It’s the “golden age” for Puglia’s pink harvest, thanks to top-ranking vineyards and increasing global recognition
Which Italian region produces the most wine? Tuscany with its ‘trattoria’-imbibing Chiantis? Piedmont and its big-hitting Barolos? Perhaps Franciacorta, accomplishing a turnover of never-ending bottles of Prosecco?
It’s actually Puglia. The volumes of vino produced by Italy’s sunbaked heel are staggering: nine million hectoliters in 2017 alone. That nearly equals Chile’s entire output and is more wine produced than the whole of Germany.
Yet, until recently, many Italians sniffed at the idea of supping wine from the land of ‘terroni’ (peasants). Indeed, most Apulian grapes ended up fortifying table wine or blended into vermouth.
Today, it’s a different story. Puglia still shifts huge quantities of wine, but oenophiles across the globe are now finally raving about its quality. This is thanks, partly, to Apulian winemakers better promoting their harvest online but, it is also due to growing appreciation for its rosé.
In recent years, the likes of the Salento-based Leone de Castris, producer of Five Roses (the first rosé to be bottled in Italy) and Tormaresca have been garlanded with awards, while also capitalizing upon a global rosé trend (remember 2016’s vogue for frosé aka frozen rosé?). Could we now be looking at France’s autre chic rosé competitor? Adriano Sicuro, export manager at Leone de Castris, certainly thinks so. “Right now, rosé in Puglia is at the golden age,” he says.
Puglia’s pink harvest is certainly unique. The hot climate, sun-parched soil and occasional Adriatic sea-breeze has bequeathed the region with a distinct ‘terroir’, not to mention some outstanding grapes.
The negroamaro takes star billing here. Its literal translation (“black bitter”) bears little relation to the fresh, perfumed taste of the rosés made using this versatile vine.
Negroamaro is also great for “making contact with skin” – something Apulian ‘rosato’ makers like to talk about when discussing their winemaking methods. This might conjure images of rubbing grapes into your epidermis like a boozy moisturizer, but it actually refers to the grapes being in left in contact with the skins. ‘Five Roses’ is made using Negroamaro grapes. According to Sicuro, “Five-six hours of ‘contact’ produces more freshness and acidity, and our light-pink color.”
Indeed, Apulian rosés have a range of photogenic hues, whether it’s the cherry-red varieties made from the red soils of the trulli-studded Valle d’Itria, the delicate peony of Tormaresca’s Negroamaro-based Calafuria, or the intense coral shades of the 100% Negroamaro Versante Rosato, made with 40-year-old vines by the two sisters running Agricole Vallone winery near Lecce. The flavor of these rosés is no less exceptional, ranging from fruity to floral accents.
In Italy, where selecting a wine to accompany food is as important as your choice of dining partner, Apulian rosés are a perfect pairing for regional cuisine. “Apulian rosé is good with risotto, seafood, sushi and pizza,” says Sicuro. “Many people view rosé as a summer drink, but if you can eat seafood and pizza all seasons, why not rosé?”
Although Puglia has been producing wine since it was colonized by the ancient Greeks, rosé wasn’t officially bottled here until 1944 when American general, Charles Poletti stationed in Brindisi during World War II, sampled some of the pinkish wine of lawyer Don Piero Leone and his wife, Donna, were making for friends and family in the small village of Salice. The man was so enamored he immediately ordered some for his soldiers. There was one caveat: Leone had no wine bottles. Instead, he poured his elixir into beer bottles U.S. officers had left behind.
Since that auspicious start, Apulian rosé has come a long way. Today, glasses of these quaffable blushes can be enjoyed at the estates where they were made, such as Leone de Castris. Elsewhere, former-estates and ‘masserie’ have been converted into farm-stays and hotels where wine tastings and pairings can be arranged, such as Crispiano’s plush Masseria Amastuola Wine Resort.
If rosé is the quintessential summer wine, then it’s hard to imagine more apt environments in which to sip it. Yes, the sun shines brighter in Puglia, but as its burgeoning reputation shows, so does its rosé.
Christian Koch is an award-winning journalist/editor who has written for the Guardian, Sunday Times, Evening Standard, Telegraph, The Independent, Q, The Face and Metro. He has interviewed everybody from Mariah Carey to Michael Douglas, and Richard Branson to Beyoncé. Newspaper and magazine assignments have included reporting on the Japanese tsunami, gatecrashing the Cannes film festival, spending a weekend at a commune in Piedmont, and circumnavigating 360° around the world in 360 hours.