In an age that’s termed Magna Graecia, enterprising Greeks crossed the western seas and established a ring of thriving colonies around the perimeter of this distinctive land spit; in modern times it would whimsically become known as Stiletto (‘heel of the boot’). Jutting down from mainland Italy, the peninsula portion of Puglia (aka Apulia: ‘those who live on the other side of the Adriatic‘) divides the Gulf of Taranto and the Otranto Strait. For thousands of years in antiquity through to the middle ages, this strategic maritime crossroad was a target for conquest by successive civilizations. As a cumulative result, 800km of coast and the parallel line of inland mountains frame a hybrid culture; unique in the broad diversity of regional Italian identities. Though the early colonizers seem to have been warlike Spartans, by the 5th century BCE it was philosophy that was the focus in Greco-Italian centers such as the city of Elea (now Velia). This was home to the visionary thinker and mentor, Parmenides, credited with laying an influential foundation for Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. Unsurprisingly, the long-hidden wealth of clay Amphorae unearthed from recent archeological excavations also reveals that grape cultivation, winemaking, and its significant seaborne export were all well underway!
With fertile, reddish-brown soils, Puglia’s flat plains and valleys host an abundance of wild roses, berries, and proverbial rosemary and thyme; thriving among stands of maritime pine. As for the mix of agriculture in the landscape, widespread grain farming, and groves of ulivi secolari (centuries-old olive trees) yields an impressive 50% of Italy’s total pasta and olive oil production. Artichoke plum tomato, sheep herding, fish and seafood, and of course grapevines, round out the bountiful output from the region.
Curiously, in spite of being so prolific, Puglia remains one of the less-well-known Italian regions. In its middle and southern provinces, the hot and dry climate is perfect for cultivating fulsome grapes such as Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera and Primitivo. With a name derived from several Latin terms loosely translating as ‘the first to ripen,’ Primitivo has traditionally been a reliable blending component. More recently, the variety has gained increased profile as a stand-alone varietal wine, due in part to the burgeoning popularity of Zinfandel; a clonal relative that flourishes in Californian vineyards and North American marketplaces. Local lore suggests that this Italian variant of a Croatian parent grape was discovered by a 17th-century monk, Filippo Francesco Indellicati, as a wild vine growing in his monastery gardens. Over time, the adapted cultivars of Primitivo were spread throughout Puglia; including its southernmost province of Lecce.
Home to this week’s DéClassé feature, the village vineyards of Ugento lie on the Murge Plateau, whose outskirts end abruptly as cliffs overhanging the Ionian Sea. The 10 hectares of Masserie Pisari were initially dedicated to bulk wine production; exclusively for local sale. In 2005 the winery was restructured with a focus on producing a higher quality of wines that would be more attractive to the international market, and so it is. If this pleasing, plush and rounded bottling of Masserie Pisari Primitivo 2013 is a representative offering, then in moving forward, the future looks even brighter in this sun-drenched corner of Italy. At a very modest price-point, you should be delighted with its structure and layered complexity. It’s ready now or over the next 3 – 4 years; buy half a case as it will be hard to hold onto in your cellar for very long!
MASSERIE PISARI PRIMITIVO 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product # 270306 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
Sugar Content Descriptor: D
Made in Puglia, Italy
By: F.lli Boaretti
Release Date: May 28, 2016
Rich and ripe, this dark Ruby coloured red has brambly berry and plum flavours and spicy accents typical of Primitivo. Try serving with summer antipasti plates of cheese, cured meat, and sun-dried tomato, or alongside a zesty mixed pepper lasagna and an arugula/radicchio salad topped with slivered Pecorino Romano.