The Jewel That Put Puglia on the Map
It’s a warm and windy day in Puglia. I’ve exited the train station in Bari (the capital of Puglia) and am on my way to check into my room and get a quick walk around the port. My hat shields me from the ultra strong rays of the sun and I pray for a respite from the heat. At streets will begin to empty as lunch begins. Only at 4:30 will they reawaken. The boats bob up and down nodding in the water. Not a soul is swimming. I move my eyes to the outdoor fishing market. Fishermen and women are calling out their wares and bartering with their customers. The smell is, well fishy. As I step away I realize much of the fish is being cleaned there. Makes sense. The smell. This is a sea-loving region. As the palm trees sway in the wind, I move my thoughts to the wine of the region. Salice Salentino.
On the precipice of global recognition is one of the most exciting regions of wine in Italy. Salice Salentino is in central Puglia between the provinces of Lecce & Brindisi. Each has a village with the same name. Puglia (aka Apulia) is in the center of the heel of the boot of Italy’s southern region. Water surrounds this part of the heel. From East, the Adriatic Sea. The Southeast, the Ionian Sea. And to the south, both the Strait of Otranto and the Gulf of Taranto. With 500 miles of coastline in Puglia, their stunning beaches are 25 minutes or less from wherever you may be in the heel.
A combination of coastal waters, forests, farmland, vineyards, and olive groves make up Puglia. And with over 86,000 hectares (212,510 acres) of vines, the whole of Puglia is awestriking. Its climate is a warm Mediterranean climate. Hot in the summer months (70-85F ) with mild wet winters (50-70F). A place where farm to table is not a fad, it’s an ancient tradition. Also sacred in tradition is lunch. Enough time for pasta or pizza a glass of Negroamaro and a nap. There are several captivating towns in central Puglia. The primary wine oriented villages are Lecce, Martina Franca and finally Salice Salentino.
Salice Salentino DOC
The Wines of Salice Salentino
Of significant importance is the DOC’s enforcement of standards. It is their standards that have helped ensure top quality wine. The Salice Salentino DOC has 3,862 acres of vineyards under its control. Out of that in 2016 they produced 959,000 cases of wine. The focus on this region is dry and beautifully articulated wines that express the land and fruit. Their primary white grape varieties are Chardonnay, Fiano, and Pinot Bianco. The primary red varietals are Aleatico and Negroamaro. Out of these, you will find Bianco, Chardonnay, Fiano, and Pinot Bianco blends. Prices on these delicious and intriguing wines run from $10.00 for the Bianco to $25.00 for the Negroamarao Riserva making the wine incredibly affordable.
Tasting and Pairing Salice Salentino Wine
Pairing these delightful wines is quite easy. In fact, the way they are made you will find a natural progression between the easy sipping light Bianco, to the refreshingly delightful and versatile Rosato to the robust and elegantly rich Rosso and Negroamaro wines. Bianco wines are great as an aperitif as are the Rosato. They also pair quite nicely with the staples of the region. A note to remember, the pasta in this area is not made with eggs. It is rustic with texture and perfect for heavy red sauces with pasta. Bread and pasta are the true staples of the region. You will find far more lamb, goat, and horsemeat in the region than beef.
Cheese is also a mainstay. Primarily sheep cheese, followed by cow cheese including a favorite of mine, Burrata di Andria. One can never have enough Burrata in Italy.
Pairing with Bianco Salice Salentino
With your Bianco Salice Salentino wine, the region staple of fava bean puree and sautéed Cicoria (Chickory) is pure perfection. This is due to the fresh aromatics (think fresh tropical fruits, vanilla, and spice) and flavor, the Bianco delivers. Click here for the recipe. Because of its nearby coasts and the delight of fresh fish in the area, it also pairs perfectly with seafood.
I embraced the beautiful hues of what we know in the U.S. as Rosé. The comparable of Salice Salentino is Rosato. The notes are soft and refreshing. With white flowers on the nose, red cherry, and raspberry on the palate. This particular bottle was a blend of 90% Negroamoro and 10% Malvasia. The versatility of Rosato is well known. From the aperitif to the slightly spicy yet light seafood pasta dish the Rosato is your hero. I tried pasta with a mildly spicy light olive oil sauce, blended with roasted cherry tomatoes and chard. Tossed it and the match was exquisite.
Pairing with a 100% Negroamaro
I’m no shrinking violet, but I really wanted to get this pairing right. I was initially a little hesitant to pair it with beef simply because beef is not a staple of the Salice Salentino region. The roasted leg of lamb with lamb crumb gremolata was perfect. Beautifully spiced, and slow-roasted to bring out all the flavors in the lamb. It is an enchanting way to enjoy this remarkable wine and compliment a delicious dish. The result was a wine that challenged the lamb both in spice and flavor but had elegant enough tannins to finish each bite with a flair. The wine itself has the aroma of violets and black fruit. The palate draws you in with blackberry, black cherry, cinnamon, and eucalyptus. Exquisite.
Finally, there are many sparkling wines as well in Salice Salentino. The types of sparkling are Bianco, Rosato, Negroamaro Rosato, Pinot Bianco, Fiano, and Chardonnay. Created with a second natural fermentation there is no use of carbon dioxide.
Salice Salentino Drew Me In
The wines were a big part of the attraction to the region for me. However, when you combine all of the aspects of the climate, terroir, the culture, and the people, it is difficult not to be drawn to this magnificent part of Puglia. From it’s charming towns to its quaint villages, the diversity of the land and the wine and food, there are few places that are at this memorable juncture in time. Salice Salentino is on my mind, and I’ve only just begun to discover all the jewels it has to offer.