Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Getting Acquainted with Salice Salentino

When two wine samples arrived from the Salice Salentino region of Italy, I quickly realized how limited I was in my knowledge of this area. Although I had met one producer from Puglia a few years ago, I had not encountered any other wines from the region besides his since then. A quick search of some wine textbooks from previous classes showed me that I was not mistaken, I really had not learned much about this area during my formal wine education at all, my WSET-3 textbook, for example, had one sentence regarding Salice Salentino in their two paragraph coverage of all of Puglia. It seemed a little research was in order.

Puglia is located in southeast Italy in what is commonly referred to as "the heel of the Italian boot" surrounded by both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The climate is sunny, warm and dry with a good diurnal shift making it ideal for many types of agriculture along with grape growing. Salice Salentino is located in the southern part of the region near the center of "the heel" or sub-penisula.

The Salice Salento DOC is named for a town located in the province of Lecce which is the main production area. There are many styles of wine produced within this region. The primary grape in the two samples I received is Negroamaro. The name translates to black and bitter in English. The grape is believed to have been brought to the region during Greek colonization of the area around the 8th century BC.

The Greeks were not the first people to arrive and they would not be the last to want to colonize or take over the area. The history of Puglia reads like Game of Thrones with one kingdom after another laying claim to its agricultural bounty and strategic location.

After the Romans ousted the Greeks, they connected Puglia to Rome with the Appian Way, an important road for the empire that would enable trade between the two areas. After the fall of Rome, the area was controlled by the Ostrogoths, the Lombards, the Normans, the Holy Roman Empire, the French Angevins, the Turks, the Aragons, Austria, Spain, and France before finally being united with the rest of the Italian peninsula during Risorgimento in 1861. After Puglia was reunited with Italy, it would continue to grow as an important agricultural region eventually surviving intense bombing during WWII as German troops were forced out.

The region continued as an agricultural and winemaking area throughout the 20th century and into the present time. Salice Salento would receive its DOC status in 1976. Regulations require a minimum of 75% Negroamaro grapes in both the red and rosato wines and a minimum of 90% if Negroamaro is included on the front label. Riserva wines must be aged for 24 months with a minimum of 6 months in oak.

The wines:

Rosalbòre Salice Salentino Negroamaro 2017 - This rosato wine is produced by Cantine Sanpancrazio, a cooperative that has been working the area since 1961. Currently there are about 400 contributing members with 500 hectares of vineyards within the Salice Salentino production area. Their philosophy is "Tradition in the vineyard and innovation in the cellar." This cherry colored rosé is made from 100% Negroamaro grapes which have been fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. With fresh aromas and flavors of strawberry and raspberry with light floral hints of rose and a touch of rosemary, this dry, medium+ bodied wine is well-balanced with food friendly acidity and 13.5% ABV with a lingering red berry finish, it is fruity, refreshing, and crowd-pleasing.

Falco Nero Salice Salentino Riserva 2013 - This reserve red wine is produced by family owned Cantine de Falco which has been operating since 1949. It is made from 80% Negroamaro and 20% Malvasia Nera, a blending grape that enhances aromatics and lessens tannins. With intense fruity aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum, and prune with a distinct dark chocolate note, this dry, soft red is rich and juicy with a savory note and a hint of spice in the persistent finish. 14% ABV

Both wines are highly recommended.

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