I was with Sebastian Payne MW, Society buyer for Italy, on a whistle-stop tour of the southern wine regions of the country. The purpose of the trip was mainly to see existing suppliers from Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria, but also to prospect for new wines. We arrived in Naples on a Tuesday evening and were greeted by nothing short of a deluge. Luckily the boys from La Guardiense co-op came to rescue us.
We arrived in Naples on a Tuesday evening and were greeted by nothing short of a deluge. When it rains in southern Italy, it really rains.
First stop: La Guardiense Co-op in Benevento, Campania
We were met at the airport and immediately sped over to Benevento, an hour's drive inland, to see La Guardiense, producer of The Society's Falanghina, as well as other brilliant-value wines such as the Sannio Greco, Janare.
La Guardiense is a forward-thinking, innovative co-operative, not something one comes across very often in this part of the world. With the guidance and drive of charismatic winemaker Marco Giulioli, protégé of wine guru Riccardo Cotarella, La Guardiense is making world-class wines.
La Guardiense, producers of our Society's Falanghina and one of Italy's best co-ops, thanks in no small way to oenologist Marco Giulioli
The whites are particularly impressive, and we tasted tank samples of the 2016 fiano, falanghina and greco. All the wines showed good varietal expression and attractive balance. We then tasted the 2015 whites, now all in bottle and starting to show their class. The 2015 vintage was the best for whites for many years, and both The Society's Falanghina and the Sannio Greco Janare were impressive.
After dinner that evening and having checked into a local hotel I started listening to the US Presidential Election results on the BBC. I went to bed to listening to reports that Hillary Clinton's lead was narrower than expected but that she was on course to win, and woke up to a Republican victory. None of this seemed to have filtered through to the little Campanian village where we were staying, as the lady serving breakfast was unaware of the news emerging from across the Atlantic.
East into Puglia on the trail of a tiny, obscure DOC
From Benevento in Campania we drove to northern Puglia and met up with Alberto Longo, an accountant by profession, who started making wine in 2004. Alberto was born and brought up in the area and has been instrumental in reviving a tiny DOC called Cacc'e Mmitte.
There are now six wineries in this DOC, and Alberto's is the largest. The local red variety that goes into the wine is the nero di troia, which is only grown in northern Puglia, and which is noted for its high levels of tannin and relatively low levels of alcohol. It must make up at least 55% of the Cacc'e Mmitte wine, with montepulciano d'Abruzzo and bombino bianco making up the balance.
After a tasting of the full range we sat down to lunch prepared by Alberto's elderly mother Donnadele, an excellent cook. The Cacc'e Mmitte wines demand hearty food, and the lunch did not disappoint, with homemade salami and prosciutto followed by orecchiette pasta and a rich tomato sauce.
Hearty Cacc'e Mmitte wines demand hearty food, lovingly prepared by Antonio's elderly mother, Donnadele Longo who is an excellent cook
Donnadele originates from Abruzzo, north of Puglia. Every winter, as a young girl, she and her family used to take part in the transumanza, driving their five hundred sheep on foot the 300kms south to Puglia to find grazing land, making the return journey the following spring.
In the afternoon we headed south to visit Tenuta Rasciatano, from whom we have bought a couple of wines in the past. Rasciatano is primarily an olive oil producer, with 250 hectares of olive trees, but also makes good reds from the aforementioned nero di troia variety. Whilst visiting the winery we were watched over by the estate's security guards.
Rasciatano security guards
The 2016 vintage for wine in Puglia is decent, although not as good as 2015, but the harvest was extremely difficult for olive oil producers, with swarms of mosche (flies) attacking the crop and reducing the harvest to a fraction of its normal size.
A hair-raising ride south into the instep of Italy's boot
Next stop Vulture in Basilicata, a long, hair-raising, car ride to the instep of Italy's boot. Nearly three hours, and a puncture, later we arrived at the very remote Alovini winery.
Owner Oronzo Alò met us in fading light and proudly showed us his new ‘toy’, a brand new, state-of-the art winery built into the hillside, with wall-to-wall stainless steel tanks and fermenters. Oronzo makes excellent whites from fiano, malvasia and greco, and juicy polished reds from aglianico and primitivo. His 2016s were delicious and will no doubt feature in our range in the coming months and years.
Unscheduled stop at the tyre shop
Peppers drying in the window at the hotel (they are dipped in hot oil and served crisp with the aperitivo)
Where to go next?
Puglia & the great Graticciaia >
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