I have always been a student of geography–endlessly fascinated as to what other places look like that I have never visited. Viewing of maps of regions, territories and countries explains relationships, connections and even dependencies (with respect to dependencies I mean to climate, weather, and geology). I became an even better student of geography and geology by becoming a lover of wine. Wine helps to explain, codify and give in absolute detail geography and geology.
Italy has been a place where my fascination never ceases–it just wonders and continues. After all there is not just one Italy but many Italy’s. Italy’s interesting shape of a boot makes one wonder what do the extreme northerly or southerly borders and frontiers look like? What must the boot heel look like? (I mean from an on the ground perspective). Also Puglia is surrounded by water– the Adriatic and the Ionian seas–these life giving elements help to characterize both the human experience as well as the natural and viniculture and viticulture experience.
A picture can only tell you so much and hence a visit gives subtleties and contrasts. I visited Puglia this past October (2012) and delighted in each footstep I made–after all Puglia became more and more vibrant after I had been tasting through Primitivo, Negroamaro and Aglianico for number of years before visiting in person. The connection with geography and geology was enthralling because of my love for wines from Puglia. Before stepping on the sacred ground in Puglia I was able to taste the splendor glass-by-glass. Primitivo, Negroamaro and Aglianico are some of the leading grapes in the south of Italy and Puglia. Food friendliness of wine seems to be a cliché but I would add not necessarily cliché but an important attribute to recall and for enjoyment of wine. Primitivo is extremely friendly and distinct from this region and has had a home for some time–for those lovers of Zinfandel–Primitivo is a must–after all there is a grounded familiarity as they are the same grape. I recommend Negroamaro as a very distinct wine grape–Negro comes from the Italian word for Black and Amaro from the ancient Greek word “maru” meaning bitter–hence a dark bitter grape–but I would say substitute the word bitter for dry and notes of black fruit and earthen notes.
As a veteran of wine tasting and visiting many a wine facility–I marveled at the sterling facility of Masseria Altemura–elegant, in touch with the landscape, respectful and yet exciting. I witnessed the inauguration of this pristine winery and vineyard. I walked all aspect at the Masseria Altemura–and I took to the vineyard–and marveled at the vines that I was seeing. The vines were meticulous and harvest had taken place already–but care of vines of hectare over hectare expresses commitment and a love for the vine. The limestone soil was moist from a recent rain–my Prada shoes got a bit of mud but I didn’t mind. I wanted to be on the same soil that makes Primitivo, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Fiano, and Sussumaniello. The current vineyard is 82 hectares (202 acres) and in perfect harmony were olive trees neatly aligned as well. I marveled a moment and then went back to the activities and speeches (in Italian and yes I understood all that was spoken–though speaking in Italian is more of a challenge for me). I did not need to speak Italian to taste the fruit of this vineyard—well paired with regional foods paired at the luncheon. I tasted the Rosamaro which was the first time I ever tasted a sparkling wine from Negroamaro–completely distinct and well produced. I did taste the Primitivo de Manduria, Aglianico and Negroamaro. Each wine gave a great homage not just to the inauguration of this winery but a great snapshot and expression of what is distinct and honorable about wines from Puglia.
I look forward and eagerly so for a repeat visit to Puglia and for more ‘Foot-on-ground’ tours. I also loved seeing the many cactus that were quite abundant–I grew up with landscapes where cactus is common–I didn’t expect to see them in Puglia–a most important way of understanding place and experiencing familiarity. I was delighted and honored to be at this special occasion and inauguration of Masseria Altemura–and when you are in Puglia– I recommend a visit.
James the Wine Guy
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