Saturday, September 20, 2008

Three Wines You Can't Get

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Apulia, the heel in the boot of Italy, to sample some of increasingly good wines coming out of the area. Apulia was previously known mainly for low-quality bulk wine. Arguably the biggest new force in the province is Antinori, the vaunted Tuscan winemaker, who ten years ago staked out a claim in Apulia, first buying land in the north, near Basilicata (christened Bocca di Lupo, seen above), then a bigger plot in the south (called Messeria Maime). Together, the two vineyards go by the name Tormaresca.

Tormaresca trafficks in the native grapes of the area: Primitivo, Negroamaro and Aglianico (best known as a grape of Campania, but also grown in north Apulia). Overall, I was impressed with the Tormaresca wines. Antinori's winemaker Renzo Cotarella seems to have struck a nice balance between varietal integrity and modern winemaking styles. Sometimes he erred on the side of a too-International style, as with the Neprica, which is 40% Negroamaro, 30% Primitivo and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Other times, he hit the mark, as with the 100% Aglianico, which is named Castel del Monte, after the nearby eight-sided castle built by Frederick II back in the 1200s. I tried the 2003, 2005, 2006 and the 2001. I may have liked the 2003 best. It was jet black in color, earthy, appealingly rough and rustic (though I've tasted rougher versions of this grape), with lots of dark fruit. A very good expression of the grape. And, at 13.5% alcohol, not too overwhelming.

Tormaresca also grows a lot of Chardonnay, in both the Bocco and Messeria vineyard. These produce agreeable wines, particularly the fuller, richer "Pietra Bianca," which adds a portion of fat Fiano to the mix.

However—and I hate to be perverse here—three of my favorite wines in the Tormaresca line-up are bottles that, as of yet, never make it outside Italy: their rose, dessert wine and a unique chilled red wine.

The rose is called Calafuria, and is made from the Negroamaro grape. Unlike many roses these days, it had a definite character. The minerality was admirable, contributing to a firm structure. Tormaresca would be wise to start sending it to the U.S. post haste. I think it will find a market. The Kaloro is the winery's only sweet wine, made from the local DOC Moscato di Trani (seen drying in the sun below). It was light and sweet as you expect Moscato to be. But it also had a strong, stony minerality, owing to the area in which the grapes are grown. This leads to an unusually balanced dessert wine.

The third wine was the most unusual. It's called Fichimori and is a red wine made from Negroamaro that is meant to be served chilled. The grapes are picked when they are very ripe, leading to as juicy and fruity a wine as possible, and left in contact with the skins for only a brief time, eliminated most tannins. The alcohol is only 12.5%. It's a wonderfully refreshing, simple wine, and made for a nice alternative from a rose or a Beaujolais, as far as summer reds go. Apparently, the young Italians love it. I doubt Americans would cotton to it, though it's a shame, since it means I won't be able to get it here. And, of course, it's of paramount importance that I get the wines I want.

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