Claudio always promised to take me to Puglia. Outside of Piedmont it’s his favorite place to eat. And that was plain to see. He’d return from his Ciclismo Classico bike tours with an inflated pancia, which made it hard to reach the drop handlebars without his belly getting in the way.
But for me, the lure of Puglia was its wines: Primitivo, Zin’s genetic twin; Salice Salentino, the go-to wine of my youth; and all those splendid rosés.
We finally made it there last fall. The idea was to take an honest-to-god vacation: Drive down the Salento coast and hit the Baroque port towns— Oltranto, Gallipoli, Lecce—as we circled the tip of the peninsula.
But I couldn’t help myself; I wanted an article to come out of this trip. So we struck a deal: We’d devote two and a half days to winery visits. I drew up a short list:
- Leone de Castris, the most historic of Salento’s wineries
- Gianfranco Fino, master of old-vine Primitivo
- Castello Monaci, a favorite in my wine club’s Primitivo tasting
- Ognissole, another favorite, owned by Feudi San Gregorio
- Cantele, a great price/value winery
Those visits wound up being the best part of the trip. Fall is an odd time to visit Puglia, a region that’s all about the seashore. By October, everyone had rolled up their beach towels and gone home. The seaside communities were ghost towns, and country inns and restaurants had closed for the season. It was pretty desolate on the shore.
Nonetheless, certain images and experiences from Puglia remain indelibly printed on my brain: The gnarly centenarian olive trees. The russet color of Primitivo vines in the fall. The beautiful Baroque architecture. The fantastic oil-packed tuna served at lunch with Ognissole’s Matteo Santoiemma. (He presented us with a gift jar after our raves.)
And most of all, the long conversations with winemakers and winery staff. They were so generous with their time, driving us to various vineyards near and far, and offering insights into the history, challenges, and goals of Puglia’s wine world.
And we didn’t even get to the Castel del Monte region, where they make Nero di Troia—my newest infatuation. I promise myself here and now, that’ll be the next trip.