Southern Affair – Italy

My love affair with southern Italy wines started at Vinitaly several years ago. Walking past a stand, I noticed various brands of Primitivos exhibited, all a selection of wines made by the Accademia dei Racemi — a group of winegrowers, agronomists and oenologists whose passion is to promote terroir-based quality wines. Curious to find out more, I stopped to taste them.

Every Primitivo was so remarkably different from the other. Many showed all the qualities of fine wine — complex, good structure, texture and a long finish. Gregory Perrucci, the owner of the Accademia dei Racemi explained, “These wines come from grapes of old vines, hence the complexity and individuality, compounded by the fact that each wine is made from grapevines grown in different microclimates and soils. No two Primitivos will taste the same!”  I was certainly impressed that a single variety, Primitivo, could be expressed in so many ways, just like Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir.


Fast-forward a few years. My Australian wine-school classmate, Lisa Gilbee visited Singapore, and brought with her a couple of bottles made from Morella Primitivo old vines. At first taste, I was stunned by the concentration and quality of the wine.

Lisa and her husband had stumbled upon a patch of old Primitivo vines in the province of Manduria in Puglia, and huge swathes of old vines were being pulled up because they were thought to be too old to produce ‘good wine’ — wine that can be produced in big quantities. But the couple saw something else in  the vines and hurriedly purchased a vineyard. “These were all bush vines,” Lisa gushed. Coming from Australia, she understood that vines growing like bushes, like the rare Australian bush vines that are neither trellised nor irrigated, can stand up to the heat and drought. Although they produce little fruit, the flavours are concentrated. Overnight, Lisa and Gaetano became producers. Their hard work paid off when their wines garnered the Gambero Rosso ‘due bicchieri’ (two glasses) and recently an upgrade to the highest accolade of ‘tre bicchieri’ (three glasses).

Added Lisa, “South Italian climate, soils and indigenous varieties like Primitovo are ingredients for fine wines.  The wines from these southern regions are so good, they have been used to beef up wines in the north and even further afield.  Look south the next time you are in Italy, and you will discover some amazing wines.” With Lisa’s advise in mind, I made my trip to Vinitaly 2010 earlier this year.

First stop was Agricole Pietraventosa. I tasted a Primitivo Allegoria, aged in stainless steel, and the wine was at once floral with clean, bright red fruits, tobacco, smooth tannin, soy and spice with a delicious saline taste. Another wine, Ossimoro (Primitivo with 25 per cent Aglianico), combined the best of two worlds — the sweet dark fruit and floral characteristics of Primitivo and the density and strength of the Aglianico. The Riserva 2006 was most memorable with chocolate, blackcurrants, spice, balance and a long finish. It too showed a characteristic saline edge. The producer explains, “Roots have to push through the rock to get water — hence, the bright fruit and the salinity.”


Next I turned to Campania, famous for a black grape-based red wine Taurasi (denoting the pure varietal Aglianico from around the Taurasi village) and whites such as Greco di Tufo and Falanghina. The first was a soft, nutty yet fresh citrus wine from Cantine Olivella, called Katà. Made from the Catalanesca grape, the white wine was thirst quenching yet not frivolous. Next was a Falanghina. I was already familiar with the Falanghina dei Feudi di San Gregorio — grapes from small vineyards in the Sannio zone, at over 300 m, grown on the sides of volcanoes. The wine style is uniquely crisp, with aromas of green apples. How was the Falanghina from Cantine Astroni going to taste like? Certainly the terroir was similar — grapes grown on the slopes of the Astroni Crater at 200m high. Imagine my surprise when the wine came across as altogether different. It was floral, citrus with hazelnuts. Yet another Falanghina from the boutique La Sibilla winery showed ripe fruit with minerals and smoked herb overtones. Then it dawned upon me: the wines from Astroni and La Sibilla are from the coastal area around Naples, called Campi Flegrei. Falanghina wines can taste distinctively different depending of the vineyard’s location — inland (such as Feudi di San Gregorio’s inland version) or by the sea.

