(Image from the town of Polignano a Mare)
In 2008 Shauna and I traveled to Puglia for our honeymoon and I have never been the same since. The "heel of the boot" is a magical place with beautiful vistas, amazing food, and great people. When we picked Puglia I was a bit concerned of only being able to drink Primitivo, Negroamaro and other spicy, ripe and high in alcohol reds, that while enjoyable do not have the same finesse as Barolo or Brunello. I was in for a huge surprise that has had me on a quest for years that was not realized until a few weeks ago.
While enjoying lunch in Lecce I asked for a glass of white wine, with a tinge of regret, (but I was hot) thinking I would get some flaccid, boring, white...I was given the exact opposite. The wine in my glass was FRESH, clean, vibrant, aromatic, full of live, and had acidity! I was blown away and immediately asked for the bottle. When the server brought the bottle it said Verdeca. I had never heard or seen this grape in my entire career and was mystified that it was native to Puglia and so refreshing.
(A Trullo in the Valle d'Itria)
Why was I so skeptical of white wines from Puglia? Up until that point my understanding of Puglia was a place that was HOT, flat, had huge mechanized vineyards and made big, rich, and rustic wines or big, rich, and modern wines from international varieties. So, after I took that first whiff of Verdeca I nearly fell on the floor and spent the rest of our trip trying to find out it any of it was exported to the United States. Alas, no one knew and also everyone thought the wine would not sell.
Verdeca is an old varietal that has convoluted history in Puglia. It is thought to have Greek roots (as do many of the grapes in Southern Italy but I have not found a definitive answer just yet) and is grown primarily in the Valle d'Itria. The name is a bit of a misnomer as this area of Puglia has no mountains to form a valley but something known as the Karstic Phenomena created a deep rut that provides a unique terroir in which Verdeca is able to produce a vibrant wine from a hot region.
Verdeca was originally one of the primary grapes used in the production of vermouth. In the beginning vermouth was a very popular and well made product (that is seeing a comeback) but as demand surged more grapes were needed and Verdeca could easily produce more quantity (which decreases quality). Soon, the vermouth market became saturated and demand dropped and Verdeca was a causality and its reputation was stained for generations. Not until the late 1990's did some producers begin to revive Verdeca and treat it like the quality wine grape it can be. After three years of searching, begging, pleading anyone who would listen about Verdeca it is now being imported to the U.S.A!
Winery: Masseria Li Veli
Grape: Verdeca (100%)
Region: Valle d'Itria IGT, Puglia Italy
Importer: Dalla Terra
Retail: $18 to $20
Notes: Bright, fresh, aromatic, and clean. The nose leaps from the glass with hints of mixed citrus: Tangelo, Meyer lemon, and key lime. Notes of magnolia and fresh herbs with a hint of minerality. The great part of the wine is the juxtaposition between the nose and the palate. The nose is so vibrant and full of citrus it seems that you are going to get this lush and fruity palate but it is crisp and more mineral driven than the nose alludes to. The finish is lingering in all the right ways.
Food Pairings: Crudo, summer salads, roast fish or chicken