Over 800 kilometers of coastline define the geographic boundaries of the Puglia Region. It is long and narrow, gently wedged into the Mediterranean Sea. Puglia is composed of Daunia and the High Murgia, Murge, Lower Murgia and Itria Valley, Messapia and Salento. These five territories are well-defined wine districts, strongly anchored to typical grapes that characterize the productions. A wide ampelography collection makes the difference between Puglia and other Italian or Southern regions. Characterized by a marked mutability of its territory, Puglia can count on a wide variety of terroir that is expressed in a rich bouquet of aromas and flavors without equal. It changes from Daunia mountain peaks to the sandy coast of Salento going through large and sunny hill areas.
Native grapes - but also to the many varieties of national and international ones now permanently inhabiting the region – get from the sun and the earth of Puglia outstanding gifts. They have a very distinctive and impressive structure. Thanks to the passion and experience of wine makers, the result in Puglia is authentic wines, mostly red, with a strong character and identity.
The Daunia is located in the north of Puglia, bordering the regions of Molise, Campania, and Basilicata; taking its beginnings in the Daunian Sub-Apennines, the land descends to the extensive plains of the Tavoliere until it reaches the Murgia of Bari.
It is bordered on the east by the Gargano promontory massif, which acts as a natural barrier to the cold winds blowing across the Adriatic from the nearby Balkans. Thanks to such conditions, the Daunia enjoys a largely continental-style climate, characterised by very cold winters, with snow and freezes, and generally long, often very hot summers. The soils are deep, with good drainage and little water loss; the vine-roots penetrate them easily, ensuring the vine an adequate supply of water and minerals.
Many grape varieties find their ideal habitat in this area and flourish, including white grapes such as Bombino Bianco, Malvasia Bianca, and Trebbiano, but particularly red grapes, such as Nero di Troia, Montepulciano, and Aglianico.
The Daunia IGP denomination covers the entire Daunia area, as do the Ortanova DOP, Rosso di Cerignola DOP, Tavoliere delle Puglie DOP, San Severo DOP--the oldest denomination in Puglia, just over 40 years old--, and the Cacc'e mmitte di Lucera DOP. The latter denomination has a fascinating origin, linked to a dialect term for an ancient local custom. The vineyard properties here are divided into extremely small parcels, and the small farmers, not being able to afford their own facilities, rented the pressing vats in the communal palmenti, or wine-processing cellars. The pressing process had to be very quick, since the rent was for one day only, so in just a few hours the grapegrower had to Cacce--take out--from the vat the freshly-pressed must to leave space for the next renter with his load ready to Mmitte--put in--the press.
The local soils and climate, together with social conditions common to many areas of southern Italy, dictated an overwhelmingly agricultural economy in the Daunia. Winegrowing, in particular, has historically predominated, but it received a special impetus in the latter half of the 19th century, thanks to the activities of the Rochefoucauld family. After the phylloxera scourge had devastated vineyards all across Europe, this noble French landowning family moved its winemaking operations to the area of Cerignola, and in the process introduced crucial modernisation of many local winegrowing practices, which led to a rebirth of the entire local winemaking sector.
The Murge (from the Latin murex, sharp rock) is a high, rectangular-shaped plateau located in central Puglia. Covering a total of some 4,000 square kilometres and bordered on the north by the Tavoliere delle Puglie and on the west by the region of Basilicata, the land descends gently to the coast and to the south, until it reaches the Terra di Bari.
The interior of this vast region is composed of three sub-zones. In the northwest, on the border with Basilicata, lies the Alta (Upper) Murgia, with two important wine production centres, Minervino Murge and Gravina di Puglia. A distinctive characteristic of this area is karst formations, which give it a strikingly “lunar” appearance; although it seems at first sight a rocky desert, it is rich in aquifers, which are in some cases quite deep, and boasts a myriad caverns, strata, and ravines, with crevasses exceeding even 100 metres in depth. In addition to karst, the pre-Murgia has tufaceous soils as well, in the Castel del Monte area, with low hills that slope gently to the sea, near Barletta and Trani on the coast.
