6 May 2012

The new wave (Puglia, Italy – Day Three)

Probably the most exciting thing to discover about Italy is the new movement sweeping the wine industry. Wine production in every region has well and truly moved into the 21st century of wine production in various ways. The wine industry has well and truly moved out of the past, where there were many growers and vineyards mostly providing their high yield fruit to cooperatives to produce high volume simple wines to mass markets. Hygiene and technology has been well established in the vast majority of wineries to produce clean, stable and wines that are approachable and pleasant to a much wider range of tastes and markets. Taking inspiration from the French influence on the rest of the world, Italian growers have a much better understanding of their terroir than ever before. More importantly they now know much more about how their indigenous cultivars perform in their environments and sites, and how new practices in the vineyard can improve the quality of these unique varieties. The new wave is about making terroir wines that are made from one or more varieties that are the best reflection of their origin. We are I a golden age of Italian wine, and now is the best time to get involved with them as a consumer because as the quality continues to improve and the demand around the world increases, the prices won’t always be this affordable. The final tow producers I visited in Puglia are part of this new wave movement, working very closely with growers in the region to provide them with the best fruit possible to make their wines in a modern yet respectful and traditional way.
Basilicata di Santa Croche

Cantele is located in the heart of Salento, not far from the historic and beautiful town of Lecce, about halfway between the Adriatic and Ionian coasts. The winery was established back at the end of the 70s by the family, who originally hark from Venice. Previous to this the family were wine merchants, driving the length and breadth of the country to purchase wine in bulk from regions like Tuscany, Abruzzo, Umbria and Puglia. The wine was then bottled in their relocated home of Bologna where it as sold to their customers. The family wanted to create a legacy for their children, and this business model was too variable and inconsistent. The opportunity to work with a very important distributor of wines around from around the world presented itself, to sell Southern Italian wine to emerging customers in the United Kingdom. These emerging customers went on to become the most powerful retailers in the country, and responsible for the majority of the wine sold in the country. So the family established the business, engaging growers throughout the Salento region and beyond. Eventually the family decided to purchase some of their own vineyards, which now provide 25% of the fruit, but they still purchase fruit from many growers. In terms of the red wines, the focus had to be on the local varieties of primitive and negroamarao, but for the white wines they decided to go with chardonnay, and gained a following with the white wines. Forseeing a shift in the markets both domestically and overseas, the winery has now revived a lesser known indigenous variety known as verdeca, which shows great potential, personality and regionality. The winery is now run by the new generation, four cousins/siblings who are taking the wines into a new era. Admirably they are not attempting to produce wines to a style dictated by market trends or wine critics palates, committed to producing wines that are approachable, food-friendly, authentic and reflective of their place. A new communication strategy has been devised to explore the application of the wines, with food and loved-ones, and they are utilising digital and social medias to do so.

Cantele winery
The Verdeca 2011 to begin with was very vibrant and fresh, with tropical kiwi and passionfruit aromas, and on the palate was very light and slightly green. I felt that the variety was reflective of the region and winery, but had more to offer and could be developed with more ripeness and texture. The IGT Chardonnay 2011 followed, which was a very light, clean and precise example of the variety, but offered very little interest and to me didn't have a long enough ripening period. The Teresa Manara Chardonnay 2010 had similar fruit characteristics to the 2011, but with the inclusion of malolactic and oak manipulation simply added compication rather than complexity. The Negroamaro Rosato 2011 had a rosy fruit sweet blackcurrant nose, with some lovely fresh strawberry acids and cherry R/S texture. The Negroamaro Salento IGT 2010 was spicy and peppery, with blackberry and floral notes, generous soft and full tannins, consistency and restraint. The Primitivo 2009 showed deeper more brooding black fruits, denser expression of tannin and earthiness. The Teresa Manara Negroamaro 2009 was quite subtle and soft, with toasty blackcurrant fruits, powerful and intense but very complex. The Amativo 2009 is a blend of 60% primitivo and 40% negroamaro, and was very intense on the nose, showing floral dark fruits with sweeter chocolate and liquorice notes, broad and full yet supple, approachable and focused.

The tank temperature measurement table, looking like it came from an episode of Doctor Who from the '60s
A.Mano is not your average Italian winery, for many and varied reasons. It does however typify the Italian pioneering spirit of discovery and experimentation, harking back to Columbus and Da Vinci. Mark Shannon originally hails from the Central Coast of California, which is where I coincidentally started by journey. Having completed his studies at UC Davis, the best university in the USA for wine, he began working in various parts of the world consulting. When he was invited to Puglia by a colleague, he saw immense potential in the region and the varieties, but the potential was generally unrealised after tasting many primitivo wines. He met the other half of A.Mano wines, Elvezia Sbalchiero, who originally comes from Friuli in the north. After approaching an important grower to discuss purchasing some fruit to make their own wine, they were thrilled to not only find one willing grower but many, as unlike the local cooperatives they were willing to pay on delivery. As word spread the growers started flocking to them to buy their fruit, and thus the hand-made wine revolution began. The wines are designed to express the simple life that they enjoy in the south of Italy, and what nature provides them in terms of the variety, climate and soils. They are so approachable and food friendly, but expressive and full of personality. Mark and Elvezia were probably the most welcoming and generous hosts of my time in Italy, and I enjoyed a dinner and lunch with them and Elvezia’s parents, a night at a nearby B&B and use of the washing facilities.

Mark and Elvezia making home-made pasta
The only white wine is the Fiano Greco 2011, and was very bright and ripe with apricot and peach blossom aromas, great freshness and viscosity on the palate, good texture and depth. The Rosato 2011 was made from a blend of 75% primitive and 25% aleatico, and on the nose showed delicate cherry and strawberry notes in a slightly candied realm, very tight and precise on the palate with good raspberry acids and very subtle fruit sweet texture. The Negroamaro 2008 was quite perfumed, showing brooding earthy notes with delicate florals and dark sundrenched fruits, and on the palate was bold yet focused and restrained with good intensity and clarity. The Primitivo 2008 expressed primrose, violets, indian spice and aniseed aromas, and on the palate had lovely full and juicy black fruits, mellow tannins and soft texture. The Prima Mano Primitivo come from a single vineyard, and is only produced in exceptional years. The 2008 was more intense and serious than the previous wine, with more earthy dried black fruits on the nose, and sweeter more concentrated fruits and tannins on the palate, very mature and complex.

A.Mano red wines
Click here to see more photos from Day Three in Puglia. Tune in next time to read about my experiences in Sicily.

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