The Italian region of Puglia (often called Apulia in English) makes up the heel, ankle, and
Achilles tendon of the Italian boot. Puglia produces a great many wines, many of them
designed to be sent in bulk to the north for blending. It has 25 delimited DOC regions, but
these make for only five percent of production. As with any region known for quantity,
however, pockets of quality do appear. Primitivo Di Manduria is one DOC that has not made
much of a mark on the world stage, but Agricole Rizzello, which estate bottles the Terre
D'Uva wine, is one of those southern Italian producers that are striving to change perceptions.
I would say they have made a convert out of me, but I was already a fan of Italy's south.
Throughout the south—in Puglia, Campagnia, Basilicata and Sicilia—artisanal winemakers are
turning out delights. The word is starting to get out but the wines still cost less than their
cousins to the north.
The Puglian province of Taranto, situated on the Bay of Taranto on the sole of the boot just
where it meets the heel, is home to the Primitivo di Manduria appellation. Primitivo is
genetically identical to Zinfandel—both vines have probable Croatian roots—but given a family
tree that branched separately more than a century ago and given the difference in the land on
which the vines are grown, the best approach is to avoid the temptation to make too many
analogies between the two. Primitivo, Zinfandel or Crljenak Kaštelanski—call it what you
will—is a most idiosyncratic grape. With the proper juxtaposition of land, climate and
ownership, however, it all may translate into opportunity. The name Primitivo, by the way,
has nothing to do with any state of primitive or marginal existence, but rather simply refers,
via Latin, to the vine's tendency to ripen early.
The Terre D'Uva Primitivo Di Manduria DOC 2006 is $17 and is 14% abv. The wine is very
dark, a deep ruby, nearly opaque with only the faintest pale rim. I decanted to aerate a solid
three hours before tasting. The nose is pronounced, with deep dark berry, stewed prunes,
nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper. The wine is dry, full-bodied and mouth filling, with well
integrated acidity. The tannins are exceptional: smooth on initial attack, engaging and chewy
at the finish. On the palate the wine shows good black cherry, red plum and raspberry fruit,
ripe and tangy, but it also has significant kernel notes: roasted walnut, dark chocolate, and
mocha, plus vanilla and nutmeg for spice. On the lengthy finish the fruit persists but
eventually gives way to the roasted coffee and cacao beans; the tannins triumph at the end.
The sum total of this excellent wine is a rather direct tasting experience that brings in its
wake a fine and varied range of flavor levels at a price that more than fits.
Multiple layers of satisfaction
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Italy's south is determined to make a quality mark, with characterful wines that cost
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
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