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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.
As with many European grape varietals, there is some debate regarding the precise origins of the Primitivo grape. Most people now agree that it probably came from Croatia, where it is still used widely in the production of red wine, and it known as Tribidrag. However, today it is a grape most commonly associated with the powerful red wines of Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, where the intense sunshine and brisk Mediterranean breezes produce grapes of remarkable character and balance. Primitivo is a dark grape, known for producing intense, inky, highly tannic wines, most notably the naturally sweet Dolce Naturale and the heavy and complex Primitivo di Manduria wines. Primitivo tends to be naturally very high in both tannin and alcohol, making it ideal for both barrel and cellar ageing, which brings out its more rounded and interesting features.
Primitivo is not the easiest grape to grow or manage, and it has had something of a difficult century. Indeed, by the 1990s, there was little interest in Puglian wines in general, and winemakers were neglecting their Primitivo vineyards and looking to other, more commercially viable varietals. However, the last decade has seen this grape come well and truly back into fashion, with new techniques and a heightened interest in native Italian grape varietals bringing Primitivo back into the spotlight. It is now widely loved for its intensity and ability to be paired with strongly flavored foods.
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.