They are ultimately ‘coastal’ wines, made from grapes that enjoy a hot and dry climate and therefore possess a mellower character.


The wines from Basilicata, a small region with a rugged landscape, also impressed. It is the most mountainous region of Southern Italy, where vineyards are found in the centre of the Southern Apennine Mountains, 150 km from the sea on both sides. The best wines come from the volcanic hills to the southeast of the Vulture volcano. Hence many wines sport the name Aglianico del Vulture. The region is windy and  day temperatures in summer can reach 40 ºC , yet dip to a comforting cool in the evenings. Gerardo Giuratrabocchetti of Cantine del Nataio reveals that the radical changes in temperature are ideal for Aglianico — the heat concentrates character whilst the coolness ensures grapes retain acidity. The extreme conditions mean that the grape skins develop good tannins, the backbone of Aglianico’s signature characteristic. Gerardo’s challenge at Cantine del Notaio is to find that perfect balance between flavours and tannins. And he does this by harvesting the same grape at different times. The resulting wines couldn’t taste more different.

L’Atto, made from Aglianico harvested during the second week of October, showed red fruits, fine soft tannins and was  easy drinking. La Firma, made from fruit harvested at the end of October or beginning of November, was medium red, perfumed with spice, plums and had an impressive, long finish. The Il Sigillo, made from grapes harvested at the end of November and left for one month to dry on racks,  was concentrated with ripe dark fruit and hints of coffee, and boasted structured tannins and a fruity tail.

“There’s more to Aglianico, my friend”, said Gerardo with a grin, and presented two versions of La Stipula, a sparkling white and a sparkling rosé wine, both made from early harvested Aglianico. The former was balanced, fresh with fine bubbles whilst the pink wine showed red fruits with a hint of chalk and minerals. No wonder Cantine del Notaio has earned many accolades, not least Robert Parker’s comment, “…one of the finest Aglianicos I have ever tasted.”

I next sought out Elena Fucci, a small family-owned winery. With a mere three hectares currently planted with vines, the Fucci family produces only one wine: the Aglianico del Vulture Titolo. The wine tasted of blackberries and blueberries with some smoke, good acids and minerals and finished long. Quality wines as such this reminded me that small and medium- sized producers are making some truly outstanding Aglianicos in Basilicata.


Last but not least were the wines from Calabria. Here, vineyards are planted within a stone’s throw from the sea and rise steeply into the hills. The major red variety is the indigenous Gaglioppo grape, used to make Ciro Rosso (red) and Ciro Rosé (pink) wines.  There is also Ciro Bianco (white), made from Greco Bianco and a little Trebbiano Toscano. Even from a speed-tasting, the range of Ciro at the Calabria stand left at impression: the Ciro Bianco redolent with aromas of flowers, tropical fruits, melon and pear; the Ciro Rosé bursting with delicious bright red fruit and the Ciro Rosso is a wine worth seeking out for its marvelous fruit, big broad palate and fine tannins. The best examples even show a hint of spice and meat.

Looking back, it had taken two whole days for my ‘virtual visit’ to Italy’s south at Vinitaly. Two days is too short, compared to a lifetime of dedication by Southern Italy’s finest winemakers, to sample just some of the fruits of their labour. And what sweet taste it leaves in the mouth!

