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.

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)!


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.

Puglia Primitivo

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

VINTAGES – LCBO Product # 270306 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Puglia, Italy
By: F.lli Boaretti
Release Date: May 28, 2016

Tasting Note
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.

Primitivo Alert

Gioia, a small picturesque town centered on a 13h century castle, is the heart
of Puglia. This strategic coastal region nestled between the Ionian and Adriatic
seas, inherits its fame, in part, from the fortuitous exploits of a legendary Queen
who stumbled onto a cache of buried, precious stones. Having them made into
a necklace, she gave Gioia del Colle its translated moniker: “Jewels of the neck”.

Rife with colourful folklore, this is also the reputed birthplace of Primitivo wine,
where local history records another popular tale of a 17th century Benedictine
monk Francesco Primicerius, who having discovered the first wild vines thriving
in the gardens of his monastery, he further cultivates and begins transplanting
them into the surrounding fields. With the experience and learning from many
successful harvests, its classification and name are derived from several Latin
terms, loosely translating in meaning as ‘the first to ripen’ – and so it does.

Looking to the present day, this grape has a relative that flourishes in California,
grown as a genetic twin called Zinfandel. Moreover, after long-term speculation
by viticulturalists, both varieties are determined to be descendants of an older
Croatian parent grapevine: Crljenak Kastelanskj (aka Plavina). The Italian clonal
version featured here though, is somewhat lighter, a bit drier and significantly
more price-competitive than most American ‘Zins’ – most of whom carry an
unwarranted price tag for what is a relatively straightforward-to-grow grape
and uncomplicated wine style!

Punctuated by the Salento Peninsula, referred to as the ‘heel’ of south-eastern
Italy, the astonishing level of winemaking output is building on ancient traditions
that were first begun by enterprising Phoenicians, then followed by the Spartans
who settled here in 706BC after emigrating from Greece. As seems to be the
case with so many resurgent regions in Italy, the focus on well made, bulk wine
production, aimed toward local consumption – is shifting qualitatively upward, to
better-satisfy the standards and competition of an international market.

Cantine Coppi is one of many progressive, regional vintners making the leap and
consistently delivering higher quality table wines as with this week’s DéClassé
recommended bottling of their Peucetico. Having earned a dependable place in
the Springtime, Vintages release schedule, you had better grab several, as it will
be leaving the LCBO shelves by the caseload.


VINTAGES – Product #724674 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: D

Made in: Puglia, Italy
By: Cantine Coppi
Release Date: May 16, 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 comfort foods such as pasta
Bolognese, veal scaloppini with sun-dried tomato or a Neapolitan pizza.