Di Karen Phillips, Andiamotrips

It was a windy night in Naples on Thursday, March 4th.  Inside, however, I was enjoying the calore of Puglia.The latest edition of Citta del Gusto’s Wine Lab brought us to Puglia with the help of Paolo De Cristofaro and Paolo Zaccaria of Gambero Rosso.  The star of the evening…a grape that feels at home in the heat and soil of Puglia -negroamaro.I didn’t have much backgrond knowledge on negroamaro or Puglia for that matter, but Paolo De Cristofaro solved that problem.  While our wine was being served (12…yes 12) Paolo shared with us his vast knowledge of three principle areas that he strongly believes are crucial to understand and appreciate prior to our wine tasting:

  1. Territory and climate
  2. Art and history
  3. Music and folklore

I followed along closely underlining and highlighting points he brought up about the luce, calore, vento which is particular to Salento. How cities such as Lecce are rich in baroque art and architecture. In the background, a film accompanied his discussion of the famous Notte della Taranta where women of the region dance as if possessed during a certain period of the harvest due to a spider bite, (That story alone deserves its own blog!)

SO , we know the territory, but we came to talk about wine.  Particulary two wines from two producers that proudly represent Salento-Leone De Castris and Conti Zecca.  Both wineries produce reds with negroamaro, a grape that that the ancients Greeks brought to Italy.  A grape that feels at home in the hot climate of Salento, its clay and chalky soil.  Strong, forte, and for our wines that we were to try needed un pò di aiuto per morbidere, a little help to make the wine smoother.

Our classwork for this lab, so to speak, was to taste 6 vintages (2006-2000) of Donna Lisa Leone De Castris and Nero Conti Zecca.  And taste we did, served with finger food prepared by chef Antonio Russo and pizza by Michele Leo.  During the Wine Labs, you are free to taste the wines on your own, take your own notes, express your own opinions.  In other words, while listening to the representatives from the wineries themselves (Marco Mascelloni and Piernicola Leone de Castris from Leone de Castris and Ferdinando Antonio Romano from Conti Zecca) I was able to understand where they were coming from, their stories, their batlles and victories. 

The advantage or should I say, privelege of attending a wine tasting of this sort ,when you can taste the same wines-side by side- but different vintages, is that you get the chance to see how factors such as climate and age play on a wine. 

Donna Lisa Riserva, for example (90% negroamaro, 10 % malvasia) is aged 18 months in wooden barrels.  I nust admit that the 2006 offering was too strong for me at first.  The aromas, the taste spoke of a ‘young’ wine that needed a little more time to breathe.  In fact, a half hour later, I noticed how the wine had evolved in the glass , aromas more pleasureable, smoother taste.  A good sign for those looking for aging wines….

Nero (70% negroamaro, 30% cabernet sauvignon) is aged for 18 months in barrique and 12 months in the bottle).  Their 2004 offering gave me a sensation of comfort.  My degustazione gave me images of my fireplace, enjoying my evening winter ritual of finishing my glass of wine in front of the flames as I swirl my glass to set free the aromas  a good glass of red has to share.  Michele Leo’s foccacia was the perfect pairing to accompany me on this trip down memory lane.  This glass was my ‘favorite’ for the evening. (Though can you really choose a favorite after tasting 12?)

Another successful wine lab.  I left Città del Gusto a little tired, but with a great desire to hop in my car for a road trip to Salento.  Maybe late spring….