Red Wines of Puglia, Italy
Names such as Chianti, Barolo, and Amarone may reign supreme in the Italian wine market, but Italy has a hidden gem in its wines from Puglia. In addition to producing more than half of Italy’s olive oil, this sunny, Southern Italian peninsula known as “the heel of the boot” also produces fruit-forward, ripe, and food-friendly red wines.
If you are looking for a grape (and wine) that is quintessentially Puglian, look no further than Negroamaro: this grape is not really produced outside of the region. Negroamaro is known for its medium-to-full body, balanced acidity, balanced tannins, and notes of black cherry, plum, blackberries, and dried herbs. Its affable tannins and acidity means Negromaro pairs well with many dishes, including the spicier pastas made in Puglia (and of course, pizza)!
Wines from Puglia are often labelled as “Salice Salento”: this is the name of a region in the Puglian peninsula, and red wines from this region are made from the Negroamaro grape. In Salice Salento, wine lovers find the same berry and herb notes of Negroamaro; often, the wine exudes “spice cabinet” notes, such as anise and cinnamon.
If you have had Zinfandel, then you have had Primitivo: through genetic testing, researchers from Croatia and the University of California, Davis proved that the Zinfandel grape is also the Italian varietal Primitivo and the Croatian varietal Crlenak Kaštelanski. After making its across the Adriatic, the grape thrived in Puglia’s rocky, coastal soil.
In Puglia, Primitivo is full-bodied with dark fruits such as figs, blueberries, and dried and baked fruits (although its fruits are less jammy than many of the Zinfandels in the USA).
Nero di Troia
While many wine lovers are familiar with Primitivo, few may know the third most planted Puglian red wine grape, Nero di Troia. Also called Uva di Troia, this grape is mainly planted in Foggia and the region around Bari, one of Puglia’s largest cities.
Nero di Troia was once propagated in high quantities with the purpose of producing higher quantities of wine with lesser quality. As of late, however, the grape is gaining interest and notoriety. The wine is vibrant in color and exudes violet aromas; on the palate, it has soft tannins, especially when the grapes are allowed to fully ripen before harvest. (Nero di Troia ripens significantly later in the season than Primitivo and Negroamaro, and in the past, was sometimes harvested slightly earlier than it should have been, which resulted in more tannic wines.)
Pairing Puglian Wines with Food
To pair any of these red wines with food, consider first the regional cuisine of sunny, coastal Puglia. Puglian cuisine focuses heavily on the area’s beautiful and fresh vegetables––like fava beans, eggplant, and bell peppers––and the region’s ripe tomatoes. Dishes also highlight the local olive oil (you will not find butter in many Puglian recipes!) and the region’s exquisite cheese, burrata. Unsurprisingly, with its miles of coastline, Puglia is also known for its seafood (particularly its octopus).