If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Apulia region of southern Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour.
Apulia is the heel of the Italian boot. It is located in the southeast corner of Italy on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Apulia was frequently invaded by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Among its many rulers were the Byzantines, Goths, Lombards, Normans, Spaniards, and Turks. Its moment of greatest glory was in the Holy Roman Empire of the 13th Century, when majestic Romanesque cathedrals and palaces were built.
When the Phoenicians and Greeks first arrived in Apulia they found native people living from farming. Apulia produces nearly half of the olive oil in Italy. Other major agricultural products include grain, fava beans, vegetables, pasta and rice, seafood and fish, cheese, and meat, especially lamb and kid. The region has some industry, in particular chemicals, petrochemicals, iron, and steel.
Apulia’s administrative center is Bari, the biggest city in southern Italy, whose population is slightly more than 325 thousand. Bari is a university city, with a historic old town. Taranto and Brindisi are important ports.
Apulia devotes about 260 thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 2nd among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about 191 million gallons, also giving it a 2nd place. About 7o% of the wine production is red or rosé (only a little rosé), leaving 30% for white. The region produces 25 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Less than 4% of Apulia wine carries the DOC designation. Apulia is home to over three dozen major and secondary grape varieties, a few more red than white.
Widely grown international white grape varieties include Chardonnay. Italian versions of international varieties include Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia Blanco. The best known strictly Italian white varieties are Bombino Bianco, which appears in eight DOC wines, and Verdeca.
Widely grown international or somewhat international red varieties include Primitivo, a close relative of Zinfandel, and Sangiovese, an Italian variety found increasingly elsewhere, for example in California. The best known strictly Italian red varieties are Negroamaro, found in eleven DOC wines, and Uva di Troia.
Before reviewing the Apulia wine and cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region.
Start with ‘ncapriata, also known as Favi e Fogghi, a Fava Bean Puree with Vegetables.
Then try Pepata di Cozze al Limone, Peppery Mussels with Lemon.
For dessert indulge yourself with Frittelle di Ricotta, Ricotta Fritters.
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY While we have communicated with well over a thousand Italian wine producers and merchants to help prepare these articles, our policy is clear. All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Azienda Vinicola Rivera Spa ‘Castel del Monte’ Rosé 11.5% alcohol about $8
Some say that Castel del Monte, named for a 13th Century castle, is the best-known appellation in Apulia. Of course, best known does not necessarily mean best. This particular bottle was from Bombino Nero grapes, whose unusual pyramidal form remind one of a child (Bombino or Bambino) with outstretched arms.
I’ll start by quoting the marketing materials. “…After soft processing of the grapes the must macerates with the skins for 15-18 hours in stainless steel vats. It is a fruity, well-balanced and dry rosé that perfectly complements appetizers, light soups, fish and white meats. Well-chilled it is a great aperitif.”
And now for my comments. I first tried this wine with an omelet containing red onions, Portabello mushrooms, and non-imported Provolone cheese. The wine was mildly acidic and refreshing, and brought out the onion’s sweetness. It was a summer wine, you’d know it was a rosé without seeing it. On the other hand, it was very short.
My next tasting was with chicken meat balls and green beans amandine. While the wine was pleasantly acidic, once again it was quite fleeting and almost overpowered by mild food. This is one of the few wines that I prefer without food. It usually did not add anything to the food.
Caciocavallo Silano is a stringy semi-hard cheese produced in Apulia and neighboring regions of southern Italy. It’s made from cow’s milk aged for at least fifteen days. The cheese’s mild nutty flavor was enhanced by the wine. I had the same experience when tasting this wine with a Pecorino Sardo, reviewed in greater depth in my article “I Love Italian Wine and Food – The Sardinia Region” in this series. In conclusion, the wine went better with cheese than with eggs or meat.
Final verdict, I don’t think that I’ll buy this wine again. The competition is too great, even at the $8 price point.
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Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com .
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