On 11 & 12 February we hosted tasting evenings exploring the wines of Southern Italy, more specifically the provinces of Campania, Puglia, and Sicily.
First, some brief history! Greek Settlers arrived in Southern Italy in the 8th and 7th Centuries BC, bringing with them a number of ancient grape varietals and winemaking techniques. After the fall of Rome in 476AD most of Italy fragmented into city states for over 1,000 years. Southern Italy endured conquest from and occupation from Normans, Vandals, Lombards, Goths, Saracans, Spanish, Byzantine, Austrian and French. Unification of Italy in the 1800's was not an easy time for the South, where over-population, disease, lawnessness and collapsing agricultural economies led to a bloody 10 year civil war and the Italian Disapora where 9 million peasants migrated overseas and Northern Italy. 'Messogiorno' (midday sun) became a term for the South, synonymous with poverty, illiteracy and crime... stereotypes of the South that persist to this day.
Much of Southern Italy has growing conditions that are almost ideal for growing grapes- hot dry summers and well drained soils. Their wines are very accessible price-wise and often rustic easy drinking fare.
We kicked off our tasting with two white wines from Campania - the "shin" of the boot of Italy. Greco di Tufo, as the name implies, was an ancient grape introduced by the Greeks. The Vesevo Greco was a crisp and bright white wine, with a keen minerality most similar to a dry style of Riesling. Next up was the Occone 'Flora' Falanghina, a darker yellow grape and more weighty with a distinctive pine scent and orange blossom.
Next we shifted to Sicily, and tasted the most important red grape of the region Nero d'Avola. The name just means "black of Avola" named for the town in South Eastern Sicily where it originates. The Baronia Nero D'Avola was a lighter easy drinking style red with musky spice and dark fruit. The big brother to this wine was the Duca di Castemonte 'Tripudium' Rosso made from a blend of Nero d'Avola, Syrah and Cabernet. Made in a modern style meant to showcase quality Southern wines. Rich and full bodied, dark plum and cherry, grilled herbs and a touch of balsamic.
Next up we shifted to Puglia, the 'heel' of the boot. A region blessed with 300+ days of sunshine a year, long flat dry plains and regularly touching 40 degree heat in summer. We tasted three rich and fruity reds. Villa Santera Primitivo di Manduria from an old family estate established in 1665, made from 40 year old vines... juicy fruit with plum, sour cherry, and a touch of ginger and vanilla. One of the showcase wines of the night was Vendemmia 'Oversettanta' Primitivo di Manduria top tier wine made from 70 year old vines, explosive dark juicy fruit and great concentration. This wine won the 'Trophy International Red' in last years NZ International Wine Show. Next up was the Eloquencia Negroamaro from Copertino, Negroamro translates to 'bitter black' and stuffed full of earthy black fruit and liquorice. Our last red was back to Campania, with the Vesevo Aglicanico a richly tannic dark and full bodied wine, meaty and spicy but with a clean dry finish.
Lastly we finished up with a sweet treat, Leone di Castris 'Negrino' dessert red wine made from Aleatico grapes similar to a red muscat. The wine was made in a passito style where the grapes are partially dried, resulting in a sweet but low alcohol wine stuffed with raspberry and blackberry flavours.
On the tasting platters we had Grilled Prawns, and Palermo Tuna, a Fussili alla Puttanesca (traditional pasta dish with a tomato, olive, caper and chilli based sauce), Aubergine Parmesana with loads of mozzarella, an antipasto platter of sundried tomatoes, olives and salami, and an Italian style chocolate mousse made with a distinctive coffee twist.
Very interesting and different wines, with a balance between great value easy drinkers and some stunning hand crafted gems.