Originally Published in Appetite Magazine



When the Greeks settled in Sicily in the 7th century BC, they brought with them vines to the island and the southern parts of Italy. Some studies also point to an earlier period when Spaniards brought vines into Sardinia, Sicily and other places, centuries after the Arabs and Phoenicians planted what many believe to be the first ‘foreign” vines in Italy,
In the northern parts of Italy, the Etruscans (the English name for the people of ancient Italy and Corsica, whom the ancient Romans called Etrusci) also made wine. But whatever the origins of the grapevine in Italy, it was only later in 120BC when the Romans embraced wine and began the systematic cultivation
of vines.
Italy has since remained faithful to her indigenous varietals — varieties such as Greco and Nerello that were planted in Italy hundreds of years ago are still made into wine today. Until recently, most of the Italian wines exported were from the northern regions and middle Italy. Ironically, it was Pierro Antinori, a 26th-generation wine producer who now runs one of the most famous wine companies in the world, who recognized the potential of the south when he visited Puglia in the 1990s. He went on to acquire an estate there, which he thought to have excellent terroir for the varieties of Primitivo, Negroamaro and Aglianico.
Ten years ago on a study visit to Sicily, I found the local variety Nero D’Avola had become synonymous with the island’s offerings alongside Chardonnay and other international varieties. I came across two other rare varieties — Nerello Mascalese blended with Nerello Cappuccio — that I tasted from the Palari winery which impressed me even more.
If Nero d’Avola was all fruity with soft tannins like a Merlot, the blend of Nerellos were like traditionally styled Nebbiolos and Burgundies with finer tannin structure and acidity. Later, at the Benanti winery, I encountered the Nerello blend again and learned that the varietals of Nerello, amongst others, were being saved from extinction thanks to work at Benanti.
On another trip, driving around the foot of Italy, I was surprised to find powerful red wines by the strange name of Aglianico del Vulture. But it was the unforgettable taste of a Vermentino that a friend brought to the dinner table in Singapore that left an indelible taste memory of a wonderful white wine of ancient Italy.

Aglianico Originated in Greece, it was brought to Campania by Greek settlers. It is now found in Basilicata where it is the region’s only DOC wine, Aglianico del Vulture. As the south’s ‘noble’ variety, it makes very age-worthy wine — full bodied with firm tannins and high acidity.

Bombino Bianco Generally produces bland, low-alcohol wines that are used in blends, and sometimes for vermouth. In Abruzzo, it is called Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and when yields are reduced, the wine canbe quite flavoursome with creamy and citrus characters.

Bonarda From Emilia-Romagna, it is the original Croatina black indigenous grape which is also found in Lombardia and Piedmont. Wines made from it are dense and tannic, and it is a good wine or blends.

Catarratto The second most planted single variety in Italy is Sicilian and found in the far western province of Trapani. In the past, it was much used in the production of Marsala. Today, producers are exploring its potential as a blending or single varietal.

Corvina Along with the varietals Rondinella and Molinara, this is the principal grape that goes to making the famous wines of the Valpolicella and Amarone in Veneto.
Falanghina A Latin word for the stake that supports the vine, Falanghina suggests that the grape originated at a point so early in viticultural history, when staking a vine was a new technology. It is a widely grown Campania grape and thrives in mineral-rich volcanic soils, producing wines that have an alluringly savoury taste.
Fiano Believed to be an old Roman variety, rescued from extinction by Antonio and Walter Mastroberardino a few decades ago. They gathered and cultivated cuttings from the few examples and began making wines with a penetrating piney scent and crisp taste.
Greco As its name implies, Greco is of Greek origin. It makes a fairly robust and full-bodied white wine although semi-dried Greco grapes can be turned into sweet wines too. A predominant white in Calabria.
Grecheto Previously ignored in Tuscany but accepted in Umbria as a blending grape. As a single varietal wine, this Greek-origin grape has become famousin Orvieto. Wines are often floral with nutty overtones.
Montepulciano The grape has nothing to do with Montepulciano the Tuscan town. The most famous region for this grape is Abruzzo, where it is made into a fruity, plumy, soft tannin wine.
Negroamaro Grown almost exclusively in Puglia and particularly in Salento, it produces deep coloured rustic wines with an earthy bitterness — hence the namesake ‘amaro’, the Italian word for ‘bitter’.
Nero d’Avola This ‘black grape of Avola’ was, several hundred years ago, a favourite of growers near Avola town in southeast Sicily. Its sweet tannin, cherry-spice flavour enabled it to become the darling grape of Sicily. Production is up by 30 per cent since 2000, placing it among Italy’s top varietals by plantings.
Nero di Troia A very little known indigenous varietal of Puglia often used in blends. Recently, however, producers found that when allowed to ripen, it can be made into a distinctive wine.
Nerello Mascalese Named after the Mascari plain in Catania where the grape is thought to have originated. Thrives in the Etna region of Sicily.
Nerello Cappuccio Like Mascalese, it is found in Sicily and Sardinia. Once a blending grape, it is showing potential as a monovarietal.
Primitivo Studies have determined that Primitivo and Zinfandel share the same DNA. It is now disproven. Puglia’s 85,000 hectares is Italy’s largest ‘vineyard’ of this variety.
Vermentino A late-ripening grape, it is found in French Corsica and Spain. The famous Italian DOCG is the Vermentino di Gallura.


