by Anthony Lynch
When it comes to wine, Puglia is probably best known for big, inky reds that soak up the southern sun and pack a serious wallop on the palate. Unbeknownst to many, the region has another specialty: crisp, low-alcohol whites from aromatic native grapes. In Locorotondo, a small white wine appellation on a limestone plateau between the cities of Bari and Brindisi, nimble, herbal Verdeca shares the stage with the creamier Bianco d’Alessano and a bit of citrusy, gently floral Minutolo for this charming blend. The whole is a refreshing thirst-quencher with hints of lemon and white pepper, and a lively sea spray finish.
Deep in southern Sicily, the Nero d’Avola grape is responsible for one of the rarest and most precious feats achievable in fine wine. Ripened in baking dry heat all summer long, it reaches full-throttle power with dense black fruits, hints of wild game and mint, and thick, chewy tannins. All the while, it retains vital acidity and a cool, fine-grained texture that mirrors the white chalk slopes on which it’s grown, within view of Mediterranean waters. A beastly hunk showing tasteful restraint, the Sciavè is a natural partner to grilled lamb, roasted eggplant, nonna’s meatballs, and pastas coated in chunky, slow-cooked tomato sauce.
Aglianico grown high in the sparsely populated mountain villages of Irpinia, east of Naples, produces red wines that rank among Italy’s most intense and austere. This example—a declassified Taurasi from Montemarano, one of the top crus for Aglianico in Campania—has been somewhat tamed through seven years of aging, first in large cask and then in bottle. Today the tannin is sleek and chalky, providing a firm backbone to the racy blackberry, sour plum, violet, and bitter cocoa suggestions. Rustic in the best sense, this biting red demands similarly characterful fare. Try it with aged sheep’s milk cheeses, hearty stews, or a thick, dry-aged ribeye seasoned simply and singed by woodsmoke.