We hope you enjoy the August Italian Wine Club tasting notes, courtesy of Elio Longobardi of PlumpJack Wine & Spirits. With its characteristically shaped heel of a boot at the tip of the Italian peninsula – Puglia has a similarly long history with wine like the other southern regions. The region has benefited from cultural and commercial exchange with the Greeks due to the close vicinity of its coasts with the Hellenic civilization. The particular geography of this territory was perfectly suited for the two main Mediterranean crops: olives and vines. There are still orchards of millennially old olive trees in the region. These beautiful monuments of nature are worth the trip there alone – the wine is the bonus.
Elio Longobardi, Italian Wine Specialist
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits – Noe Valley
Puglia a.k.a. Apulia, is located in the south eastern region of Italy. The geography of the area is mostly flat with a big plain called Tavoliere that covers just over half of the territory, leaving the other half full of rolling hills and a few scattered mountains. With almost 500 miles of Adriatic coastline, Puglia is a region with lots of coastal development. The weather is typical Mediterranean, with hot dry summers and mild winters and very low precipitations. With the Adriatic Sea on the east and the Ionian Sea to the south, it borders with Molise in the northwest and Campania and Basilicata along the western boarder.
The wine history of Puglia has been less noble than the olive cultivation because up until just a few decades ago the grapes where pushed to massive production. Long months of hot weather in a flat lowland area produced grapes rich in color and sugar. That meant they were traditionally used in blending wines to add body and alcohol to other non-mature grapes. Today the quality standards are up to par with the more advanced regions. There are six major provinces: Bari (the regional capitol), Foggia, Andria-Barletta-Trani, Brindisi, Taranto and Lecce – containing about 25 D.O.C.’s. The most planted grape varietals are all red and indigenous to the region, such as Primitivo di Manduria, Malvasia Nera, Negroamaro and Uva di Troia – which legend says was brought over by Diomedes who came to Italy after the fell of Troia. They also plant some Sangiovese, Barbera and Montepulciano. White varietals are found in lesser quantities, and you will find Fiano, Malvasia, Verdello, Coda di Volpe and Trebbiano.
Cantine Menhir Salento, Sale, Salento IGT, 2013
Salento, in the southern part of Puglia, has become one of the major tourist destinations in the last few years. It includes the entire province of Lecce and is full of the finest Baroque architecture. The pristine sea, the food, and laidback lifestyle help to attract people looking for places not totally exploited by commercial tourism. Here you will find Cantine Menhir, a winery owned by the Marangelli family in Minervino di Lecce, located very close to Otranto in the extreme southern part of Puglia. The vineyards are situated on 25 acres along the fertile coastal strip of Laghi Alimini adjacent to the Adriatic Sea. The Alimini Lakes are part of a protected natural wildlife reserve rich with rare species of flora and fauna.
Marangelli has planted Primitivo, some vines as old as eighty years, along with Negramaro, Malvasia Nera, Fiano Minutolo and Malvasia Bianca. In honor of the connection with archaic traditions deeply rooted in the territory, they named their property Menhir (from the Breton words men and hir meaning long stone). The area is full of Neolithic relics.
Sale is made from 50% Fiano Minutolo and 50% Malvasia Bianca. Fiano Minutolo is an aromatic varietal not related to Campania’s Fiano. Malvasia Bianca is another native Puglia grape, different than the Malvasia Moscata of Piedmont. The vines are planted on red clay soil. The harvest is done manually in the early morning hours at the beginning of September. Soft pressing and fermentation takes place at controlled temperatures for 60 days. The wine then spends 4 months on the skins, sur lies, and another two more in the bottle prior the commercial release.
Sale, which means salt in Italian, here is short for Salento, but it is aptly named because this wine has certain salinity qualities to it. The nose is surprisingly rich with yellow and white flowers; stone fruits such as peach and apricots also come to mind. Notes of acacia flowers, elderberry, dry oregano and a whiff of seaside air permeate from the glass. After a few initial sips, the sensations are supported with a refreshing acidity. This wine brings to mind a warm late afternoon, after a day spent on the beach. It pairs well with grilled octopus and boiled small potatoes, dressed all with quality olive oil, parsley, garlic and a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt flakes.