Some wines tasted and rated:

2006 Rivera I Vini Pregiati di Puglia, Rivera Fedora Castel del Monte DOC (Puglia) $38

Made from Bombino Bianco grapes grown in the Castel del Monte DOC zone, extending over the Murgia hills north-west of Bari, with deep sandy and calcareous soil. Vines are about 10 to 15 years old. The white wine is fermented at a controlled temperature of 16–18ºC and then matured in stainless steel vats.

Taste: straw yellow, fresh lemons and hazelnuts, good acidity, pleasant finish. *** stars.


2006 Cantina Janare, Fiano “Colle di Tilio” Sannio DOC (Campania) $48

The Azienda Agricola Janare, located northeast of Naples, is dedicated to producing wines from indigenous varieties such as Aglianico, Greco & Falanghina. Strict yield reduction, technology and modern cellars is the approach taken to ensure quality. The Janare vineyards lie between 200 to 500 metres. Janare’s project is supported by the Agricultural cooperative “Il Guardiense”.

Taste: Floral with passionfruit, minerals, peach, pear, good acidity and elegant finish. *** Stars.


2006 Cantina Janare, Greco “Pietralata” Sannio DOC (Campania) $48

Sannio DOC is a hilly area in the heart of Campania. Sannio refers to the land of the Samnites, the pre-Roman inhabitants of the region. Greco grapes are grown besides the other pre-Roman grapes of Fiano, Aglianico, Coda di Volpe, Falanghina, Moscato, Piedirosso, and Sciascinoso.

Taste: Mineral and herbal notes, almonds, and a nice dry acidic finish. **1/2 Stars


2006 Cantina Janare, Falanghina “Senete” Guardiolo DOC (Campania) $48

The relatively small DOC Guardiolo wines are made from the Falanghina grape.

Taste: Hints of pomelo, jasmine, mango and herbs, fuller bodied than the Fiano or Greco, with more texture and a zippy finish. ***1/2 stars


2006 Cantina Gallura, Vermentino di Gallura, DOCG (Sardinia) $58

Vines are planted on 325 hectares of sandy soils over granite that is poor in nutrients and located between 500 and 600 metres above sea level. Summers are long and hot here. The Vermentino grape has always expressed itself best in the Gallura, an area incessantly swept by the fierce winds from the Alps. It is believed that the thin and poor soils with some granite accounts for the wine’s aromas and body. Wines made by Cantina Gallura are matured in the cellar for four to six months prior to release.

Taste: Yellow with golden hues. Aromatic with rose petals, Seville oranges, yellow plums, honey, nougat and stone fruit; generous, balanced and yet fresh with a clean finish. ***1/2 Stars


2005 Re Manfredi ‘Terre Degli Svevi’ Bianco IGT (Basilicata) $48

Basilicata is a region where there is relatively little wine. But within areas with good soil and climate, distinctive wines are made. At Re Manfredi’s Terre Degli Svevi estate, on the slopes of the ancient extinct volcano Vulture, Aglianico red grapes are grown. Muller Thurgau and Traminer have also found a natural habitat on the volcanic soil. This wine is made from a blend of Muller Thurgau and Traminer planted at 400m above sea level.

Taste: Perfumed with kumquats and quince, smoky even, light bodied with a tinge of sweetness and thirst quenching finish. **1/2 stars.


