Apulia Primitivo

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.

san-marzano
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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

SAN MARZANO TALO PRIMITIVO DI MANDURIA 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #455220 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Puglia, Italy
By: Cantina Oleificio Soc San Marzano
Release Date: October 15, 2016

Tasting Note
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.

Primitivo Alert

In a period that Roman historians term as Magna Graecia, expansionist Greeks
crossed the westward seas to establish a ring of thriving colonies around the
perimeter of this distinctive land spit; in the modern age it became whimsically
known as either stiletto or heel of the boot. Jutting downwards from mainland
Italy, the southern peninsula of Puglia acts as a geographic divide between the
sheltered Gulf of Taranto and the Otranto Strait of the Adriatic Sea. Throughout
thousands of years in antiquity through to the middle ages, this was a strategic
crossroad of trade and target of conquest for many Mediterranean civilizations.
As a cumulative result, 800km of coast and the parallel line of inland mountains
now serve to frame a hybrid culture; unique within the broad diversity of regional
Italian identities. Though early colonizers seem to have been warlike Spartans,
by the 5th century BCE, it was philosophy that had become the preoccupation in
Greco-Italian centers of learning such as the city of Elea (now Velia). Notably, this
was home to visionary thinker and mentor Parmenides; credited with laying an
influential foundation for Aristotle, Plato and young Socrates. Unsurprisingly, the
wealth of clay Amphorae unearthed from archeological excavation also reveals
that the making of wines and their sea-borne export were well underway!

With naturally fertile reddish-brown soils, Puglia’s flat plains and valleys host a
proverbial abundance of wild rose and berries, rosemary and thyme; punctuated
by stands of stalwart maritime pine. As for the mixed agricultural landscape, the
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,
tomatoes, sheep herding, fish and seafood, and of course grapevines, round out
the bountiful output here.

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 Benedictine monk, Francesco Primicerius, as a wild vine growing
in his monastery gardens. Gradually, cultivars of Primitivo were then proliferated
throughout Puglia, finally rooting in Taranto Province 100 years later.

Home to this week’s DéClassé featured bottle from the Montanaro winemaking
family, the town of Crispiano and surrounding vineyards are proudly becoming
an agrotourism destination in their own right. So much so that these vintners
engaged a landscape architect, Fernando Caruncho, to oversee development of
the property as a garden-vineyard; wherein the undulating waves of vines are
interspersed with 24 islands of 800-year-old olive trees. Compelling aesthetics
aside, their Amastuola Organic Primitivo is a plush, pleasingly rounded example
of how expert that Taranto’s vintners have become in fashioning their local wine.
Budget allowing–half a case would be hard to hold in your cellar for very long!

 
Amastuola2

AMASTUOLA ORGANIC PRIMITIVO 2011
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #300004 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Puglia, Italy
By: Amastuola Societa’S Agricola S.S.
Release Date: October 17, 2015

Tasting Note
A very fruity palate typical of the grape style with aromas of mixed berries, plum,
spice and vanilla. Try with some classic, cool-weather comfort foods like braised
beef brisket, veal scaloppini, pasta Bolognese or eggplant Parmigiano.

Primitivo Alert

Primitivo’s name is derived from the combination of several Latin terms, loosely
translating in meaning as ‘the first to ripen’. The grape variety also has a popular
relative that’s cultivated and flourishing in California’s vineyards called Zinfandel.
After much debate and speculation, viticulturalists have finally determined that
the near genetic twins are descendent from the Croatian parent grape Crljenak
Kastelanskj (aka Plavina). The Italian clonal version featured here in this bottling,
is lighter-bodied, somewhat drier and significantly price-competitive with almost
all of the unjustifiably, overpriced American ‘Zins’, making for a very satisfying
combination of value and restraint after the holiday feasting!

Established in 1921, three generations of vintners at Varvaglione Vigne & Vini
have developed the brand into one of the premier, exporting producers from the
Puglia region after an initial history of focusing on bulk wine production aimed at
local consumption. Framed between the Ionian and Adriatic seas, the 400km
long coastal area is punctuated by the Salento Peninsula, often referred to as
the ‘heel’ of south-eastern Italy. Its astonishing level of wine-making output and
ever-rising quality is built on the ancient traditions first begun by the enterprising
Phoenicians, then followed by Spartans who settled here in 706BC from Greece.

First discovered by Benedictine monk Filippo Francesco Indellicati as a wild vine growing within the monastery gardens in the 17th century, various varieties
of Primitivo were proliferated throughout this suitable agricultural zone, arriving in
Taranto Province 100 years later. Here, the highly distinctive red soil character
results from the blending of calcareous fossils and iron oxide mixed with the clay
and silt loam base. Specifically, it’s the iron content that promotes soil drainage,
contributing to almost perfect conditions for the grapevine to thrive.

This week’s DéClassé recommendation is a well made, entry level example of
what is on offer from this sun-drenched region – at an attractive price-point, for
a limited time only. Buy several to nicely compliment your casual dining.

12 e Mezzo Primitivo

12 e MEZZO PRIMITIVO DEL SALENTO 2012
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #395053 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Puglia, Italy
By: Vigne & Vini Varvaglione
Release Date: January 10, 2015

Tasting Note
A very fruity palate typical of the grape style with aromas of mixed berries,
plums, spice and vanilla. Try with some classic winter comfort foods such as
braised brisket, veal scaloppini, pasta Bolognese or a Neapolitan-style pizza.