The interior climate is typical of hillslopes, with significant day-night temperature differentials and generous rainfall; the weather grows milder as one approaches the coast, thanks to the mitigating influence of the Adriatic, which reduces both the severe temperatures of the winter winds from the Balkans as well as the summer heat spells.
The star grape variety of the area is the native Nero di Troia; its monovarietal wines are elegant and fruit-rich, with notes of blossoms and subtle spice. Likewise thoroughly at home here are Bombino Nero, Aglianico, and Montepulciano, and the white grapes Bombino Bianco, Pampanuto, Greco, and Malvasia Bianca. On the coast, the native grape par excellence is Moscato Bianco, which yields Moscato di Trani DOP, a dessert wine that is the standard-bearer of many of the local producers.
Nero di Troia is the focus of fully two DOCGs, Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva and Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva, plus Castel del Monte DOP and Rosso Barletta DOP. Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG focuses on Bombino Nero, while among the whites, the Murgia boasts one of Italy’s oldest whites, Gravina DOP. Finally, the Murgia IGP denomination embraces the entire area.
The viticultural history here is deeply rooted in mythology as well. The Greek hero Diomedes is said to have landed here on his return from the Trojan War, and here he planted a shoot of what was destined to become the area’s iconic variety, Nero di Troia. In the 13th century, Swabian Emperor Frederick II chose this as his favourite domain, and the Murgia jealously preserves to this day precious relics of his power, such as the magnificent Castel del Monte, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Within the area to the south of Bari, bordering on the provinces of Brindisi and Lecce, the soils and climate may appear homogeneous, but two specific areas stand out from the rest, both historically quite distinct in their winegrowing practices, the Bassa (Lower) Murgia and the Valle d'Itria. The first, the final extension to the south of the Murge plateau, is the homeland of red grapes, while the latter, contrary to what its name (valle, valley) implies, not a true valley but a karst depression, has always enjoyed high respect for its white grapes.
The climate here is characterised by severe winters; the summers are generally long and warm, but mild and well-ventilated as well, with significantly cool night-time temperatures.
With respect to soils, karst formations are common, and soils are calcareous or calcareous-clay, with the classic terre rosse, red soils derived from weathering of rock. Vineyard elevations range from 350 to 420 metres, and hillslopes are very gentle, generally facing southeast.
Winegrowing in the Valle d'Itria contrasts with the regional tendency towards red-wine grapes; its vineyards, for the most part tiny plots of land lovingly cared for piece by piece, have for centuries been devoted to white grapes, which display delicate aromas and good acidity levels. Two varieties have always predominated, Verdeca and Bianco d'Alessano; in various proportions, they make up the two principal local DOP wines, Martina Franca DOP and Locorotondo DOP. Ostuni DOP, produced in the same area, relies on lesser-known native white grapes, Impigno and Francavidda, while the production code for the area’s red wines specifies Ottavianello as the predominant variety.
The Bassa Murgia, which lies within the larger area of the Murgia IGP denomination, reflects the classic Puglia preference for red wines, utilising the Primitivo grape, the “father” of Primitivo di Manduria and the mainstay of Gioia del Colle DOP. The Primitivo is found as well in the Valle d'Itria, but in lesser amounts.
Among the overall area’s viticultural rarities, the Minutolo, an aromatic grape, holds pride of place; in recent years, various studies and research have resulted in its definitive placement within the family of white Muscats.
The long, straight lines of dry-stone walls that compose the geometry of this tranquil countryside; the glare of the white-washed walls of the utterly unique trulli that dot the landscape, with their conical roofs and centuries-old fascination that has won them designation as UNESCO World Heritage Sites; the brilliant hues of the land; the sea dominating the horizon--all these features tell us that we are in a corner of the earth that exercises a truly timeless fascination.
From the hillslopes of the Murge to the plains of Taranto and the Ionian coast, the grapevine is truly iconic of Puglia.
In few places is this as true as in this area facing the Ionian Sea. It still bears the name Magna Grecia, a vivid reminder that it was the epicentre of the Greek colonisation of southern Italy in the 7th century BC, with Taranto as its illustrious capital city. Today, Magna Grecia corresponds to the province of Taranto, extending in practice from the hills of the Valle d'Itria to the sea, in a great arc around the Ionian gulf.