2006 Bigi, Grechetto, IGT, (Umbria) $30

Bigi was founded by Luigi Bigi in 1880, and for some years now, has been part of the Gruppo Italiano Vini empire. Today Bigi is a leading winery in Orvieto, and manages a vineyard area of almost 500 acres. Wines are made by oenologist Francesco Bardi, one of Umbria’s respected winemakers.

Taste: Tomatoes, guava and citrus notes, chicken essence, wolfberries, lively acidity and a savouriness with fresh mineral-like finish. *** Stars.


2006 Vignali Roccamora, Cataratto Bianco Sicilia IGT, (Sicily) $55

The “Vignali Roccamora” estate is situated in Contrada Montoni, at Agrigento, near the south west coast of Sicily. The wine project came about as the result of a collaboration between producers Gian Andrea Tinazzi (from Verona) and Gaetano Alfano (from Agrigento).

Taste: Pale straw yellow in colour, herbaceous with basil, lime and sour plums, pine and peppermint and a sustaining elegant finish. One panelist disliked it. ***


2005 Vignali Roccamora “Cratey’s” Nero Avola Merlot IGT (Sicily) $35

The Cratey’s is a 70% Nero d’Avola with 30% Merlot blend, intended to combine the exuberant bright fruit of Nero d’Avola with the velvety texture of Merlot. This wine is matured for 12 months in American oak.

Taste: Beautiful, warm spicy, red fruit, morello cherries, plums, medium weight with round and plumy finish, solid, yet not overbearing, with good length. ***


2005 Etna Rosso, Feudo Di Mezzo, Etna DOC, (Sicily) $56

Terre Nere is located on Sicily’s Mount Etna, and vineyards are planted with late-ripening indigenous Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio — many of these vines were planted pre-phylloxera. The soils are mostly volcanic ash speckled by black pumice and peppered with abundant volcanic rock. Marco and Iano de Grazia are the proprietors here. The first vintage was in 2002.


The Feudo di Mezzo vines average 80–100 years old. The 1.35-hectare vineyard is terraced, although not as steeply as the Guardiola vineyard. The soil here is a blend of volcanic ash and volcanic sand, quite unusual in this area. Feudi di Mezzo is located at high altitudes, ranging from 650–700 meters above sea level. The wine is a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio.

Taste: Perfumed with cherries, coconut, blueberry and almonds; well-balanced, and with nice acidity and longish finish. ***


2005 Etna Rosso, Guardiola, Etna DOC, (Sicily) $56

The Guardiola is comprised of two vineyards planted to 100 per cent Nerello Mascalese for a total of 2.1 hectares. Vines are 50–150 years old. At 800–900 meters above sea level on the north side of Mount Etna, the Guardiola vineyard is the highest red-wine producing vineyard in all of Europe. Days are hot and tempered by breezes while it gets very cool in the evenings. The vineyard is organically farmed and vinification includes 10–15 days of maceration and 18 months in 25 per cent new French oak barriques.

Taste: Raspberries, vanilla, cherries, nutmeg, cinnamon, coconut and multi-layered; well-knitted with a stone fruit-bitter aftertaste. ***1/2


2005 Etna Rosso, Sottana Calderara , Etna DOC, (Sicily) $42

The Calderara Sottana, is from 40- to 50-year-old vines grown at 700m altitude.

The ‘Calderara Sottana,’ made from the indigenous Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. The Calderara vineyards are well exposed, and are not surrounded by hills; the “airiness” helps to protect the vines from mildew and oidium. The grapes are harvested at the end of October (making it the second to last harvest in all of Italy, after Aglianico). Vinification is simple, classic, and Burgundian in technique. Alcoholic fermentation and maceration on the skins lasts between 10 to 15 days; malolactic fermentation and maturation are carried out in oak (25% new). After 18 months the wine is bottled without filtering.

