The Wines of The Salento
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Wine is one of the most compelling subjects on earth: no other beverage has the ability to reflect the year, weather, place, method and person that made it, quite the same way. And the Salento produces wines unlike any other, such perfect reflections of the place and autochthonous varietals.
While waiting to come to Lecce, why not get to know the place a little through our wine? I wrote this guide, not as a homework, but as a sort of theoretical shopping guide, only for those interested.
We have students from all over the world, from countries, most of which, I’ve never even visited. In short, ‘where can I find this wine near my house’, while innocent, is a question I simply can’t answer. I simply don’t know. I don’t live by you, not even in the same country.
Rather, look for varietals and place names: the following list should get you pretty far.
Chances are your local large retailer has Salice Salentino, the most famous wine of the Salento named after a village versus a grape. It’s a 80%-20% blend of negroamaro and malvasia nera (whenver you see blend like this, you can be certain that the first grape gives the body, the second the perfume). It’s spicy, minerally and tends to be a surprisingly-good value. One sip, and you’ll also notice that this is an ‘Old World’ wine, in that it favours minerality and herb flavours versus powerful-fruit and high alcohol (the hallmarks of New World wine).
On its own, negroamaro still makes immediate and intriguing wines, although less perfumed and well-rounded, you could argue.
A delightful variation is il rosato del Salento, or pink wines macerated briefly with the skins of negroamaro, just look enough to create a pink dazzler. These are the oldest pink wines in all of Italy. It would be a shame to think of these only as ‘summer picnic wines’ however, as they are more than food friendly all year long. Think of pink wine as gutsier white wine rather wimpy red and you’ll be well on your way to understanding why we’re so crazy about the stuff here. Try a bottle with a really fresh grilled mackerel and you’ll never think of pink wine the same way again.
If you drink mostly New World wine, you’ll tend to appreciate primitivo more than Salice Salentino or negroamaro blends. The grape got its name from the fact that it’s an early ripener (‘prima’ or ‘first’, in Italiano) and has been linked genetically to California’s red zinfandel. The fruitiest of these tend to come from a town called Manduria, which often taste like someone added Christmas cookie spices and black pepper to a red fruit compote. If you like old vine zinfandel, you’re adore primitivo di Manduria.
The third red grape of the Salento is susumaniello, an ancient Roman grape that has been brought back from the brink of extinction in the last ten years. Only a handful of producers are producing it so far but as a varietal shows tremendous promise.
Southern Italy is much more of red producer than a white, but there are two white grapes that produce tremendous wines. The first is verdeca, a grape that takes its name from the fact that it’s harvested early as well, while it’s still ‘green, or ‘verde’. Soft, floral and citrusy, the wine won’t make you forget Marlboro, per se, but it does supply a lot of pleasure just the same.
The other is fiano and fiano minutolo, two grapes that can produce grapefruity, lip-smacking whites. Fiano from another zone, in this case, Avellino will likely be easier to find. The region is not in the Salento but you’ll be happy with your purchase just the same.
While here either in Lecce or at the castle (excluding our wine course, which draws from a larger breath of land) you’ll be offered only wines of the Salento. I suspect you’re going to love them as much as I do.
In preparation of your visit, why not pick up a bottle of negroamaro or primitivo and see what all the fuss is about regarding the wines of the Salento.