Exploring Southern Italy
Mention the wines of Italy, and chances are that most wine lovers will think immediately of Tuscany: Chianti and its neighbors and the modern high-tech "Super Tuscans" from the historic hilly countryside between Florence and Siena.
Others might cite Piemonte, the northwestern foothills of the Alps, with its sought-after reds - Barolo and Barbaresco - as well as tasty Dolcetto, Barbera, the sparkling whites of Asti and more.
The Veneto, Alto Adige and lovely Friuli-Venezia Giulia might garner a few votes, and individual wine enthusiasts will harbor special affection for the regions that they've toured or that their ancestors set sail from.
But by and large, the sunny climes of Southern Italy are overlooked and under-regarded by most wine lovers ... and I'm here to suggest that if you're in this category, you might want to take a closer look.
From Apulia (Puglia), the "heel" of the Italian "boot," to the scenic seacoast of Campania around Naples and Mount Vesuvius, many of the top wines of the South stand comparison with any other world wine region. Typical of wines from warm, sunny regions, reds and whites alike tend to be ripe and robust; yet many of them share that wonderful Italian character of sturdy structure and zippy acidity that make them natural companions with food.
What's more, most Southern Italian producers shun the modern infatuation with "international" grapes and styles. Rather than joining the worldwide rush toward Chardonnay and Merlot, they proudly make wines from indigenous grapes in traditional styles.
Saving the islands of Sicily and Sardinia for another day, let's have a quick outline overview of the four Southern states and some of their best-known wines.
CAMPANIA: Lachryma Christi ("The Tears of Christ"), grown on the slopes of Vesuvius, may be best known for the legend that yields its name, boasting that the region's vineyards originally sprung up when watered by Jesus's tears. Taurasi, however, is perhaps the region's best (and most ageworthy) red, made from the excellent Aglianico grape. Two of my favorite whites - Fiano di Avellino and today's tasting, Greco di Tufo - come from this region, where local folklore traces their history to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
CALABRIA: The "toe" of the "boot," first settled as an outpost of the Greek empire before there was a Rome, is mostly known to the rest of the world of wine only for a single red, Cirò.
BASILICATA: The rural and rather isolated "arch" of the boot-shaped Italian map is another little-known region, but the first-rate producer Paternoster spreads its reputation beyond its borders with the hearty red Aglianico del Vulture.
PUGLIA: The "boot heel," also known as Apulia, may be the best known region of the South, drawing world attention in particular for its fruity Primitivo reds. Long thought to be a "brother" or "cousin" of the American Zinfandel, Primitivo has recently been shown by DNA research to be the identical grape, originating in Croatia and perhaps brought back to Southern Italy from the U.S. in the late 1800s. It's being made in increasing quantities by a growing number of producers these days. Some make it in an Italian style; others seek to replicate the big, powerful and forwardly fruity fashion of California Zinfandel - and, now that its heritage has been established, they may legally label it "Zinfandel." Puglia produces a score of other wines, though, in wide variety; best-known may be the Negroamaro-based reds of Salice Salentino.
We're studying Southern Italian wine in this month's Wine Tasting 101 feature on WineLoversPage.com, inviting wine lovers everywhere to join in an interactive exploration of the wines of this region, tasting and sharing impressions in a civil online environment. To participate, point your browser to
And now, today's wine: "Greco" di Tufo takes its name from its supposed ancient Greek heritage, and it has demonstrably been around for at least two millennia, being mentioned in a surviving carving at Pompeii - possibly one of the world's oldest wine-tasting notes.
Mastroberardino 2001 Greco di Tufo ($21.99)
A distinct reddish tinge adds a coppery hue to the rich straw color of this wine, making it almost as robust in appearance as in flavor. Intriguing and complex aromas are centered on white fruits - melon and starfruit and a hint of banana, with grace notes of somthing oddly like the scent of beeswax. Full-bodied and rich, fruit flavors are consistent with the nose, well-balanced by crisp acidity, with a pleasant touch of bitter almond in the very long finish. An exceptional white wine, with much of the body and complexity that you might expect of a red. U.S. importer: Paterno Imports, Lake Bluff, Ill. (July 5, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with a hearty fish dish like alder-smoked salmon tossed with farfalle pasta; might overwhelm more delicate seafood.
VALUE: Although the price approaches special-occasion levels, you'll be hard pressed to find a finer white for less.
WHEN TO DRINK: Richness, body and structure suggest a white capable of careful cellaring, although you'll want to keep an eye on a possible tendency to oxidize; it's certainly ready to drink now.
WEB LINK: The importer's fact sheet on the 2002, which is now in distribution, is online at
Wine Lovers' Voting Booth:
How do you store your wine?
As far as we're concerned, if you keep enough wine around the house that you can serve a bottle with dinner without having to run to the wine shop to get one, you have a wine cellar.
Of course, not all "cellars" are under ground, and only a minority, we suspect, maintain anything close to the constant, year-round 55F (13C) environment that wine experts consider optimal. For many serious wine enthusiasts, "close enough" is more than satisfactory, especially if you don't plan to keep pricey collectibles for decades. And frankly, for most of us, a simple wine rack in a cool part of the house is all we need to keep a few bottles lying safely on their sides until we're ready to open them.
For this week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth, we informally seek the status of wine bottles in your cellar. Whether you boast a cellar worthy of a king's castle or simply stash your bottles in the corner of a bedroom closet, we would like to hear from you, as we ask, "How do you store your wine?" You're invited to click to
The California Wine Club:
Reds, Whites and You Sale!
The California Wine Club is having a special "Reds, Whites and You" sale - but only until July 10. You can save up to 60 percent off regular retail on an intriguing selection of wines. Choose from a vertical tasting of Paso Robles Pinot Noirs, Napa Valley Merlots, Cabernets and, of course, lots of great Chardonnays to enjoy during the upcoming summer months.
The list of sale wines is only available via E-mail. Call 1-800-777-4443 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to tell them you are from The 30 Second Wine Advisor and they'll be happy to send you the list of wines in their "Reds, Whites and You" Sale!
If you're looking for cool summertime sippers at hot prices, call or E-mail The California Wine Club before July 10!
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Happy Fourth! (July 4, 2003)
Bargain from Jumilla (July 2, 2003)
Affordable 2000 Bordeaux? (June 30, 2003)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Lasagna (July 3, 2003)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, July 7, 2003