Thursday, November 6, 2008

Plenty of Puglia

The November meet of the Wine Media Guild was of particular interest to me. It was a tasting of wines from Puglia—the southern Italian region I visited for the first time this past September. Charles Scicolone put together the satisfyingly wide array of wines, which included three from Piero Antinori's Puglia venture, Tormaresca, which I toured during my visit. (I was happy to see the Bocca di Lupo Aglianico tasting as good as I remember it. In September Charles, on a New York Times Eric Asimov tasting panel of Aglianico, helped place this wine in the number two spot.)

This being Puglia, the selection was dominated by Primitivo and Negroamaro. There were a couple of roses and a couple of whites, of which a Gravino Bianco 2007 from Botromagno proved a widespread favorite. The pleasurable, pear-noted, nicely acidic blend of Greco and Malvasia was liked by almost everyone in the room, old and new members alike. At $11, this balanced wine is a bargain.

There were a few interesting oddities. A wine from Vignamaggio called "Suahili" was what Charles called the first Syrah he had tasted from the region. (Tormaresca has started to plant this grape.) It was smooth and light, a commercially driven version of the grape. I don't know whether you can expect much more for $13. One of the most expensive wines in the line-up—a Tenute Rubino "Torre Testa" 2003—was made from the obscure Susumaniello varietal. You'll only find this ancient grape in Puglia. It was light with a bouncy cherry flavor. Easy to like. But $54?

The Primitivos were all over the map, from light-bodied and breezy to big and extracted, as I guess must be expected from an emerging wine region that's trying to find itself. None completely floored me, but neither were many of rank quality. Of the Negroamaros, two stood out. Vallone's "Gratticiaia" 2003 was lovely with a cherry candy taste and a beautiful color. A couple other members agreed with me, calling it their favorite. It may deserve its $70 price tag. May.

The wine of the afternoon, however, came from Charles' own cellar: A 1999 Patriglione from Taurino. It illustrated how beautifully Negroamaro can age. A gorgeous magenta color, it was soft, with a velvety texture, mellow fruit and remarkable depth. I only got two small tastes of it, but it was a prize.

Another treat came with dessert—a sweet wine made from the Aleatico grape. Drinking it was like eating chocolate-covered roses covered with honey. I mean that in a good way. It was perfumey and not cloying, and matched perfectly with the poached pear (which may have had some of the wine in the sauce.) The Candido wine is not imported. It was the gift of a representative from Candido, who was present. (That name was Italian, and long, and I didn't get it.)

While be ate, member Terry Robards regaled everyone with a story that seemed to dispel the old myth that America's Zinfindel grape derives from Primitivo grapes from Puglia. This is balderdash, said Terry, since it's been discovered that Zinfandel was grown in the U.S. before Primitivo arrived in Italy. Phylloxera wiped out Puglia's vineyards in the late 19th century, and what we consider Puglia's "native" grapes weren't introduced there until recently. So the journey of Zinfandel/Primitivo was the other way around—from the U.S. to Italy. At least, that's how I understood it. But then there's also the matter of the closely related Plavac Mali from Croatia. The more I listened, the more confused I was. Take a look of Wikipedia's take on the matter, not that it clears anything up.

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