Tenute Rubino, Torre Testa Susumaniello, Salento IGT, 2012
In the mid-80’s the Rubino family started the acquisition of several parcels of land and began building their farm, stretching from the Adriatic coast to the hinterland of Brindisi. Tommaso Rubino was one of the first to understand the potential of Salento. His son Luigi followed his father’s footsteps in the beginning of 2000 when he took on the leadership of the family business. He set out to upgrade and modernized the winery, with a focus on promoting the quality of the indigenous grape varieties of Salento: Malvasia Bianca, Negroamaro, Primitivo, Susumaniello. Luigi also understood the possibilities other grapes can add to their panel of wines, so he planted some Montepulciano, Aglianico, Alicante, Vermentino and Chardonnay. There are four estates on their property, Jaddico, Marmorelle, Uggio and Punta Aquila, all planted with the same varietals in different soil compositions and microclimates – all individually reflecting wines produced from each estate.
Luigi Rubino dedicates the same passion for each wine he makes, but there is a special spot in his heart for Susumaniello. This varietal doesn’t have the respected pedigree of some other southern red grapes such as Aglianico, Nero d’Avola or Primitivo. Matter of fact, it has been treated as the workhorse vine of Puglia, or more accurately the loaded donkey of the regional viticulture. Susumaniello has been thought to be of Dalamatian origin but recent DNA test shows that it is the result of crossing Garganega with Uva Sogra, a varietal now extinct. The name Susumaniello means in Apulia dialect to ‘load up the donkey’. The vine produces a huge number of grapes if not properly pruned or stressed. When these vines receive the proper care, they reward you with a wine that shows depth and elegance that is usually unexpected by other big southern reds.
The Torre Testa Susumaniello fruit comes from the Juddica estate, situated on over 123 acres of loose sandy limestone terrain, providing the perfect drainage of any excess of water and letting the roots thrive by reaching nutriments in the sub soil. The oldest vines were planted in 1930. This wine shows a deep and dense dark red garnet color with violet reflections in the glass. As Torre Testa opens up, it shows you the multilayers of perfumed dark fruits; cherry, blackberry, black currant jam and brandied plums. Spices like cinnamon, clover, nutmeg emerge when you swirl it in the glass. This wine is rich and intense, with notes of dark chocolate on the finish. This ‘little donkey’ goes a long way, providing solid enjoyment after being opened for a few days. Big wines like this need intense flavors in food. Pappardelle with sausages, Penne with cinghiale sugo, grilled meats and aged cheese such as Canestrato Pugliese DOP will all make exquisite pairings.
Tiella alla barese
(Rice, mussels & potato pie)
Paired with the Cantine Menhir Sale
This recipe takes its name from the baking pan used to cook the dish. Tiella is a commune name used in the southern regions of Italy, and each one has its own version of it. The tiella is a low rim pan with a cover. It could be a clay, ceramic or metal pan. In the past it was the only dish cooked by farmers during the week, when time and ingredients were scarce, basically one dish meal. Tiella alla barese is a recipe from Bari, Puglia’s capitol town. This dish is fun to make, a feast for the eyes and the palate.
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 Kg Mussels
500 g Potatoes
500 g Tomatoes
1 white onion
1 garlic clove
1 spring of parsley
300 g rice (superfine Arborio or Roma)
100 g Pecorino or Parmigiano, grated
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
- Clean the mussels under cold running water pulling the beard and scraping each one. Then open the mussels with a flat blade knife reserving the liquid. If it’s too hard you can get the mussels in a pan under high flame for 2 minutes until they start to open. Discard the top shell and keep them face up.
- Slice the onion very thin, then potatoes and tomatoes (~ 1/8th inch)
- Rinse the rice and the potatoes if you don’t like to starchy.
- Chop the garlic and parsley.
- Drizzle the olive oil in the baking pan
- Start to build the pie by placing the onions on the bottom of the dish, and then fan the potatoes to cover the dish, add the tomatoes on top, then sprinkling with garlic and parsley.
- Set the mussels face up, and add the rice over the mussels.
- Slowly pour the mussels juice on the side of the pan.
- Build another strata of potatoes, tomatoes.
- Sprinkle the cheese and finish with breadcrumbs
- Pour slowly enough water to cover the rice but not the cheese and breadcrumbs!
- Set in the oven at 400F for 1 hour.
- Let rest 10 minutes and serve.