Curiously, in spite of its ancient and storied culture — and being so agriculturally prolific in modern times — Apulia (aka Puglia) remains a less-well-known Italian region. It hasn’t always been so. In antiquity, the Phoenicians and Spartan settlers understood the potential of the land, as well as its strategic importance in straddling the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas. Its attraction wasn’t lost on the Lombard’s, Goths, and Byzantines either, who ruled Apulia during the early Middle Ages. In the 13th-century, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Swabia was so enamoured of its charms that he built a host of Romanesque cathedrals and palaces. Shortly thereafter, though, a long period of decline and neglect set in; largely due to being distantly governed by the succession of Spanish, Austrian, and French Bourbon rulers. In having become an unprotected land, it was also vulnerable to Saracen raiders who shipped off much of the population into slavery. Surprisingly late in the long path of Apulia’s history, the gradual restoration of stability and prosperity came in 1860 when it was finally re-embraced as a part of the Italian Kingdom; forerunner to the republic that we’re familiar with today.
With fertile reddish-brown soils that are a mix of calcareous fossils, iron oxide, clay and silted loam, Apulia’s plains, valleys, and coastal zones are home to wild roses, berries and the proverbial herbs, rosemary and thyme; thriving among stands of maritime pine. As for agriculture, extensive grain farming and groves of ulivi secolari (centuries-old olive trees) impressively yield 50% of Italy’s total pasta and olive oil production. Artichoke, plum tomato, seafood and fish, sheep herding, and of course grapevines, round out the bountiful output. In the mid and south sub-regions of the Murge Plateau and the Salento Peninsula, the sun-baked and dry climate is ideal for cultivating fulsome red wine grapes
such as Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera, Aglianico, and Primitivo – the star variety in this week’s DéClassé feature, San Marzano Talò Primitivo di Manduria 2013.
With a name derived from several Latin terms loosely translating as ‘the first to ripen’, Primitivo has traditionally been used to fortify blended reds. More recently, the variety is increasingly being finished as a varietal wine, prompted in part by the popularity of Zinfandel; a clonal relative that flourishes in Californian vineyards and has had great success in North American markets. Local winemaking lore suggests that the Italian variant (descendent from a Croatian parent grape) was discovered by a 17th-century monk, Filippo Francesco Indellicati, growing as a wild vine in his monastery gardens. Over time, the adapted cultivars of Primitivo spread throughout Apulia, eventually arriving in Taranto Province 100 years later.
Founded in the early 1960’s by less than two dozen winemaking families rooted around the regional center of San Marzano, Cantine San Marzano has grown into a coop with over 1200 members; sharing a commitment to produce quality wine that authentically reflects the region’s indigenous grapes and related finishing styles. The cantine has steadily evolved into one of southeastern Italy’s premier, exporting producers, and this bottling stands as a well-made, mid-level example of what Apulia’s vintners can offer in the 21st century. With the slide into cooler Fall weather, now is an apt time to revisit more robust wine styles such as this Primitivo – ti fa bene (it’s good for you)!
SAN MARZANO TALO PRIMITIVO DI MANDURIA 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #455220 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
Sugar Content Descriptor: D
Made in: Puglia, Italy
By: Cantina Oleificio Soc San Marzano
Release Date: October 15, 2016
This deep ruby red wine has a very fruity palate typical of the grape style with aromas and flavours of raspberry, plum, clove and a restrained touch of sweetness. Try serving alongside some classic autumnal comfort foods such as braised beef brisket or short ribs, hearty ragout, veal scaloppini with fresh pasta or a Neapolitan style pizza.