Taste: Plush with almonds, exotic spices, Christmas cake, soy sauce, with a dry mid palate and some light chewy tannins, and quite elegant. ***


2004 Drei Donà Tenuta La Palazza, ‘Pruno’ Sangiovese di Romagna DOC (Emilia Romagna) $ N.A.

The estate Drei Donà is located on the ancient hills of Romagna between the towns of Forli, Castrocaro and Predappio. Drei Donà is dedicated to the production of Sangiovese. Owner Claudio Drei Donà, runs the 30-hectare property. Of this, 27 hectares is cultivated to Sangiovese di Romagna. The Reserve selection is called ‘Pruno’ while the second wine is called ‘Night’. Wines take their names from the horses of the family’s race team. Franco Bernabei is the oenologist.

Taste: Some animal (goat) and tar notes, tobacco and firm acidity, ripe red fruits. **1/2


2004 Il Poggiarello, Gutturnio Riserva “La Barbona” Colli Piacentini DOC (Emilia-Romagna) $55

Wines have been made from the vines around the Il Poggiarello estate since the 16th Century. But when the new owners bought the estate in 1980, they immediately embarked on a programme of upgrading. Today, there are 32 acres of vineyards of indigeneous and international varieties. Wines include Chardonnay Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Nero, and Spumantes. La Barbona is a blend of Barbera and Bonarda grapes. The vines are planted on calcareous, slightly sandy soils facing south. After a nine-day maceration, the wine is fermented at moderately high temperatures and then aged for 14 months in oak barriques.

Taste: Ripe black fruit, barnyard and hint of leather, generous with dry tannins, high in alcohol and concentrated. **1/2


2001 Terredora, Taurasi, DOCG (Campania) $NA

Walter and his brother Antonio became famous for championing indigenous varieties. When their single vineyard wine Radici Taurasi made its debut in 1986, the wine world oohed and ahhed. Walter then went his own way and founded Terredora in 1994. The estate has access to 150 hectares of vineyards in Campania, making it one of the larger producers in the region. The 2001 Terredora Taurasi spent 18 months in small French oak barrels, followed by another year in cask. Taurasi is an Aglianico-based wine.

Taste: Mint, cranberry, capsicum, lavender and some ash. Sour red fruits with some stalk-stem notes too. Chewy tannins. **1/2


2001 Alovini Armand, Aglianico del Vulture DOC (Basilicata) $55

Alovini is a high-tech winemaking facility packed into a small space. The owner Oronzo Alò somehow managed to fit gleaming stainless steel tanks, the latest pumps and filters, and state-of-the-art bottling equipment into three garages. Alò was a director at two co-ops in the area near Monte Vulture and admits that he learnt much from French flying winemaker Jacques Lurton, who was responsible for several vintages at the co-ops. Alò today makes Greco and Aglianico based wines at his winery.

Taste: After the red fruits, there’s shallot oil, sesame seeds, pork lard, caramel, cocao, mushrooms, animal, jasmine, mushrooms and more. Interesting. **1/2


2004 Rivera I vini Pregiati di Puglia, Rivera Rupicolo, Castel del Monte DOC (Puglia) $38

The Castel del Monte DOC extends over the Murcia hills, north west of Bari city. The Rupicolo is a red wine obtained by the vinification of the indigenous red grape varieties of Montepulciano (70%) and Nero di Troia (30%). The goal was to combine the strengths of the two grapes to achieve structure, fruitiness, character and drinkability with a good ageing capacity.

Taste: Ruby red colour, shiso peppers, leafy with beetroot juice overtones. **


2001 Mocavero, Puteus Riserva, Salice Salentino DOC, (Puglia) $44

The winery is located in the Salento region. Along with their father Pietro, brothers Francesco and Marco Mocavero began making and selling wine in bulk in the 1950s. In 1990, they decided to produce their own brand and founded the Azienda Agricola Mocavero. This wine is a 80 per cent Negroamaro and 20 per cent Malvasia Nera blend from 30-year-old vines. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and ceramic vessels, then aged in barrels (Slovenian oak and Allier barrels). This ‘Riserva’ is aged a minimum of one year in wood and one year in bottle. The name Puteus comes from the ancient well which stands on the property.

