Tim had promised us an unusual end to the tour and he didn’t disappoint. We were on the coach soon after 4pm, and headed back to Salento, where we had been on the first day, and after about half an hour we turned down a long drive shaded by trees on either side. After about half a mile we had vineyards on either side, and another few hundred yards later we arrived at Castello Monaci.
Some of us had met people on our flight out who were going to Castello Monaci for a wedding, and we discovered they were in for a treat. Built by French ‘occupiers’ in the sixteenth century, inhabited by monks, abandoned, and in the last century bought back into Italian ownership, this is a Castle on an epic scale. While we were there two weddings were being hosted, one just ending and one beginning and the place was big enough to accommodate both, in beautiful rooms and gardens without any sense of overcrowding. Turreted walls, mullioned windows, interiors filled with tapestries and antiques, and best of all the gardens – spacious lawns, beautiful planting, topiary, two swimming pools, the list goes on and on.
And wine! Marco, our guide, showed us the wine museum, which inhabited the old, nineteenth century winery, and then took us into the new winery with its elegant entrance hall, views over the vineyards from the roof, and splendid tasting room.We explored four wines from their superior range (Castello Monaci)
Petraluce 2015, 100% Verdeca IGT Salento – fresh lemons and green apples on the nose, and rather attractive salty character on the palate.
Oreos 2015 – a 100% negroamaro rosé, IGT Salento – a pretty strawberry nose with hints of roses and a saline twang, and good structure with what I thought was a rather salty finish – sadly I did not get the chance to try Marco’s recommendation of drinking this with lobster.
Maru 2015 – 100% Negroamaro IGT Salento, which had only been bottled 2 days ago, some of it spending time in French oak. I was getting the hang of Negroamaro by now, and enjoyed the red fruits and rather dusty character of the nose, and the light mouthfeel.
Finally Artas 2013 – 100% Primitivo, IGT Salento, at 16.5% this was too much for me, so after appreciating the dark fruit compote nose, and a balanced structure with soft tannin (thanks to 6 months in French oak barriques and a further 6 months in larger barrels) I was happy to hand the rest of my glass to my neighbour. However, it was only the second wine of the tour that had been beyond my acceptable alcohol threshold, which was of itself a welcome surprise, and I remained a firm fan of Puglian wines having found many over the four days of tastings that presented great taste and balance without any alcoholic burn.
After the tasting we strolled through the grounds, and went through the castle to the dining room in the owners’ private residence. We even saw one of the newly wed couples cutting their cake!
I continued to be a fan of Puglian gastronomy as we enjoyed canapés (with a glass of their fizz); a mix of local specialities for starters, including burrata and the Puglia speciality fava beans with chicory which we must try to make at home (with another of their whites); mozzarella filled pasta with shavings of cured beef (with the Creos rosé); veal with mushrooms (with the Aiace 80% Negroamaro and 20% Malvasia Nera, which had seen 24 months of French oak); and finally a trio of puddings accompanied by a beautiful sweetie whose name I’m afraid I didn’t catch.
This time we really were groaningly replete as we took the coach home, all agreeing that this was a spectacular end to a brilliant tour, and wondering where on earth Tim would take us next year to match fabulous Puglia.