3 May 2012

What’s your flavour? (Puglia, Italy – Day One)

Something quite interesting has happened to my tastes over the past six weeks in Italy; I think I have become anti-oak. I think this has been in reaction to tasting so many new wines made from unfamiliar varieties, and my desire to see the subtleties and nuances of each variety without the interference of oak treatment. In general the wines where the oak has worked for it have been made from or included more familiar French varieties, which perhaps suggests I am merely unfamiliar with how oak reacts with these unfamiliar varieties. The wines in Italy have been exceptional, and have got me really excited for the future of Italian wines, as by all accounts the quality of the wines and the understanding of the varieties and terroir have only been happening over the past 20 or so years. In no way am I suggesting that the distracting use of oak is prevalent in Italy, in fact it is quite uncommon. My assumption is that because of the excitement I have felt tasting more ‘traditional’ wines made from indigenous varieties where little to no oak is used, I have been uninspired by wines that use too much new oak for too long that give them a more ‘modern’ and ‘international’ flavour that whilst not necessarily bad are boring and like many others. Too often I see aromas of chocolate and banana (a tad strange, but unmistakeable) which immediately turn me off, and then on the palate comes the vanilla and coconut. This makes it difficult for me to assess and come to terms with such unique varieties as montepulciano, lagrein, sagrantino and nero di troia. Whilst I totally agree that I must become more familiar with these varieties and regions before passing judgement, the predilection for over-use of oak is unmistakeable and in my opinion unforgiveable. Allow the flavours to shine through, speaking for themselves and seducing new consumers all over the world, as nature is the champion rather than the winemaker in my opinion.

A friendly observer on the way to Puglia

There is no denying that the Puglia region is booming for wine in Italy, not only domestically but in Europe and beyond. The landscape is so different to the rest of the country, and the varieties so different that it could possibly be a completely different country. Alberto Longo is a new name in wine in Apulia, having established his own vineyards in 2002 for the first commercial vintage in 2006. He decided to plant vineyards in the northern part of Puglia, near the towns of Lucera and Pietra Montecrovino, which now total 47 hectares. Alberto’s mission is to introduce the world to the unique wines of the south, born of sunshine and love, and he does this using both local and ‘international’ varieties. The generally flat landscape and fertile soils are not only perfect for the cultivation of indigenous varieties like nero di troia and negroamaro, but also introduced varieties like syrah and falanghina. The winery is housed in a converted 19th century farmhouse known as the “Fattoria Cavalli”, but serious recontruction and extensions have been made over the past ten years to accommodate the increasing production of wines coming from nearby vineyards, as well as some fruit being purchased from vineyards further south. A mixture of fermentation vessels (stainless steel, cement, oak) and maturation techniques (varying sizes and ages of oak, stainless steel tanks) is used for the different varieties and parcels, and the wines are bottled and stored on site before being distributed to their various markets. Different ranges have been created for different types of client, with the Alberto Longo range sitting above the Cantine di Terrevecchia predominantly going to large supermarkets.

Fermentation tanks at Alberto Longo
With interest only in the indigenous varieties, I only tasted three wines from the extensive range produced by Alberto Longo. The Capoposto Negroamaro 2008 had a very juicy plummy nose with depth, softness and fruit sweetness, focused and velvety tannins, very mellow and yet focused with red tomato savoury elements. The Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera is a DOC wine made from two red varieties (nero di troia and montepulciano) and one white variety (bombino bianco). The 2009 vintage had especially unique aromas, expressing currants with earthy smoked meat, was fairly intense and fresh on the palate with tight and firm tannins without too much heat or astringency. The Le Cruste Nero di Troia 2009 suffered from the problem outlined in the introduction to this post, showing very intense sweet spicy oak, and a thin blanket of coconut sitting over the palate. The fruit was bold and structured, showing some interesting cranberry and blackberry notes, but it was hard to get past the oak. I am very interested to see how the winery evolves over the coming years, as things are still very new and they are yet to find the equilibrium of level of production and vine age.

Alberto Longo Cacc'e Mmitte di Lucera Rosso
Click here to see more photos from Day One in Puglia, Italy. The next entry will be my second day in Puglia, further south.

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