We are back in Puglia for our fourth and final trip and yet another fascinating voyage of discovery beckons. Having arrived in Bari on time, we got down to Lecce allowing us some free time to explore this incredibly historic city. From the old Roman amphitheatre to the Basilica Santa Croce, you can’t help but be immersed in the culture.
Our first night dinner was at the Osteria degli Spiriti – listed in the Michelin guide – and clearly a favourite with the locals as well as all my previous tours. We tucked into a wonderful platter of antipasti: courgette flan, red pepper mousse, and slow roasted, caramelised onion, aubergine and pepper melange. The local orecchiette pasta was served next – wonderfully fresh with a rich tomato, mussel and aubergine sauce. Despite groaning stomachs, we managed to squeeze in some pan fried seabass followed by dessert. All washed down with some excellent Salento Chardonnay and Primitivo.
Beautiful weather has accompanied me on almost every tour this year and today was no exception. The sirocco wind was blowing gently as our first full day took us west of Lecce towards Taranto. Our destination was the tiny boutique Morella winery run by husband and wife team, Lisa Gilbee and Gaetano Morella. Lisa is Australian and she originally found herself in Tuscany as a flying winemaker – getting practical experience after her wine training at the prestigious Roseworthy College. She met Gaetano in Puglia and together they have established a very small (by any standard – let alone Puglian standards) garagiste style winery. With about 12 hectares of very old vine Primitivo, Malbec, Fiano and Verdeca plus some other experimental plots, yield is extremely low.
The tasting was a masterclass in Puglian wine quality. We contrasted two white Fiano’s from 2015 and 2012 with the older wine showing some amazing depth and richness. Lisa then compared a Primitivo/Negroamaro from 2013 and 2007 which showed these grapes’ abilty to age and develop – the 2007 still showing plenty of life. We then finished off with a comparative tasting of their flagship “La Signora” Primitivo with their Primitivo Old Vines – both from 2013. These two final wines were staggeringly good examples of top class Primitivo. Berry Brothers & Rudd are the importer of Morella wines which gives another insight into the pedigree of this tiny estate.
From Manduria, we headed back towards Lecce stopping off at Monteroni di Lecce at a wonderful underground restaurant called Malcandrino. Surrounded by large old wooden barrels, it was the perfect atmosphere for lunch. A wonderful plate of burrata with salami was followed by some perfectly cooked octopus with a red wine reduction. Perfectly moist tuna with roasted aubergine followed and we greedily embraced the delicious cassata dessert.
Groaningly full, we headed a kilometre down the road to the Apollonio estate.This is yet another estate that has embraced change and the current generation that took over in 1995 has had great success in creating a brand that is almost exclusively exported. The estate is beautifully designed and a great story is told as you wend your way around the barrels and cellar. Primitivo and Negroamaro are the key grapes, as you might expect, and we tasted a truly superb selection of wines.
It really does get scorchingly hot at this time of year in Southern Italy. Our destination was the Itrian Valley – a limestone depression to the south west of Bari that is gaining a great reputation for the production of high quality whites and sparkling wine. Our first stop was a relatively new estate called I Pastini, situated between Locorotondo and Martina Franca. Here we met Gianni Carparelli – owner and winemaker, as well his mother Rosa who organises the tastings. It is a wonderful, contrasting place with a brand new, modern winery juxtaposed with some old trulli dating back to 1759. We took a tour of the trulli and got a great understanding of how they were used for grain storage and livestock. Into the winery where they have created a church like tasting room with white pews all facing the “altar” of barrels. We tasted through a Locorotondo DOP which was a blend of the following three white grapes, Bianco d’Alessano, Minutolo, Verdeca and a Susumaniello (little donkey in Puglian dialect) – all produced in the aforementioned Itrian Valley. I Pastini were the first estate to bottle Bianco d’Alessano as a single varietal and are forging a dynamic path with their wines.
Next stop was the Masseria Mansueto just to the south of the town of Noci. The Masseria is a beautiful farmhouse restaurant with wonderfully picturesque views. Here, we met Mark Shannon. Mark is a Californan who with his Italian partner Elvezia, set up A Mano wines in 1998. They are very much regarded as pioneers of modern Puglian wine as they have created a top quality brand and proved that you can make great wine from the local indigenous grapes such as Negroamaro, Primitivo, Susumaniello, Minutolo, Falanghina and Aleatico. Jancis Robinson particularly credits Mark with having introduced top class Primitivo to the USA
Mark is a highly entertaining host who guided us through a tasting of most of his wines illustrating his passion for Puglia with some hilarious anecdotes and stories. His wines are brilliantly made and reflect his vibrant nature. The lunch at the Masseria is truly extraordinary. An absolute feast of local produce – fresh cheeses, an array of aubergine, courgette and onion creations, pasta, fava bean puree….it was truly amazing!