The climate is classic Mediterranean, with the nearby sea and its frequent breezes mitigating temperatures, particularly along the coast, and contributing to the healthiness of the vines by keeping in check harmful mould and pests.
The area is predominantly flat, with slight hills farther inland, where the largely sand-clay soils, the reddish terre rosse, heavy and rich-looking, give the landscape its intriguing forcefulness.
The epicentre of the area’s historic winegrowing activities is the countryside surrounding Manduria, homeland of the celebrated Primitivo grape that gives its name to the entire zone’s most well-known DOP. The main characteristic of the high-vigour Primitivo is its early-maturation--hence its name: primitive means “first” in the local dialect--, as well as its tendency to yield high-alcohol wines. The expansive Primitivo vineyards here, historically trained to the alberello, or bush-trained, style, are the constitutive visual element of the landscape, and represent a priceless patrimony for the local winegrowers, who inevitably identify themselves with vines of exceptional value, many of them exceeding even 80 years in age. The Negroamaro is another important local grape, which adapts extremely well to these soils and weather.
A more recent viticultural development, however, is a focus on the western side of the Taranto-Ionian arc, as evidenced by the Colline Ioniche Tarentine DOP. Located just beyond the final reliefs of the Valle d'Itria, this denomination partially shares the former’s suitability for white grapes, since alongside its Primitivo are other varieties such as Verdeca. It has flourished in this habitat, and sapient winemaking practices have produced impressive, high-quality wines.
Summing up, the denominations of Magna Grecia are the DOPs Primitivo di Manduria, Lizzano, Terra d'Otranto, Colline Ioniche tarentine, and Negroamaro di Terra d'Otranto; the Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG; and the Tarantino IGP.
The Salento, known also as the Salento Peninsula, since it is surrounded on three sides by the sea, is the southernmost tip of Puglia, a tongue of land extending out between the Adriatic and Ionian seas. The land is predominantly flat, particularly around Lecce and Brindisi, but very low reliefs, known as the Serre Salentine, descend to the very southern tip.
This is an area of abundant sun, whose Mediterranean climate is known for its long, hot summers, but also for its consistent sea breezes, which waft through the vineyards and help the vines by keeping harmful insects at bay.
The soils are predominantly clay, but there are also finer calcareous soils, less thick and better drained; reddish terre rosse; and rocky, mineral-rich soils, so the peninsula offers an ideal habitat for a diversity of grape varieties and contributes subtle nuances to the personalities of its various wines.
It is the red grape that is principally at home in the Salento, and the Negroamaro is the local king, a native grape rich in pulp and with a tight, compact cluster; the wine exudes spicy Mediterranean scrub and liquorice root. The Negroamaro vine is best pruned short, and can be trained to either the traditional alberello, or low bush, style or to a low vertically-trellised style. Salento vineyards are also widely planted to Malvasia Nera, which is traditionally blended with Negroamaro and is allowed in all the area’s DOP production codes, and to Primitivo, which performs splendidly in this area too. Susumaniello deserves mention; this red grape, originating in Dalmatia, has in recent years been the focus of recovery and development; the resulting wines, even monovarietals, have yielded excellent results. White-wine grapes do make an appearance in the Salento, such as Malvasia Bianca and, to a lesser degree, Verdeca and Fiano.
Salento has a surprising total of 11 DOPs: Alezio, Brindisi, Copertino, Galatina, Leverano, Matino, Nardò, Negroamaro di Terra d'Otranto, Salice Salentino, Squinzano, and Terra d'Otranto, while the Salento IGP includes the entire area.
The landscape is composed of vast expanses of vineyards and olive groves, but in some of the internal areas, patches of native holm-oak (leccio) survive (which gave Lecce, Salento’s capital, its name), as well as eucalyptus and centenarian oaks, vestiges of a past that boasted a remarkably flourishing vegetation. The classic Mediterranean scrubland, pungently aromatic, is still abundant, carpeting the Ionian’s sandy dunes and the Adriatic’s rocky coast.