The wine world has focused more and more on Puglia, better known as the heel of the Italian boot, because its wines boast high quality and low prices. In a climate that is similar to California’s, Puglia’s vines grow among crops of all kinds, including olive trees, fig trees, grain fields,watermelons, and wild loquats, making for a surprisingly diverse countryside.
Though the wineries are not as popular as those in Chianti and Piedmont in the north of Italy, they do open their doors for tastings, so my girlfriend Kristin and I decided to hit the road outside the city of Lecce. Unfortunately, it began as a bit of a bust.
Coming from San Francisco, we were familiar with wine tasting in Sonoma and Napa Valley, and the Puglia scene is not nearly as together. For example, there are no tourist offices that specialize in wine tasting. But sometimes it’s worth trudging up a mountain for the view, and once we figured out what we needed to do, the wines were more than worth it, not to mention the attention and sense of privacy that accompanied the experience.
We decided to limit our focus to the town of Salice Salentino, an area that is known for a wine of the same name. We wanted to taste as many wines as possible, and focusing on this small area allowed us to do so. Salice Salentino is home to several important wineries, including Cantele, Apollonio, Taurino, Leone De Castris, Cantine De Falco, Feudi Di Guagnano, and Castello Monaci. We called the wineries to make appointments. Most of the wineries prefer it if you make appointments (some require it) and most winery staff speak English. I suggest calling at least a week in advance to make sure it isn’t a holiday and the winery will be open.
One of the benefits of calling in advance is that some wineries will offer an insightful tour around the vineyards and wine making facilities. After we’d made our appointments, we rented a car and set out at 9 a.m. We made sure to find a good road map; we also printed out a couple sets of directions using Google maps, which turned out to be of the utmost importance.
Unlike Napa Valley, Puglia does not offer maps that show where wineries are, so online sources are the way to go. Over the course of the day, we tasted at several wineries, all of which were free, and purchased wines from those that we liked. Most of the wines cost between four and eight euro. One of the highlights of the trip was tasting in Leone De Castris’s state-of-the-art tasting room. The winery is known for inventing rosè in Italy, and their rosè has a structure and acidity that puts it at the forefront of the world’s rosès.
Apollonio’s DOC Salice Salentino was another inspiring wine. It was both leathery and juicy, making it simultaneously approachable and complex. I think that it is one of the best representations of the Salice Salentino DOC out there, truly expressing the satiny softness of the sun-soaked wines. Tasting delicious wines made from the Primitivo grape, which shares the same DNA as California’s Zinfandel and native to Puglia, taught me how important environmental factors are in determining a wine’s flavor.
As the sun set over the vineyards, we basked in the effects of the wine—and the knowledge that we’d gotten a sneak peak into a unique wine-producing area. Hopefully, the local tourism associations will begin offering maps, but the wines are already there, ready to be drunk. All it takes is a little perseverance.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com