Sign in | Log in

Welcome to Sipping from the Heel: An Introduction to Puglia Wine

Welcome to Sipping from the Heel: An Introduction to Puglia Wine

Mattie John Bamman (July 29, 2009)
Photo By Mattie John Bamman
Puglia's sun-soaked, breeze-swept wine country.

Sipping from the Heel is designed to share these wines with you, the newest and best wines, like a friend, so that you, in turn, can then share them with your good friends. I will be offering interviews with winemakers, in depth coverage of wine festivals, and, of course, explorations into the traditional foods that help inspire these wines.


This is my first post, and while we all get to know each other, let’s sample some wine.

Whether it’s the $5 Epicuro sold at Trader Joes, the $15 Taurino offered by BevMo, or the $9-$13 Cantele sold almost everywhere, the Salice Salentino DOC is one of the friendliest red wines around, and one of the best representatives of the wines of Puglia. It is not usually dry and it is evocative of the New World style of wine making. It is one example of why Puglia is redefining the concept of Italian wine.

Puglia captured my senses and my heart three years ago. It is one of Italy’s oldest wine-producing areas, contains 26 DOCs (a government standard of wine quality), and produces more wine than all of Australia. The history of Puglia’s wine industry has been well documented (click for more) but the most interesting developments are happening right now. New technology, an expanding world market for sun-soaked wines designed to be drunk young, and a greater respect for native grape varieties has put Puglia in the spotlight of critics like Robert Parker and magazines such as Wine Spectator. The wines are expressive and inexpensive. They can be drunk by themselves or they can pair well with food. If you are looking for delicious wines for reasonable prices, it is my opinion that Puglia’s wines are the best place to start.

The best-known grape is Primitivo. It made a marketing splash a few years ago because it shares the same DNA as California’s Zinfandel. In short, it is nearly the same grape only grown in a different part of the world. Its flavors include dark fruit, leather, a soft mouthfeel known as morbidezza in Italian, and a succulent juiciness. Other important native grapes include Negroamaro, Aglianico, Nero Di Troia, Verdeca, Fiano, and Malvasia Nera and Malvasia Bianca. Few of these grapes are grown anywhere else on earth.

Puglia’s environment is in many ways similar to California’s: sunny most of the year and dry during the months of July and August. The area of Puglia that I am focusing on is the Salento peninsula, better known as the heel of the boot, and has an island-like environment. Crosswinds from the Ionian and Adriatic Seas balance the otherwise intense heat and help to create balanced wines. 330-plus days of sun beset Salento every year, and if it were not for the crosswind, grapes would rot on the vines. The soil is mostly red clay and limestone and the topsoil is comparable with the Arizona desert. The only reason that vines are able to prosper is because of underground rivers and caves filled with water. The vines must seek this water out, sometimes at over 70 meters. This impressively unique environment creates an equally unique terroir that you can taste in the wines, particularly in the rosès, called rosati in Italian. Puglia’s rosès are recognized as some of the best in the world because they have complex structures, something few rosès can achieve.

And that’s Puglia Wine 101. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment. I’d love to talk more about each of these concepts, and no inquiry will be overlooked. Next week, I’ll take you inside of one of Puglia’s largest wine events, the Mercatino del Gusto, during which the different streets in the town of Maglie are dedicated to featuring one culinary product each. I hope the wine street is the longest. The week after that will feature a Q&A with the winemaker at Apollonio Winery, Massimiliano Apollonio, one of the top 5 winemakers south of Rome. Salute!

(Map of Puglia's DOC regions - found here)

DISCLAIMER: Posts published in i-Italy are intended to stimulate a debate in the Italian and Italian-American Community and sometimes deal with controversial issues. The Editors are not responsible for, nor necessarily in agreement with the views presented by individual contributors.
This work may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission.
Questo lavoro non può essere riprodotto, in tutto o in parte, senza permesso scritto.


Sipping from the Heel is a refreshing way to get to know new wines. Laid back and informal, yet it gives knowledgeable information with affordable prices. Keep it up!