Viticolture in Puglia
Northern Puglia and Southern Puglia boast completely different viticultural traditions. In the north, Nero di Troia and Sangiovese dominate the scene – the latter only giving bulk wine. Bombino Bianco is their white counterpart, and also gives hoards of bulk wine that is often used for distillation.
Approaching Bari, the chief town of Puglia, Primitivo starts making its appearance. It dominates viticulture in a large portion of the region, including the Salento Peninsula, where Negroamaro and Susumaniello are also widely grown.
Valle d’Itria and Murge Tarantine are characterized by slightly higher elevations than the rest of the region and limestone-rich soils. These are the only two areas where native white grapes dominate the scene.
What are the grape varieties in Puglia?
Key native grapes:
- Primitivo: the most famous Apulian red grape. Most likely originating from Eastern Europe – and related to American Zinfandel – it gives hearty, exuberant reds with loads of plummy fruit and distinctive spicy and herbal nuances. Depending on the winemaking style, they range from simple, slightly sweet and moderately warm to bold and concentrated, with Amarone-like fruit density and oak influence reinforcing the tannic heft. Primitivo di Manduria tends to the most powerful expression of the grape. In the Gioia del Colle area near Bari, the grape tends, instead, to acquire a slightly more subdued personality with higher acidity and slightly lower alcohol.
- Negroamaro: mostly found in the Salento Peninsula, Negroamaro is responsible for giving some of the region’s most interesting wines: less ripe and fruit-forward than Primitivo, with slightly dusty tannins and good acidity to balance. They vary from simple, affordable and food-friendly to richer and more complex when the grapes are late-harvested or air-dried in an Amarone fashion, and aging occurs in oak barrels.
- Nero di Troia: the main red grape in Northern Puglia, Nero di Troia is especially versatile, producing wines that are generally lighter-bodied and more elegant than Primitivo and Negroamaro. The aromas usually recall ripe dark fruits, violets, dried herbs, and raw cocoa, and the palate shows a medium to full structure with well-integrated tannins and good to excellent acidity to balance. Rosè wines are also characterful, especially undergo short maceration on the skins and develop a light red-like personality.
- Bombino Bianco: often erroneously associated with Trebbiano Toscano, and used to make bulk wine in Northern Puglia, this vigorous white grape is considerably higher-acid and totally neutral, allowing the production of top-notch sparkling wine.
- Susumaniello: typical of the Salento area, this vigorous grape is traditionally employed in bulk wine production. It also produces hearty and mostly affordable reds with Primitivo-esque fruit weight allied to slightly lower alcohol and a touch of invigorating herbal freshness. Rosè versions tend to show a distinctive spicy character.
- Bombino Nero: a relatively rare but especially interesting red grape. In the Castel Monte area, it produces light but characterful rosè with excellent acidity and distinctive spicy and floral aromas.
- Verdeca: the main white grape in Valle d’Itria. Traditionally it was blended with rare varieties like Bianco d’Alessano or Maruggio yet the number of single-varietal versions has grown steadily in recent years, and the wines often show good acidity and leafy freshness enhancing food-friendliness.
Other key grapes
Aglianico and Montepulciano are widely grown in the north, and so is Sangiovese (even though single-varietal versions of the latter are hard to find). In the coastal town of Ostuni, the local Ottaviano grape is the equivalent of Cinsault from Southern France. Chardonnay is the most widely grown international grape.