ability to age up to 5 years. Very well crafted wine. £8; Wtd
Masseria Monaci, Eloquenzia, Negroamaro, Puglia 2000
From the personal Estate of Severino Garofano, the man responsible for much of Puglia’s elevation, comes this 100% Negroamaro. Wonderful depth of aromas with complex spice and plum, berry fruit. Seductive velvety palate showing structure and multi-layered complexity, very well judged extraction of tannins and a long harmonious length. Up to 5 years plus. £5.99; MeW
Masseria Monaci, I Censi, Puglia 2000
Half Negroamaro and half Primitivo with delicacy and a broadness from the latter. Soft, silky mouthfeel with a fine marriage achieved between the grape blend. Structure is deeper than pure Negroamaro with a certain spiciness and grip of tannins. Hints at a future of 5–10 years although approachable soon. £6.99; MeW
Rivera, Il Falcone, Puglia 2000
A Puglian classic with a charming perfumed nose and some spiciness over pure berry fruit. Soft, silky entry, firm fruit and oak tannins. Long, structured and built to last for 10 years plus. £9.50; MnW
Rivera, Puer Apuliae, Castel del Monte, Nero di Troia, Puglia 2000
Lovely direct purity with mouthfilling, juicy fruit and a touch of spice and earth. Despite advancing age the tannins are still solid and power hints at long future. Up to 5 years plus. £17; MnW
Torrevento, Vigna Pedale Riserva, Puglia 2001
100% Nero/Uva di Troia with fragrant, pure grape aromas. Juicy, succulent palate with a pure grip of tannins and ripe fruit balance. Lovely softness on the palate with an impressively long length of flavour. Up to 3 years. £6.99; TrW
Trulli, Amativo, Puglia 2001
60% Primitivo and 40% Negroamaro with a lovely interplay between oak, depth of fruit and sweetness of tannins. Approachable fruit style and impressive structure with balanced acidity and complex length. Up to 5 years. £7.99; Ita
Cantine Due Palme, Primitivo, Puglia 2002
Straightforward, good value example which displays earthy, brambly fruit. Rich, ripe and quite sweet. Easy drinking, best consumed now. LTm (by order only, ring for details)
Carparelli, Primitivo-Tarantino, Puglia 2002
Fragrant fruit with ample ripeness without the sweet richness of Zinfandel yet with a similar rounded berry character. Succulent and structured, best accompanied by food. Up to 3 years. £6.29; TrW
Conti Zecca, Cantalupi, Salice Riserva, Puglia 2001
Gentle ripe berry freshness showing some evolution. Structured with solid tannins, rich, deep fruit and lifted acidity hinting at a future of 5 years plus. £8.55; HBa
Feudi di San Marzano, Sesantanni Primitivo, Puglia 2000
From 60-year-old vines, showing depth and harmony. Modern and perfumed with seductive aromas of brambly fruit in the Californian Zinfandel style. Juicy, ripe, succulent fruit leading to a long, lingering finish. Up to 3 years. Thi (by order only, ring for details)
Firriato, Chiaramonte, Nero d’Avola, Sicily 2002
Concentration of dark berry fruit and a touch of spice. Juicy, pure fruit on the palate with a firmness of tannins and spice from six months in barrique to add some structure. Will last over the next 3 years. Thi (by order only, ring for details)
Fondo Antico, Nero d’Avola, Sicily 2003
Good varietal typicity with warm raspberry aromas leading to a pure, juicy mouthfeel and a lingering fresh finish. Good example of a simple Nero d’Avola and best consumed in youth for freshness. £9.40; Bia, EaW
Leone de Castris, Rena, Salice Salentino Riserva, Puglia 2001
Deep, rich, full fruit aromas with a hint of spice added. Rich and rounded on the palate with broad, solid tannins. Smoky notes lead to a long and complete length. Drinking well now and over the next 2 to 3 years. £37.92 (case of six); Ali
Planeta, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily 2003
60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato with a forward, fresh, berry fruitiness. Juicy and clean on the palate with a similar ease of drinking to Beaujolais, although tannins more substantial. Best consumed soon and possibly slightly chilled. £11.25; EnW
Vallone, Vereto, Salice Salentino, Puglia 2000
Advancing colour and ripe, perfumed complexity on the nose. Clean fruit yet deep and complete to the long finish. Framed by the structure and softening tannins. Up to 3 years plus. £6.50; MeW
The above wines were tasted in June at the inaugural MiWine show in Milan. The business-to-business event will run in alternate years to VinExpo in Bordeaux. For more information, visit the website: www.miwine.it
Written by Nick Dumergue