Back from the flat coastal plain of Puglia lies a high limestone plateau called Le Murge and this is where you find the Valle d’Itria. This is the land of the trullo. The land here is divided into small plots and is intensively cultivated for a variety of crops but before it can be used the stone has to be cleared and there is a lot. This means that there is always a surplus available and you see it in the many thick drystone walls running across the landscape. It was also used to construct the round conically-roofed little houses called trulli. These were built to avoid property tax as by removing the keystone when the taxman called the whole thing would collapse only to be rebuilt on his departure. Well, that’s the legend and the locals are sticking to it.
Whetever the truth of the story, the Valle d’Itria is a magical landscape dotted with tiny trulli, and in the midst of this picturesque terrain lies the small vineyard (www.ipastini.it) owned by Gianni Carparelli and his family. Gianni has his roots firmly in Itrian soil – he was born in nearby Locorotondo. He left to study enology in Florence but came straight back and since 1997 the family have been running the winery.
Named I Pastini after the traditional tool used to plant vines, the winery itself is modern, using the most up-to-date techniques to produce a variety of wines from 15 hectares and an annual production of around 100,000 bottles. By contrast, across the single track railway that runs through the middle of the estate is the old farmhouse that dates from 1759 with older trulli attached. Inside you can see the details of how these unique conical buildings were constructed.
Whilst the winery is modern, the wines produced use some very traditional ideas. The grapes grown here include a variety called Minutolo that had almost died out because the vine produces grapes which are quite small and therefore less economically viable. However, Gianni has persevered with this and with the increasing demand for wines of differing character the white wine produced from Minutolo is proving very successful. Gianni’s wine, Rampone, is 100% Minutolo. It has a beautiful straw colour and almost has hints of green. On the nose there is a delicate bouquet of peach and passion fruit and on the palate it is dry with citrus flavours. This is a wine that I would strongly recommend. Try it with seafood, which is a staple of Pugliese cuisine.
Another ancient local variety grown here is Susumaniello. The name means little donkey in the local dialect but why it got that name is lost in the mists of time. Gianni’s explanation is that the vines produce a rich heavy crop so that it is carrying a heavy weight like a donkey, but other stories talk of a vine that can be difficult and stubborn, again like a donkey. Gianni produces a rich, deep red wine full of blackberries and cherries with a long finish that is 100% Susumaniello called VersoSud. It spends six months in barrique of French oak before being bottled. This is a wine to be enjoyed with red meat or mature cheese and it has an ABV of 13.5%.
The Primitivo grape is grown all over Puglia, especially on the coastal plain, where it produces a wine with a rich, deep and intense red colour. I Pastini is at 320m above sea level with chalky soil and the version that Gianni produces, Arpago, is a surprisingly different take on this very traditional Pugliese wine. Interestingly, Gianni chooses not to put this wine into oak; perhaps this explains why it is paler than the traditional version with a subtle flavour. It pairs well with ham, salami, pork or lamb but beware it is still 14% ABV!
A visit to I Pastini is guaranteed to provide something of interest for everyone and the traditionally-vaulted tasting room is a great environment in which to sample the range that Gianni has on offer. English is spoken but tours must be booked in advance.
Nearby Locorotondo is a hilltop town easily visible from the winery and consistently voted one of the most attractive in Italy. Time spent wandering the narrow whitewashed lanes of the centro storico will not be wasted – there are fabulous photo opportunities around every corner. Make sure you do not miss the terrace at the front of the town from where you can enjoy great views over the whole valley, including the I Pastini vineyards and winery.