There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' – the land of wines – so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it. The southern Italian region of Puglia, known as the 'heel' of the country, is home to Italy's most up and coming wineries, keen to demonstrate to the world that the poor reputation they had in the seventies and eighties no longer applies. The wines of Puglia are certainly full of character, often big, bright and juicy, and full of strong dark fruit flavours. The Puglian wines are also renowned for being slightly more alcoholic and structured than those found further north, giving wine drinkers plenty to experience and discuss when sampling the region's complex and fascinating wares. Puglia is, in essence, a region of deep traditions, and the wine makers there are determined to stick to their traditional techniques and methods, and keep the unique identity of Puglian wine alive in the twenty first century.
Apulia is a region in southeastern Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Gulf of Taranto in the south. Its southern portion known as Salento, a peninsula, forms a high heel on the "boot" of Italy.
Apulia produces more wine than any other Italian region usually making up around 17% of the national total. It also competes with Sicily for first place as grape producer. For a long time much of the wine made here was shipped north to Turin were it was used to make Vermouth, or to France where it was used to give structure to French wines when the local harvest was either poor or insufficient.
In recent years, Pugliese vintners have changed their views and tastes and are pursuing wines that effectively balance sweetness, acid, alcohol content and density.
Apulia counts 25 DOC wines including the Primitivo di Manduria, a red named after the grape with the same name that a California researcher, Carole Meredith, proved to have the same DNA as the American Zinfandel, the appreciated and prize-winning California Grape. The Accademia dei Racemi, an association that brings together vintners, agronomists and oenologists is dedicated to promoting and enhancing the quality of wine production in the region. Under the leadership of Mr. Gregory Polucci, it produces an excellent Primitivo and is experimenting with Zinfandel grapes imported from the USA.
A special mention should be made of Salice Salentino, a powerful red produced in the Lecce province. It is made primarily with Negro Amaro and has gained an enthusiastic following abroad because of the excellent ratio quality-price.
Puglia has long seen a prevalence of co-operative wine production. As both Italian and European community subsidies for co-op wineries have almost completely dried up, these large establishments and their grape-grower members are facing the choice of either changing their politics or risking annihilation. This is probably best for wine connoisseurs, as many co-ops have already scaled back production in order to focus on quality, branded, bottled wines.