I had always dismissed the heal and toe bit of Italy as a backwater, few people, little by way of historical sights or dramatic landscapes and lacking in culinary interest. A few wines popped up on the radar occasionally – Copertino, Salice Salentino and the area being home to Negroamaro and Primitivo.
But slap my buttocks with some artisanal pasta – Pulgia is fantastic. From the historic delights of Lecce and the dramatic port of Otranto on the eastern side through to Porto Cesareo and its wonderful seafood on the east. Pulgia is anything but a backwater. There are enough Cathedrals to cause an overdose and even Megolithic Dolmen if you have a want to stretch back to pre-hiostory.
Having someone show you the highlights assists of course. Step forward Francesco and Angela and their specialised Salento Wine Tours Company. After a period of working in London the couple returned to their home town of Campi Salentina to champion the region, its wines and food. Campi Salentina, with a distinctiveness of its own, is well placed as a touring base.
To the west is Porto Cesareo. A low rise town blessed with a wide and shallow sandy sea. It is also surrounded by ‘macchia shrubland’ that gives the region a unique character. What could be better than sampling the exquisite seafood from the bay with the water gently lapping around you. L’Aragota da Co restaurant is a must visit.
Here our Puglia Wine Trail began. A bottle of Leverano Rosé was a delight under the warm sun and an array of misto fritto (seafood).
Like elsewhere in Italy Puglia has its own grape and unique wines to discover. Primitivo and Negroamaro I had heard of – perhaps though, not quite aware of how diverse the styles of wine from the latter can be – but Susumaiello and Aleatico? Delights both. Or Verdeca and Francavilla? Whites well worth hunting down. Susumaiello confined to the area around Brindisi has begun escaping its role in rustic blends to stand on its own as a single varietal bottling.
But back On The Puglia Wine Trail. First stop the home of the ‘famous’ Five Roses brand. (Named after the five children of the family.) Leone de Castris is one of the oldest and historically important wineries based in the small town of Salice Salentino – go take a tour of the winery and museum (keep an eye out for the mosaic made from vine wood and the ostentatious chandelier dating from 1700) and eat in their restaurant. And take in one of several vintages of their Salice Salentino Riserva wines.
Photo Gallery 1 – On The Puglia Wine Trail
Much fun was had at L’Astore Masseira. The underground cellars are impressive and very photogenic. Parts are I believe restored farming buildings where, for protection, the farm animals were housed underground. And the star wine was the Alberelli. A total joy. Made from Negroamaro grapes whose vines were planted in 1947. Low yields (and high production costs) haved resulted in a a superb complexity and concentration of flavours. A bottle doesn’t come cheap mind.
“We didn’t listen to the voice of the market, which preached the law of uprooting. So we saved them from their fate. We took care of them. We respected them for their essence just as the Pugliese tradition has taught us”
The Church of Maria Asunta in Guagnano, that overlooks the small Piazza Maria SS del Rosario holds an old fresco, placed in a small side chapel to the right of the main alter. The fresco features on the wine labels of Feudi di Guagnano – the deliciously drinkable Diecianni Malvasia Nera for example and also on the worlds first and only (I believe) Vegan Negroamaro!
Both of these were drunk with a marvellous spread from the deli L’Orecchietta also in Guagnano. The several hours we were there – for lunch and cooking lessons – the place had a constant flow of customers. We had a go at making pasta shapes. It appears I was rather good at making one specific shape – those are my hands in the picture making those little tubes. No one’s buttocks were slapped with any of it though. Well not the stuff I made anyway.
Photo Gallery 2 – On The Puglia Wine Trail
This fantastic wine and food tour, On The Puglia Wine Trail, was organised by Salento Wine Tours and is based on their Negroamaro Wine Tour. The region, the wines and the tour company are highly recommended. Buttock pasta spanking is not.
“Negroamaro (or Negramaro) is a black-grape grapevine and it is cultivated almost exclusively in Puglia, particularly in the Salento area. The origin of the name Negroamaro is the repetition of the word ‘black’ in two languages: “niger” in Latin and “mavros” in Ancient Greek, which then became “maru” in the local dialect. It is one of the most important vines of southern Italy.” Salento Wine Tours