Puglia is the Italian name for what is known by English speakers as Apulia, the long (350 km/210 mile) and fertile region along the Adriatic coast in Italy’s extreme south east (see map under Italy) which has long been of major importance for the production of wine andtable grapes. A mediterranean climate and a predominance of soils well suited to grape-growing (a calcareous base from the Cretaceous era overlain by topsoils rich in iron oxide from the Tertiary and Quaternary eras) have created an ideal viticultural environment. Its name derives from the Roman a-pluvia or ‘lack of rain’. It has about 100,000 ha/250,00 acres of land dedicated to the vine, and an average annual wine production of just over 7 million hl/185 million gal, but in the 1980s it was sometimes 13 million hl. Today it rivals Sicilia for second place in Italy’s league of most productive regions, but both are now well behind Veneto. Many growers have taken subsidies from the European Union to grub up their vineyards but, unfortunately, many of these were of low-yielding bushvines, while those remaining tend to be high-cropping inferior varieties planted on fertile soils.
A large part of the region’s viticultural production is utilized, now as in the past, as anonymous ingredients in blending that are usefully high in alcohol, as a base for vermouth, or is either compulsorily distilled or transformed into grape concentrate forenrichment as part of efforts to drain the European wine lake. Production of doc wines in Puglia rarely exceeds 2 per cent of the regional total, and less than a quarter of the regional production is ever sold in bottle. Although Puglia is fortunate in its topography, with a virtual absence of the hard-to-cultivate rocky, arid hills and mountains which dominate neighbouringcampania, molise, and basilicata, over 70 per cent of vineyards are in the plains, where evenings and nights offer little relief from the torrid daytime temperatures. High yields are the rule, and a significant number of DOCs have lost credibility with excessively tolerant production limits: 98–105 hl/ha (6–7 tons/acre) in the Castel del Monte DOC, 98–126 hl/ha in many of the various DOCs where negroamaro, Puglia’s most interesting native variety, is cultivated. Even the Primitivo di Manduria DOC, with a more reasonable limit of 63 hl/ha, seems to hold little attraction for local producers. Of a potential total declaration of more than 24,000 hl/633,600 gal from the 540 ha/1,330 acres designated for this DOC, fewer than 2,000 hl/52,800 gal are declared in a typical vintage.
Viticulturally, the region can be divided in three: in the north, on the flatlands around Foggia, large volumes of undistinguished wine are churned out from tendone-trained Trebbiano, Sangiovese, and Montepulciano; in the central part, inland from the sea around Barletta, where the Uva di Troia can produce some decent wines under the Castel del Monte DOC, and where Montepulciano is showing promise; in the south, the flat Salento peninsula produces many of Puglia’s best wines fromNegroamaro and Primitivo.
The Salento peninsula, the heel of the boot, is home to eight DOCs based on Negroamaro: Alezio, Brindisi, Copertino, Leverano, Matino, Nardò, Salice Salento, and Squinzano. Negroamaro is found predominantly in the eastern half of the Salento peninsula, in the provinces of Lecce and Brindisi. When grown on gobelet-trained vines in the narrow Salento peninsula, where the proximity of both the Adriatic and the Ionian seas brings a welcome cooling at night (see topography), it gives rich, spicy wines of considerable interest.
On the western side of Salento, the Primitivo grape is dominant, with DOCs in Manduria and in its original homeland of Gioia del Colle. As an IGT Salento wine, it has enjoyed a boom since the late 1990s, where careful selection and modern vinification has resulted in wines of great appeal and value.
The Uva di Troia grape, used in several DOCs (the large one of Castel del Monte and the small ones of Rosso Barletta, Rosso Canossa, Rosso di Cerignola, Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera) is considered by many a variety with real potential, so far ignored by producers deterred by its relatively low productivity.
Puglia was with Toscana one of only two regions to have its IGTs registered by the agreed date and it has six: Salento, Tarantino, Valle d’Itria, Daunia, Le Murge, and Puglia. This has resulted in an increase in varietal wines such as Negroamaro del Salento and Uva di Troia di Puglia, many of them made by flying winemakers, sometimes using oak.
co-operatives are responsible for 60 per cent of Puglia’s production. Some of them have experienced serious financial difficulties, but others have benefited from flying winemaker input. Meanwhile, many small growers have been persuaded to accept EU-funded vine pull schemes and plant alternative crops.
Robinson, Jancis, The Oxford Companion to Wine (New York, 1999).