Salice Salentino: A Drinkable, Affordable Red Wine from Italy's Apulia Region

Apulia (also called Puglia) is the region that makes up the southeast corner of Italy including the heel of the boot of Italy. Historically, Apulia has been a very large producer of wine often leading Italy in terms of quantity of wine produced. The wines produced there were rugged, rough and deeply colored, and not of high quality. Much of the production went into cheaper jug wines or was blended into generic wines. Often, the wines were scandalously blended into wines from the more premier wines of the north giving those wines deeper color and a bit of texture. Nevertheless, the locals liked their local wines. These wines, however, were rarely tasted outside their homeland as a serious individual bottle of wine.

Apulia has 25 DOC’s (there are no DOCG’s). Yet, only about 2 percent of the wine produced meets DOC standards. Perhaps the best know of the wines is the DOC Salice Salentino. It is pronounced SAH-le-chay Sahl-ehn-TEEN-oh, named after a small community made up mostly of vineyards and olive orchards on the Salento peninsula. It is relatively flat region making up the southern half of Apulia and forming the heel of the boot, sandwiched between the Adriatic and Ionian seas.

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Salice Salentino also comes in sweet red, rosé, white, sweet white and sparkling versions. It is the red that is the subject of this article though as the other wines rarely are seen. The basic reds have no ageing requirements, but the Riservas require 24 months of ageing before being released.

The major red grape of these wines is Negroamaro, which has been planted in Apulia at least since the sixth century B.C. Originally called niuru maru in the local dialect; the name translates to black and bitter. The grape is thick skinned and has a deep black and purple coloring although the wines tend to be deeply colored with just a hint of ruby near the rim. As its name implies, there is a pleasant bitter quality. It can also be exceedingly tannic. DOC regulations allow for the addition of twenty percent Malvasia Nera grapes, which soften the wine’s tannins and add some aromatic qualities. These grapes are labeled as either Malvasia nera di Brindisi and/or Malvasia nera di Lecce depending on where they are grown but genetically they are almost exactly the same. The ancient Greeks first brought Malvasia grapes to Apulia.

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