My family lives in Paradise.
A few minutes drive to and walk to…
Good food and good wine.
So where do they go for a holiday when they live what I see as perfection every day?
They rent a villa and head down to Puglia for a few weeks. There, according to my cousins, you will find “real” beaches and “real” vacation beauty. Even the under-ten crowd regaled me with stories of sand castles, perfect orecchiette (pasta, literally “little ears” and a Puglian specialty) nestled in the best sugo (it’s the Puglian sun that ripens the tomatoes to a much sweeter level, they informed me) and blue, blue seas. My Aunt has even been known to extol the virtues of the the deep, red wine (according to her, Puglian wine, like Sicilian wine, is an acquired taste….clearly, she has acquired it!).
Those of you who follow the local food and wine blogs know that September saw the launch of “Wines of Puglia” in Ottawa. Hosted by DiVino Wine Studio (225 Preston Street), the purpose of the events in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal was to promote Puglian wine and, by association, the entire region and its produce. We were invited to a number of events, including some food and wine pairings. As many wines are meant to accompany food, a good pairing can change banal into beautiful.
Given the pieces already written about these wines, why am I adding mine? Wine, like beauty and art, is subjective. The large number of media write-ups about these events provide readers the opportunity for comparison. What I loved, another may have hated. What I found boring, another might have found inspiring.
In reviewing my notes, I realized that I had tasted almost 50 wines at the introductory kick-off event at the Chateau Laurier (1 Rideau Street). (No, I did not drive home!) We were guided through tastings of 11 wines: 9 red, 1 white and 1 rose (by a remarkably young sommelier who reminded me of Justin Bieber). I did my best to keep my notes in line with the wine but had to ask a fellow attendee to straighten me out between numbers 4 and 5 of the second flight (don’t you just love that expression: a “flight” of wines? Makes me think of geese flying home at the beginning of Spring).
When one thinks of Italian wine, one thinks of Tuscany, of Chianti, or of Barrera and Barolo; but rarely, if ever, of Puglia. This region, though, has been making wine for thousands of years and has traditionally supplied wine to the North of the country for blending, Puglian wines being used primarily to boost the alcohol level. Recently, there has been a move to produce reasonably priced wines in this region that stand on their own merits. Dozens of local Puglian winemakers are changing the face and expectations of the Italian and international wine world. We met many of the producers at the September events and they are all clearly dedicated to their craft and eager to share their products with the world.
At dinner at La Roma Restaurant on Preston Street, paired with wines from Cefalicchio winery, I asked Cefalicchio’s agronomist which was his favourite wine. Surprisingly, he chose the “Romanico Canosa Riserva Rosso 2005″, a wine of which much was lost in the making. This winery is a new family winery, and the winemaker was young and inexperienced. The growing season had been perfect and the harvest good. But mistakes were made and the wine was almost lost in the fermentation process. Like many things in life, it is the challenges that bring the greatest rewards.
Left – Orecchiette pasta tossed in a tomato sauce with ricotta cheese
Right – Assorted local cheeses with iced grapes
For those of you who subscribe to the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay or Anything but Cabernet) school of wine, Puglia has treats galore with over 600 different grape varieties commercially produced in 6 named regions (DOC is to Italian wines what VQA is to Ontarian). The primary wines are red with whites and rosés on the rise. Most commonly used grapes in the red wines are the Primitivo grape (which DNA testing has revealed to be the same variety as Zinfandel…who knew that DNA testing could be so versatile?), the Negromaro and the Bombino Nero. In general, these produce deep colours, high alcohol and full-bodied in the mouth.
What this translates into, for those of you who are silently screaming “Get to the point, Claire….are they any good?”, are wines that are remarkably similar across the various producers. In general, I found the red wines to be gorgeous in colour (deep ruby reds and jeweled purples), nicely peppery in the mouth, short in the finish with light cooked fruitiness to balance out the alcohol. I think that they have tremendous potential and the interest of larger international wineries in this region bode well for the future.
My favourites, and wines I would recommend, buy and take along as gifts were:
- Donnadele Puglia Rosato 2006 from Alberto Longo – I loved this rosé, and not just because pink is my favourite colour! It was lovely to look at, yes, but had soft notes of hibiscus on the notes. In the mouth, it was reminiscent of sea air: a little sweet, a little salt. In a word: refreshing.
- Masseria Maime Salento Rosso 2006 from Tormaresca – this red is crafted from the Nero di Troia grape, a late ripening variety with more concentrated sugars and lower yield. This wine was the deepest of reds, with a woody, almost nutty bouquet. In the mouth, the flavours of cooked fruit, strawberries, plums and a hint of petroleum burst forth. I suspect that this wine would age very well.
- Petranera Albea 2007 from Salento Rosso – a classic Primitivo wine is another that I liked. This wine was slightly lighter in colour but maintained the deep red that announces this grape variety. In the mouth, I could discern vanilla from the oak aging, caramel from the cooked fruit, roses and a smooth finish. I would age this wine a little longer to attenuate the alcohol and soften the edges.
Last night, I picked up a Puglian wine at the LCBO (Terre di Puglia, Primitivo di Manduria 2007 from Cantine di Marco $14.95) and paired with an English roast beef dinner; an unusual pairing but the wine held up nicely with the roast and brown gravy without overwhelming the roast potatoes and green peas that accompanied the main dish. There are currently eight Puglian available at the LCBO and seven at the SAQ (if, like me, you live in one province and work in another – double the wine potential!). Prices range from $12 to $25 and I recommend you try one. Make a simple tomato and basil sauce, add some ricotta and invite your neighbours over to try your new find.
For your next game of Trivial Pursuit, here are some fun facts about Puglia that might earn you some extra points:
- Puglia is Italy’s largest producer of table grapes.
- The largest focaccia ever made was made in Puglia in 2005 (at 23.7m x 12.5m, one wonders who ate it).
- The victory of a small Puglian focaccia shop over a McDonald’s outlet was immortalized in a 2009 movie “Focaccia Blues” (unfortunately, not available at the local video store).
- Puglian wine saved the Roman Empire: the stories is told that Hannibal (the Carthaginian general of the elephants-crossing-the-Alps fame) was marching on Rome to destroy the Romans but stopped in Puglia for a drink
As a destination of scenic beauty, good food, easy-drinking wines and for a change of pace from the crowds of Tuscany, I think my family in Italy is on to something good: Puglia!
DiVino Wine Studio
225 Preston Street
La Roma Restaurant
430 Preston Street