There are certain wines that, even without knowing what they are, make you want to drink them happily, heartily, with friends, and without restraint. They make you want to stuff rustic foods like bread and salami into your mouth using little to no table manners. These are my favorite wines. They don’t need to be aged, decanted, swirled, sniffed, or analyzed. They just need to be enjoyed with reckless abandon. Reds from Southern Italy fit this description and a Pugliese producer whose line is carried by Richmond-based importer, Peter Atkinson, makes wine fit for a bacchanalian feast.
Most of Puglia’s wine is produced on the high-heel of Italy’s boot—the Salento Peninsula—where the land is flat and drenched in sun with a mean annual rainfall so low that it’s measured in millimeters. But travel to the northern reaches of the region, near the country’s ankle, and it’s hilly and mountainous. Here, in the town of Lucera, accountant-turned-winemaker Alberto Longo is producing an impressive range of wines on about 85 acres of vines. His über-modern facility, complete with light-, temperature-, and humidity-controlled cellars, was built from a 19th century farm house, so terracotta tile roofs contrast with sleek stone walls.
Atkinson imports an interesting white that Longo makes with Falanghina, a grape more commonly grown in Campania, as well as a gravelly rosé that’s made from Negroamaro, an indigenous red grape that literally means “bitter black,” but it’s the reds that beg to be downed by the bucket.
Longo’s reds are as generous and lusty as those from Puglia’s sun-baked south, but because the north has iron-rich soil and a growing season that’s four to five weeks longer, Longo manages to coax out a minerality and complexity that isn’t always there in the Salento-grown stuff. A bonus, I should add, that comes at no additional cost. The Cantine di Terravecchia line retails for around $10 a bottle at Market Street Wineshops, Tastings of Charlottesville, Wine Made Simple, and Greenwood Gourmet & Grocery.
The pàmpana is 100 percent Negroamaro and tastes of fresh black cherries with lithe tannins and a bitter almond finish. The citerna takes Nero di Troia, a grape traditionally used only for blending, and lets it stand on its own. It comes across soft, floral, and swelling with blackcurrants. The làmia showcases Puglia’s trademark red wine grape, Primitivo, more gracefully than the often overripe, stewed versions from down south. With the same DNA as Zinfandel, Primitivo is all about spice and fruit and in the làmia, specifically plums and cinnamon.
In all three, fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, then the wine’s transferred to cement vats (see Winespeak 101) where it spends a few months before being bottled. They’re fresh, juicy, and ready to drink. I’d pair them with orecchiette, spicy sausage, and rapini; or pizza with soppressata and sweet peppers; or even just a hunk of sheep’s milk cheese and bread.
Of course, you need not limit yourself to Italian food. Tavola’s poured these juicy jewels by the glass, but so does Bizou and Bonefish Grill, where the pàmpana is the Happy Hour Red and a most contented companion with everything from surf to turf.
Longo makes higher-end wines that he oak- and bottle-ages for 18-plus months, but it’s his low-priced ones that scream instant-gratification, friend-filled, food-fueled, guilt-free fun.
Cement vats (n.): Vessels for aging wine that allow the microscopic exchange of oxygen without imparting any of the vanilla or baking spice flavors that oak barrels do.
The polished up Gov Cup goes to…
Glen Manor Vineyards 2009 Hodder Hill Meritage took this year’s Governor’s Cup, the first in a revamped competition which raises the profile for both the competition and its winners. The Meritage was selected from more than 400 entries, all of which were made from strictly Virginia-grown grapes. This year’s competition, judged by a panel of 15 wine professionals, placed the top 12 wines into a Governor’s Case and nine of them were from the Charlottesville area. The winners were announced last Thursday in conjunction with the Virginia Wine Expo, which ran over the weekend in Richmond.
Dinner down on the trail
The wineries of the Appellation Trail (White Hall Vineyards, Mountfair Vineyards, Glass House Winery, and Stinson Vineyards) are joining forces with Bill Curtis, owner and chef of Tastings, to offer a five-course meal at White Hall Vineyards on Saturday at 6pm. Each course will be paired with wines from the Appellation Trail. The cost is $175 per couple and includes all wine pairings, tax, and tip. Make your reservations at: theappellation trail.com/#events. Want to make a weekend of it? The Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm is offering a two-night package that includes the dinner along with a wine reception on Friday.