Spotlight on Southern Italy: Apollonio Primitivo NV

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puglia_wine_mapIn order to give my blog some more focus and increase both the educational dimension and the simple fun of blogging I’ve decided to create a weekly focus for the blog, whether it be a region, a grape, or a concept in wine-making. Each post in a given week will focus on a different aspect of the weekly theme, and I hope to prompt discovery of the lesser known, the unnoticed and the misconceived. This week’s focus is on the wines of Southern Italy, a large area with several regions that often get neglected by wine drinkers. And, this is a shame given both the quality and the values to be had in the region. In this week’s posts I will be focusing on wines from Apulia (the heel of Italy’s boot), Campagnia (near Naples), and Sicily, starting with a primitivo from Apulia.

The sheer bulk of wine produced in Apulia is surprising – its annual production makes up around 17% of the national total. For a country that is the largest wine producing nation in the world, that’s a considerable volume of juice. The tradition here for some time was to ship grapes north to Turin in Italy where it was made into Vermouth, or to ship wine to France as a fortification for the French stuff when vintages were bad. This has changed recently, and more and more producers are looking to make and bottle high quality wines within the region. This shift from large production and boring wines to wines made from lower-yielding vines and better agriculture practices is starting to show tremendous promise for the region. The relatively superb value of the wines is a good reason to explore.

Apulia sees sun nearly the entire year round and has an extremely temperate climate. There is almost no rain there either – so we’re talking a climate that is considerably different from the famous regions in Northern Italy. This type of heat means that grapes will ripen more easily and will tend to produce wines with higher brix (or sugar levels). Despite this intense climate, Apulia is not producing wines that are similar to California, instead producing wines with more old world panache.

There are actually 25 DOC wines (the mid-level Italian quality rating) within Apulia, including Primitivo di Manduria. While this wine is labelled as a Salento Rosso IGT “primitivo”, it is made 100% from that grape. There are debates about primitivo’s origins, with some sources claiming it was brought into Apulia by Phoenician settlers thousands of years ago, and other claiming that it was brought to Italy as late as the 1700’s. In any case, primitivo is a fascinating grape and, although the two are not completely genetically identical, it was recently discovered that it is the likely origin of California’s zinfandel – a wine that has become synonymous with the state. Unlike California zin, however, Italian primitivo tends to be earthier and a bit more rustic, even as its fruit power is undeniable. The dense concentration of Italian primitivos is a relatively recent development. As I mentioned above, the improved vineyard and wine-making practices are to thank for the dramatic increase in quality wines from the region. In fact, the large producer Antinori has moved into the region and is starting to produce wines from the primitivo grape.

Luckily, for now the clout and recognition of this region is small, though growing. This tends to mean that the wines are tremendous values and very fairly priced. I should mention that the great power of Italian primitivo also does not sacrifice natural acidity like California versions often do. The higher levels of natural acidity in Italian primitivo make it more successful at pairing with food. Too often California zinfandel’s high alcohol and low acid make it extremely difficult to fit with anything other than the most robust foods.

IMG_3833The producer Apollonio – who make this wine – is located on the Salento peninsula of Apulia, which even with the hot climate sees incredibly cold nights, which preserves acidity in the grapes and retards the ripening of the grape to allow for more even development. Production sits around 50 000 cases, so this is not a super small producer, although also by no means a huge one. It’s actually quite amazing the quality Apollonio consistently manages even with this relatively large production. Clearly the wine-maker knows what he is doing.

The nose on this wine was big and deep with plum, cedar, earth, sage, spice and some black cherry. The palate is equally big, but also has nicely balanced natural acidity and brings great fruit with cherry, plum, and peach, laced with chocolate. The palate is smooth and not at all hot, and the wine finishes with some length and a sage-like herbal quality. This wine has amazing fullness, but balanced alcohol and acidity. Real wine for a real price – a fantastic start for this week’s spotlight.

$30 at Kitsilano Wine Cellar


  1. Jake
    January 5, 2010

    Great post. I’m a big fan of Apollonio and the Primitivo is definitely good value. I’ve also had the Copertino which is tasty as well.

  2. Shea
    January 6, 2010

    Thanks Jake. Apollonio seems to be quite consistent. Their Vale Cupa is also very tasty. I’ve yet to try the squinzano and the salice, but am definitely curious.

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