Heroes of the Primitivo Grape
Down in the south of Italy we are in Puglia, land of the Primitivo grape and Frederico II and what a man he was - let us give you a brief biography of Frederico. Born on Boxing Day, 1194, by the age of three he was King of Sicily and went on to become King of Germany and Jerusalem as well as being Holy Roman Emperor. A highly cultured man, he spoke six languages including Arabic and Greek, so he knew at least three alphabets, and had a great interest in science and philosophy. He was excommunicated three times and had three or possibly four wives, depending on whose history you read.
From this you will realise that he was a man of great energy and he spent a lot of his life in Puglia where he built a network of defensive castles. Many of these castles survive and one is in a town called Gioia del Colle or Joy of the Hill. Time has not served the castle well but what remains is impressive enough, even though it is now surrounded by a huddle of shabby edifices that cramp its still discernible style.
If you travel just outside the town you can find another source of joy, a tiny winery called Pietraventosa, which translates as windy rock. Run by Marianna and her husband, they produce just 30,000 bottles of wine from 5.5 hectares, though this will increase when the newly planted 2 hectares of Primitivo vines bear fruit. Their production is wholly organic and they started the business in 2003, producing their first bottles of wine in 2005.
Primitivo is a native vine to Puglia and is grown mainly at lower levels where it produces wines with a big punch and alcohol levels up to 16% but Marianna sets out to do something very different; her wines are more sophisticated, more elegant. At 1100 feet above sea level, the vines here are growing on very rocky soil and the roots have an heroic struggle to find their way through the limestone to find the moisture underneath - they have to be tough.
The first wine we tried was Allegoria 2018, a DOC made with 100% Primitivo. With a deep colour, on the nose there is a bouquet of cherry jam with hints of cinnamon and cloves. On the palate it is dry and acidic but the tannins are pleasantly light with hints of blood orange. At 13.5% it is well balanced and will pair with food with milder flavours like mushroom risotto.
The second wine we tasted was a 2017 Ossimoro. The translation is oxymoron and the label reflects this with an angel and a devil toasting each other with a glass of wine! The reason for this name becomes clear when you discover that it is a blend of two contrasting grapes namely indigenous Primitivo and Aglianico from neighbouring Campania. The bouquet is complex with tobacco, leather, cardamom and perhaps a hint of liquorice. On the palate, there are blackberries and hints of raspberry and then, at the end, the tannins from the Aglianico come in as a fitting finale to this tour de force of the blender’s art. This should pair well with stronger favours like lamb.
The final wine we tasted was the 2015 Riserva. What a delight! This is made with grapes from a small 50-year-old vineyard which Marianna and her husband acquired some years ago. On the nose, there is the flavour of smoke from red meat cooking on a barbecue mixed with bitter cherries. If that sounds odd don’t worry - it's just fabulous. On the palate, ripe plums explode in the mouth and the structure is excellent as is the finish. This is truly a wine to savour.
Marianna and her husband produce other magnificent wines including a splendid rose. The rose, Est Rosa, has been winning awards since 2012. This is a beautifully elegant wine with a bouquet of roses, spring flowers, cherries and wild strawberries. On the palate there is a tangy, minerality which is balanced by a softness from berry flavours. There’s even a sneaky hint of blood orange in there.