What do you know about Puglian wines? For most people, the answer is probably, “not a lot”. And that’s not surprising because until recently, the international wine community paid little attention to Puglian wines. But times have changed. Discover why Puglia is ideally situated for winegrowing, why it suffered a reputation problem, the different varietals you can find in the Apulian countryside, as well as why Puglian wines are making a comeback.
Puglia – Italy’s Powerhouse of Wine Production
Although the wines of Puglia are much less well-known than their more famous cousins like Chianti, Barolo or Lambrusco, Puglian wines pack a mighty punch when it comes to quantity. In fact, Puglia produces more wine than all of Australia combined. But what’s behind Puglia’s intense production?
Located in the heel of Italy, Puglia enjoys a Mediterranean climate, extremely fertile soils and verdant landscapes – near perfect conditions for growing a large number of crops, including tomatoes, lettuces, artichokes and grapes, to name just a few. With more than 60 million olive trees, Puglia accounts for almost half of Italy’s total olive-oil production, as well as contributing to 17% of Italy’s total wine production, making it the country’s largest wine producing region.
The region experiences four distinct seasons with mild winters and hot and dry summers. While Italy’s flattest region sees soaring summer temperatures which would scorch the vines elsewhere, sizzling temperatures are largely mitigated by cool sea breezes. So although Puglia receives more summer sunshine than any other part of Italy, its privileged position between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas mean Apulian vineyards enjoy fantastic conditions for viticulture. On a side note, Puglia’s proximity to the sea also makes the region home to some of Italy’s best seafood. Why not discover our recipe for delicious Italian stuffed artichokes.
In summary, Puglia’s mediterranean climate, year-round sunshine and cooling sea breezes make it a near-perfect environment for winegrowing. With this in mind it’s unsurprising that Puglia produces more wine than any other Italian region.
Why Did Puglian Wines Earn a Bad Reputation?
As we’ve just seen, Puglia is a big player when it comes to the volume of wine produced every year. This has been both Puglia’s strength and downfall.
For years Puglia focused on quantity over quality, giving Puglian wines a reputation for being low-quality table wines. Because of its high alcohol content and bold flavour, most of the wine was sold off cheaply in bulk for blending, or for use in vermouth production. Puglian wines seemed stuck with the image of being a mass-produced, cheap wine. So despite the importance of Apulian wine in terms of quantity, for years the international wine community paid it little attention.
Fortunately, many in the Puglian wine industry have realised that focusing on quantity was a flawed strategy. We’ve seen a shift away from low quality and cheap wine for distillation, and a renewed emphasis on quality. Oenological consultants and flying winemakers have made a huge contribution to changing Puglia’s image from that of nothing more than a mass-producer to a region of quality wine.
Nowadays, Puglia boasts four DOCG appellations, 32 DOCs and an ever-growing list of IGT wines. In fact, Puglia now has more DOCG and DOC appellations than any other southern Italian region.
Such efforts are clearly paying off, as Puglian wines are growing in prestige and recognition. The wines of Puglia have piqued the attention of wine lovers from around the world, who now travel from near and far for a sip of Puglia’s concentrated and inky reds, which rival the best from South America and Australia. And despite their growing popularity, Puglian wines are still affordable and offer excellent value for money.
Primitivo – Puglia’s Most Important Grape
Puglia’s most famous varietals are powerful reds which include the bold Negroamaro, the more velvety Malvasia Nera, Nero di Troia, and Bombino Nero. But the grape that’s of most interest, at least to non-Italians, is Primitivo. While you could be forgiven for thinking the grape is “primitive” in some way, the variety translates roughly as “early one”, referring to the variety’s early-ripening nature, much like the “tempranillo” grapes of Spain. As Primitivo grapes accumulate a lot of sugar early in the season, they produce rich, full-bodied wines that are big on fruit.
Primitivo pairs well with just about any type of meat, including beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and fish, as well as pasta and cheese. Aside from its suitability to pair with almost any food, primitivos tend to be full-bodied, well-balanced and easy to drink. Its versatility, combined with its excellent value, make primitivo an affordable crowd pleaser.
Does this sound like another type of wine you know? If it reminds you of Zinfandel, it’s no surprise. Primitivo and Zinfandel are genetically identical. And the grape isn’t from Italy or the US.
While primitivo grapes have been autochthonous to Puglia for centuries, they were originally introduced from Croatia where they were known as “Crljenak Kaštelanski”. The grapes only entered the US in the 19th century where they were renamed Zinfandel. That’s not to say Zinfandel and Primitivo taste exactly the same. Although the varietal’s DNA is virtually identical, they can have significant differences in taste.
So there you have it. Zinfandel and Primitivo are one and the same, and they’re actually Croatian.
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