If your doctor has ever told you about the healing power of wine, head to the heel.
We’re talking about Puglia, the region jutting out at the heel of Italy’s boot, nestled between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.
Puglia is a little more rustic than other parts of Italy. Its major cities like Bari, Lecce and Trani are a lot smaller and less trafficked by tourists than, say, Milan or Venice.
But what you can sample, instead, are some quality, inexpensive wines (most are less than 20 euros), in the country’s third biggest wine-producing region, which boasts about 30 different indigenous grapes.
There are big and small wineries operated by friendly Italians that are free and open to the grape-guzzling public (although one should call before stopping by, they all advise).
In San Pancrazio Salentino is the Tenute Mater Domini winery, which opened in 2003 and offers an array of reds, whites and rosés, our favorite being the Casili — red wine that is 95 percent Negroamaro, one of the most popular local grapes.
After lunch in Lecce — try Persone, an underground restaurant, bar and B&B in a former synagogue that offers a buffet of pastas, vegetables and salumi at extremely reasonable prices — the effects of the alcohol you drank might have worn off.
We suggest getting your buzz back at Leone de Castris, one of the oldest wineries in Puglia (it dates back to 1665), which is also the first winery to use the Negroamaro to make a rosé. Called Five Roses, it’s 90 percent Negroamaro, 10 percent Black Malvasia grapes.
Unlike many others in Puglia, this winery is decked out with portraits and busts of former owners, and on the second floor of the building they’ve adorned their tasting room with old wine presses. After giving their Five Roses a sip, we recommend the Salice Salentino 2009 Riserva, an almost smoky red (also a 90/10 split of Negroamaro and Black Malvasia) with hints of blackberry, black cherries, basil and spice.
And there are other rosés worth trying. Mottura, a winery in a 19th-century country house, offers a pink rosé one of their Le Pitre brand wines, which has nice fruitiness (a little strawberry? a little cherry?) and crispness.
Of course, Puglian wine is not all Negroamaro. At the Vigne & Vini winery there are some excellent Primitivo wines (Primitivo being a genetic clone of the Zinfandel). Their Moi Primitivo Puglia has, along with its red fruit, hints of plum jam and licorice.
Some of the wineries are bigger and more grandiose than others, and one definitely gets a sense of the vastness of these (and just how big an industry wine is) walking amongst the 1,000 or so oak barrels in Bocca di Lupo’s cask room. Bocca di Lupo (“mouth of the wolf”) is one of two estates that the wine producer Tormaresca has, and the one in Puglia is in the Castel Del Monte region. Try their Aglianico, a black grape, originally from Greece, which yields a rich, peppery, nicely acidic red wine.
Hopping from winery to winery, one sees how lush the landscape is; the fields are crammed with vineyards and olive trees. One of the best ways to take this all in is to spend your days at one of the country farmhouses known as masserias.
Masseria Potenti (from 160 euros) is a 12-suite compound deep in a green, rustic area near Taranto in the middle of the region (but not so rustic that it didn’t have a swimming pool).
In Trani, Corteinfiore (from 70 euros) is both a six-room hotel and a restaurant, offering excellent pastas and seafood.
And don’t miss the Rivera winery, which is run by the president of the Puglia wine consortium, Sebastiano de Corato, whose grandfather started the winery 60 years ago. Take a sip of the Puer Apuliae, a rich, Nero di Troia red wine, or the Cappellaccio, an Aglianico, and you’ll be knocked off your heels.
Italy’s magical Puglia region | New York Post.