In my experience, interest in southern Italy generally takes a backseat to places such as Rome, Tuscany and Venice. But it does produce some of the peninsula’s most interesting wines. The focus is on indigenous grape varieties, some of which have been revitalized and transformed after years of indifference. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting regions.
Abruzzo is notable for its mountains, national parks, and Adriatic coast. But its wines haven’t received the attention they deserve. Fattoria La Valentina, is one of the producers dedicated to elevating the status of Abruzzo wines. To this end, they produce only local plantings of montepulciano d’abruzzo, trebbiano d’abruzzo, and pecorino. The 2016 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($15) is a fine value that justifies the effort.
I also was impressed by the 2015 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva ($52) from Azienda Agricola Binomio, a collaboration with aspirations to world class recognition of La Valentina winemaker Sabatino Di Properzio and Stefano Inama (winemaker of Inama in the Veneto). This a modern style – ripe with mature tannins – though invokes traditional rusticity.
Puglia is the heel of Italy’s boot. And Masseria Li Veli is notable not only for its wines but also for its work to reclaim a historic property, known as a masseria – an ancient farmhouse that was converted to a winery in the late 19th century – and transformed it into a state-of-the-art operation producing native varieties. The result is another round of flavorful, good value wines: an ebullient 2018 Primitivo “Orion” ($15) and a hardy, spicy 2018 Li Veli Salice Salentino “Passamante” ($15).
In addition to Li Veli, the current owners the Falvo family founded the “ASKOS” project with the goal of rediscovering ancient Puglian varieties. The wines with this label are produced exclusively from ancient indigenous grapes and honor the region’s history of this unique wine, such as a fresh, juicy 2018 Susumaniello ($21) and a crisp, aromatic 2019 Verdeca ($20).
The theme of reving indigenous grapes particularly applies to Sicily. And the Tasca family, one of Sicily’s oldest winemaking family’s, has been at the forefront since the 1830’s with several estates under the overall brand of Tasca d’Almerita.
Under the Tenuta Regaleali label, they produce a dizzying array of fine values:
• 2016 Nero d’Avola “Lamùri” ($20) fresh, elegant, graceful red
• 2017 Perricone “Guarnaccio’’ ($20) important component of many red blends, delightfully tannic and earthy
• 2018 Le Rose ($15) delightful pink wine from nerello mascalese
• 2018 Catarratto “Antisa” ($22) nicely balanced cirsp, full white
• 2018 Grillo “Cavallo delle Fate” ($20) the primary grape of Marsala also makes a fine table wine
• 2018 Bianco ($15) crisp, well-rounded blend of local grapes and chardonnay
With a project they call Tenuta Tascante, they also produce serious values from vineyards surrounding Mount Etna, another neglected area that has gained renewed attention from many producers. Look for the enticing aromas and strong tannins of the 2016 Nerello Mascalese “Ghiaia Nera” ($21) and the salty citrus and herb of the white 2017 Carricante “Buonora” ($21) Carricante.
Finally, there are two impressive ventures on small neighboring islands. Tenuta Whitaker (a collaborative effort with the Whitaker Foundation to reestablish historical vineyards) has yielded a lovely, impressive 2018 Grillo “Mozia” ($22). Tenuta Capofaro on the island of Salina features a fresh, elegant 2018 Malvasia “Didyme” ($26).