Taste: Prunes, soy sauce, tealeaves, spice; jammy with some liquorice. Good structure and dry tannic finish. Panelists were divided between excellent and mediocre scores. **1/2


2003 Francesco Candido, Immensum, IGT Salento Rosso (Puglia) $45

Candido produces a range of wines, supervised by Severino Garofano, the leading ‘wine guru’ of the region who is pro indigeneous grapes. Their best wines are reds since the region is just too hot for producing good white wine. With 160 hectares of vineyards and a two million bottle output, quality is in question, but Candido’s reputation is that of a ‘super-Puglian’ wine producer of wines such as the Negromaro-based Capello di Preta and the Negroamaro-Malvasia Nero-Montepulciano blend of Duca di Aragon. Immensum is Negroamaro-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, hence its IGT status. – The IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) designation that allowed foreign grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon to be added and played a vital part in the renaissance of Tuscan wines in the 1980s and Sicilian wines in 90s, is now in full play in Puglia.

Taste: Complex with red fruits, cherries, prunes, a touch of coffee, warm and generous, with almonds and jam. **1/2


2001 Mocavero, Primitivo, Salento IGT, (Puglia) $33

Grapes are sourced from 35 hectares (77 acres) of vineyard land, 20 of which are owned by the family. This wine is made from 100 per cent Primitivo, 35-year-old vines. The wine is aged in stainless steel tanks then in barrels for four to five months.

Taste: Leather, cream crackers, leather and hawthorn with wild currants. Panelists were divided between excellent and mediocre scores. **1/2


2006 Castello Monaci, Primitivo Salento “Piluna” (Puglia) $35

Castello Monaci’s vineyards are found just a few kilometers from the sea. The estate covers 220 hectares, of which 60 hectares are vineyards. The soils are mainly limestone, clay and silica. Castello Monaci takes its name after the Monaci Cistercians who first occupied the ‘castle’. Both indigenous varieties such as Primitivo, Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera and certain international varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are made into wine. A feature of this winery is its 1,000-barrique cellar dug out of hard rock. Wines on offer include Liante (Negroamaro and Malvasia), Maru, (Negroamaro), two single vineyard wines (Campure Meridio and Campure Metrano) and the flagships of Artas, Aiace and Medos — all named after ancient and mythic heros and objects. Piluna is pitched at above the entry-level wines and is a Primitivo.

Taste: Meat and leather with some bubblegum and confectionery, nice acid and structure. **1/2


2005 Tinazzi Numero 3 Opera, Vino da Tavola, $75

A tri-regional blend, very uncharacteristic of Italian winemaking, with Corvina from Veneto, Nero d’Avola from Sicily and Primitivo from Puglia. The winery is located in Veneto, and was slipped into the tasting as a red herring.

Taste: Uplifted sweetish wine with coffee, baguettes, toffee, cassoulet, tobacco, with the rich mouth feel of ripe fruits, a complex, creamy texture and excellent aftertaste. A little alcoholic but otherwise, rich and smooth. ***1/2


Cantine Polvanera, Vindemiatrix ‘demi sec’, Gioia del Colle DOC (Puglia) $NA

Filippo Cassano, Angelo Antonio Tafuni and brothers Giuseppe and Michelino Posa fell in love with the Primitivo grape and recently brought and restored an old farmhouse in the Marchesana, an area in the municipal district of Gioia del Colle (a DOC), about an hour south of Bari, the capital of Puglia. The name Polvanera is derived from the typical dark brown colour of the soil of the estate surrounding the farmhouse. Of the 25 hectares of estate-owned vineyard, 15 are under Primitivo vines and the rest are planted with Aglianico, Aleatico and Fiano. Seven wines are made, from red to pink, sweet and sparkling. The Vindemiatrix of Polvanera comes in Brut and demi-sec and, made in the metodo classico, is the only sparkling wine in our line-up.

Taste: Fresh strawberries, some tinned green peas but with raspberries, peach and fruit basket overtones. Excellent mousse, soft and approachable despite the big bubbles, finishing off dry. Drinkable and perfect for spicy food. **