October 30, 2023

The Italian Red Revival … Part 2 It’s Going South

Let’s talk about Southern Italian red wines. Following on from Part 1: It is not all cut and driedthere are now many more Italian wine regions offering reliable and very tasty red wines than were available on our shelves in the past.

The slopes of Monte Vulture. copyright Lisa Johnston 2023

Regions such as Abruzzo, Puglia, Campania, and the island of Sicily have become more popular in the recent decade. These regions have taken some of the popularity from famed regions such as Chianti, Barolo and Valpolicella.  And with these southern Italian regions come a whole slew of new red grape varieties to get to know and appreciate. This part is only going to focus on the mainland regions of Italy.

Although, if you are interested in reading more about Sicily’s most important red grape, Nero d’Avola, please read “Nero d’Avola and why you should be drinking Nero d’Avola”

It is going south….

To start with, not that far south. Just south of Chianti is all you need reach Umbria. A picturesque neighbour that is too often over shadowed by Tuscany. It is here that you will find some interesting wines becoming known around the world, including whites. In case you missed it, here is an interview I did with Chiesa del Carmine previously – Winery Spotlight: Getting to know Chiesa del Carmine Estate

Source: Chiesa del Carmine Estate

In Umbria, you will find Sagrantino and this red grape does deserve your attention. It is the red wine hero of Montefalco. Albeit one needing careful handling to keep those tannins in check. Look for Baiocchi Montefalco Sagrantino or Chiesa del Carmine Il Campanile as good examples. (Click on the names to read reviews) Read consorziomontefalco for more information about the Sagrantino grape.

However, it is not all about Sagrantino. The Montepulciano grape is one of the most commonly planted red grapes throughout Italy. It really is a work horse grape that is also capable of bold and very companiable statements. 

Montepulciano is a great blender but also makes plump and smooth deeper coloured reds that are immediately drinkable. Despite being deeper coloured, the flavours tend to be more in the red fruits realm. 

And further south ….

Bordering Umbria, is the region of Abruzzo and its neighbour Molise. These regions are directly east of Rome. They border the wine region of Lazio where Roma is almost the centre point of that region. Montepulciano has become Abruzzo’s flagship grape and you should look for the term Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC on the label.  You will find it as a staple grape used for those ‘cherry coloured rosato wines, the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC wines.

Neighbouring Abruzzo is the also mountainous region of Molise and probably its best known region of Biferno DOC. Of course, neither is well known at all as it is a small region and little of its wine is made into even the DOC category of quality. However, in Biferno, you may find the marrying of Montepulciano to Aglianico such as seen in the Palladino Biferno Rosso Riserva.

To read a review of the Palladino Biferno Rosso Riserva, click here.

And further south yet ….

There is plenty of excitement to be found in the wines of Southern Italy. Notably the Southern Italian red wines. And speaking of Aglianico, some of good examples come from Campania. Two DOCG sub regions to look for here is Aglianico del Taburno DOCG & Taurasi DOCG.  However, some of the best examples of the grape come from the region of Basilicata. In particular, from the slopes of Monte Vulture. Here the low yielding variety ripens reliably and with some cool nights to extend that ripening period.  Look for Aglianico del Vulture DOC and Aglianico del Vulture Superiore DOCG wines.

Aglianico is a bold red, with rich colour, higher alcohols, a zippy acid and grippy tannins. The best years can be kept for long ageing. 

Another red that is perhaps better known than Aglianico also does quite well in Basilicata. That is Primitivo. And Primitivo is well known in the USA as Zinfandel where it was planted by Italian settlers. But Primitivo, originally from Croatia, has very much made itself at home in southern Italy. Especially in Puglia. And particularly the sub region of Salento which is the peninsula.

The heel…

It is in Puglia that Primitivo takes on a life of its own. From 2010, the wine Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale was recognised as being deserving of the DOCG accreditation. This is a red dessert version of Primitivo where the grapes are left to shrivel on the vine. This shrivelling means that the water has evaporated and what is left is a very high concentration of sugar. The grapes are very ripe and very sugar rich. The wine is high in alcohol, sweet and very rich. And rather hard to find.

However, there are plenty of dry red versions of Primitivo making it a very popular Southern Italian red wine. Usually full bodied and intensely flavoured, higher in alcohol and tannins.  Often the wines have a dried herb or tobacco character and may have aromas of red fruits that translate to deeper black fruit and chocolate flavours.

Vineyard with Trulli (traditional Puglian house) near Martina Franca, Puglia. Copyright Lisa Johnston 2023
Southern Italian Reds, Not just Primitivo…

The Salento region is also renowned for its Negroamaro wines. That red grape has also made its home in the South, but it is thought to have come from Albania. Either way, Negroamaro is a red grape that is not well known at all. It has not yet been grown extensively outside of Italy in the ‘new world’ countries. It is very deeply coloured, and has dark black berry, and cherry characters. 

Both these red grapes are great blenders. The Bacca Nera Negroamaro Primitivo is a great example of how successful they are together.

To read a review on the Bacca Nera Negroamaro Primitivo, please click here.

Most certainly the Southern Italian red wines, and white wines too, are on rising in popularity as they have dramatically increased in quality over the decades. They also offer a bold richness that is hard to beat for the price you can find them at the moment. Watch this space though, there really is so much happening in Italy it is well worth seeking out these wines.

Did you miss the Italian Red Revival: Part one {It is not all cut & dried}?


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