I love jet lag. Really, I do – because it means I’ve just arrived somewhere that will add to my experiences, or I’ve jut returned, chock full of memories. So check my grammar because I’m jet lagged from the past week cruising the ancient land of Puglia.
Puglia (or as the Italians know it, Apulia) is the ankle and heel of the Italian boot and it is a land that oozes a passion for the food and wine of their homeland. From the bounty of the Adriatic or Ionian Seas there is octopus, sardines, anchovies, sea bream and bronzino as well as the large scampi, delicate clams and sweet mussels.
Of course there is meat too – like lamb, rabbit, veal, beef, pork and even, yes, horse meat. But this region’s typical cuisine relies on the vibrant vegetables and unique styles of homemade pasta to really give you a taste of the land, because these were the staples of the people in this historically less than prosperous and oft invaded territory. From the stylish Bari to the Baroque beauty of Lecce, or from the sun drenched white- washed walls of seaside villages like Monopoli, or the rocky cove of Poliagno a Mare, to the ancient trulli clustered in Alberobello and which dapple the Valle d’Itria, much of this is undiscovered Italy to many Americans.
But let’s get to the wine.
Historically, Puglia was the high production, lower quality supplier of Italian bulk wine, but that’s changed. It is in Puglia that Zinfandel has a cousin – Primitivo. While they share the same DNA, there is a characteristic difference in heritage, taste and style. I love the fruit forward jammy-ness of Zin, but I really got into the denser, more rustic style of the Primitivo. I found the fruit darker and the spiciness more like black than white pepper. Let me explain – with Zin I often think of red licorice and boysenberry, but with Primitivo it’s more like blackberry and toffee. So it was a similar yet decidedly different drinking experience. It’s a wine perfect for the orechiette with fresh tomato sauce that is a Pugliese staple, and I think its perfect for an everyday sip as well. There is now more availability on the shelves and most of it is quite reasonably priced so you should give it a try. The Layer Cake label is offering a Primitivo and I’ve also noted a few below.
Then there is Negroamaro. This is a deeply colored, rich red wine. I like the explanation of the name from Lecce chef and cooking instructor Anna Maria Chirone Arno – that it derives from a dialect word “niuru maru” from the 7th century BC describing the very dark color and bitter taste. And it is very dark, but today, not bitter. Often some Malvasia or Montepulciano is blended in to it. Negroamaro has good structure and tannin, but even the young ones I sampled were tasty and pretty smooth. I enjoyed a 2006 that was as good as any Cab/Merlot blend, with flavors of blueberry and cassis along with a little tobacco and a lush finish. We were sharing entrees of sliced steak and braised rabbit and it was an great match. (We also enjoyed one that was 70% Negroamaro and 30% Primitivo). And in the spirit of “drink what you like” a bottle of Negroamaro, with the classic dish of potatoes, zucchini, onions and mussels called “Tajedda,” or even served with stuffed and baked calamari, was the way to go.
So by all means, Negroamaro can be enjoyed as an expression of the typical cuisine of the heel of Italy. You can even enjoy it simply as another deep, dense and drinkable, well-priced priced bottle of red.
It’s difficult to give you a Sip because the distribution of any one label is rather limited. But also look for Salice Salentino. This is Negroamaro with some (typically) added Malvasia and it is from the Italian DOC, designated wine area, of that name.
One final point – these aren’t sophisticated or high end wines. They’re simply wines to drink and enjoy with food and friends. But, jet lagged or not, to me it doesn’t get much better than that.
Layer Cake Primitivo 2011 IGT $14
Sourced from Puglia old vine Primitivo.
Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva 2011 $15
2012 Tormaresca “Neprica” Puglia $10
Mostly Negroamaro with some Primitivo and Cabernet. Tormaresca has decent national distribution.
2012 Masseria Surani Primitivo Heracles $14
2012 Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo Salento $18
2012 Tenute Rubino Primitivo di Salento $18
Italian award winner described as an intense wine that likes food.
Tormaresca Negroamaro Masseria Maime 2006 $33
Nicely aged and full bodied.