We started early at 8.15am, heading north, and enjoyed the sight of Ostuni in the distance, and then closer as we turned inland towards the Itrian Valley. A more undulating landscape with smaller fields enclosed by dry stone walls. So verdant it could have been the Peak District! Unless of course any trulli came into view (more about truly later).
Our first destination was the family owned I Pastini estate. Our host was Gianni Carparelli, who had created the estate in 2001, planting mainly white varieties either side of the railway line that bisects the land. Tim noted that Gianni looked a lot more relaxed than on the previous visit which had taken place only a few days before his wedding.
Gianni introduced his mother, and explained that the 12 hectare estate was named after the implement used to drill seed. They use traditional techniques in the vineyard including hand harvesting, and are in the process of converting to organic, but bring in modern methods to improve quality – they irrigate when necessary from their underground water source, and have built a modern winery in the open air.
Gianni explained that while the majority of Pugila is famous for red wine, the Itrian valley is famous for white varieties, thanks to its limestone soil, its 300m altitude which means the nights are much much cooler than the days and the almost constant cooling wind. He grows three white varieties Minutely (Fiano), Bianco Alessandro, and Verdeja; and two reds, Susumaniello and Primitivo.
Before we explored the wine we explored the four hundred year old trulli houses. Built as grain stores and livestock housing, with dry stone walls three layers thick, providing fantastic insulation from summer heat and winter cold. The conical roofs were beautiful to look at from inside, and the more engineering minded spent a lot of time wondering what was keeping them up as there was an opening rather than a keystone at the top!
An old bread and focaccia oven was still in use – fired up to feed the 20 people who come every year to work the harvest.
After looking at the winery, with its row of stainless steel tanks, and the bottling line we enjoyed a lovely tasting in the airy tasting room.
The Antico Locorontodo 2015, a blend of 60% Verdeca, 35% Bianco allessandro and 5% Minutely was fresh, floral and grassy on the noes and fruity and zingy on the palate.
Farone 2015 (100% Verdeca) was more mineral and herbaceous on the nose with lovely mouthfeel and great structure with a good finish.
I Pastini were the first winery to produce a 100% varietal of Bianco D’Alessano, and Cupa 2015 had a lovely creamy mouthfeel – Gianni advised this could do well in bottle for up to 5 years.
The Rampone, 100% Minutolo, was another first single varietal made from this member of the muscat family with tiny rather awkward grapes. An unusual nose – lemony herbaceous and mango, it felt sweet on palate but wasn’t. Fresh acidity. Creamy mouthfeel.
Finally heading south with the red VersoSud 2014 – 100% Susumaniello (about which we would learn more at our next visit). A smoky spicy wine that has had 6 months in French oak, with an attractive light mouthfeel – plenty of structure but drinking well now.
It was a relatively short drive to the Masseria Mansueto just to the south of the town of Noci. Masseria are old farmhouses that offer fabulous Puglian hospitality – and this was no exception. We tasted the wines of A Mano, led by Vito, their newly appointed sales manager. A Mano was set up by Californian Mark Shannon and and his Friullian partner Elvezia, neither of whom could attend on this day but no matter. Vito explained the story of A Mano with such passion and conviction that we were all true believers by the end of the tasting.
A Mano means by hand, or handmade. The company has focussed on making beautiful wines from grapes grown by independent growers – similar to the Burgundian négociant system. Mark and Elvezia met as winemakers in Sicily, and came to Puglia in 1998 in search of old vines and authentic but little known varieties that they could make into affordable wine that could be drunk every day. At the time Puglia was the biggest producer of bag in the box wine in the world, and most producers sent everything they made to the co-op, and were paid when the wine was made. A Mano offered producers something different – the opportunity to sell smaller amounts of their wine, from their best plots, for better money, and the chance to work together to improve quality further.
All the wines are IGT (similar to French Table Wine), as A Mano don’t want to be constrained by DOC rules on varieties, and requirements to use wood. Every year they work with the growers to ensure only the best grapes make it into A Mano wines, so proportions of varieties vary between vintages. Their winemaking includes no oak – fermentation is in steel tanks and maturation is in cement vats.
We could have listened to Vito explain about Puglia’s journey from tradition to modernity all afternoon but luckily he was hungry and we tasted six wines before settling down to a fabulous lunch.
A Mano Bianco 2015 – every year the Bianco uses different proportions of white varieties – this vintage was 30% Minutolo, 30% Falanghina and 10% Greco (the same variety as Greco di Tufo in Campania).
Herbaceous with a hint of oriental fruit lychee on the nose, great mouthfeel, with fresh mineralogy and great acidity.
A Mano Rosato 2015 – 75% Primitivo 25% Aleatico, had a restrained nose with a hint of strawberry and tropical white peach aromatic notes. Rich and fresh on the palate and very much enjoyed with lunch.
A Mano Negroamaro 2015 – 16 year old trellis vines protect grapes from too much sun. Vito told us this was their ‘Best ever harvest’ and we enjoyed the floral notes of roses, mediterranean herbs and red fruits on the nose. On the palate it was a bit young – lots of tannin and dark fruit, but in 10 years it would be stunning.
A Mano Primitivo 2015 – the name Primitivo translates as ‘First boy that wakes up’ – an early ripening grape.
Soft tannins good fruit, but only bottled a month ago so needs a bit of time to settle.
The final two wines were under their Imprint label – made as challenges.
Challenge one was to make a wine to represent Mark Shannon – Vito describing this as a big body that make you smile.
The Imprint of Mark Shannon Primitivo Apassito 2014 – made with 70% of the fruit dried on the vine and 30% in basket after harvest (similar to Amarone de Valpolicella) was a really super wine – fresh red fruit on nose, tannin perfectly in balance with fruit
The second challenge was a wine making challenge – a great wine from a stubborn grape, generally used as a productive but unexciting blending variety. The name gives it away – Susumaniello means little black donkey!
Imprint of Mark Shannon Susumaniello 2015 had stewed red and black fruit and herbs on the nose, a lovely structure and was rather elegant. Most undonkey like.
So much to write, no time to talk about the fabulous traditional vegetarian lunch. At least five different ways to present courgettes, some lovely local cheeses, breads – altogether delicious. Even fewer people had room for dinner tonight.