Amphora wine in Apulia

VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani, author of Italy’s most popular wine blog, Vino al Vino, recently returned from Apulia.

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Above: Vittorio Pichierri of Vinicola Savese in Sava (Manduria, Apulia) has been aging wine in amphorae since the 1970s and beyond. Photo by Franco Ziliani.

How are things going in Apulia? I’ve been here since Sunday in “full immersion” together with some foreign colleagues — Patricia Guy, Rosemary George, Kyle Phillips, and Wojciech Bońkowski.

To be brief, I’d say that things are going exceedingly well and couldn’t be better, with an intensity of experiences, encounters, situations, and emotions that confirm the grandeur of this region and its centrality to the discourse of Italian wine, yesterday and today.

We started out Sunday and Monday, at the splendid Masseria Cefalicchio di Canosa (farmhouse and highly efficient and well-managed biodynamic farm), owned by politician and economist Nicola Rossi and his brother Fabrizio. A visits and tastings followed at the Spagnoletti Zeuli winery and then in the Gioia del Colle zone where the Primitivo produced is very different from that produced in Manduria and Salento (the wines of Gioia del Colle are gradually coming into focus and are beginning to establish themselves for their quality). Tuesday, we spent the day enjoying the beautiful backdrop of the Itria valley at I Pastini, where Nicola Carparelli told us the story of his rediscovery of the Fiano Minutolo grape and his research in white grape varieties in the Locorotondo zone. We then headed to Salento and San Donaci for a great tasting at Candido (where we tasted the winery’s products as well as other local production) and Guagnano where we visited Cantele and experienced another one of the collective tasting moments that revealed thrilling surprises.

All of these visits delivered meaningful experiences that allowed us to tap into the diverse world of Apulia and its wines today.

The we moved to the production zone for Primitivo di Manduria and yesterday morning in Sava, we had one of those great visits that alone, not to diminish the other visits, would have justified our journey to the southern lands of Apulia. We had an appointment at Vinicola Savese, with Vittorio Pichierri (above), an authentic voice and standard-bearer of the identity of Primitivo. From the moment of our arrival, my colleagues, who were visiting this historic winery for the first time, and I, who had been there before, knew we were in store for a visit we would never forget.

Vittorio is Primitivo’s “last of the Mohicans,” a sort of Bartolo Mascarello or Soldera of this noble wine. He is unmatched in his ability to tell the story of the grape grower and winemaker’s craft and he has always lived his life with the utmost respect for his land and the identity of Primitivo, for his method o producing it and honoring its traditions. But he’s no dusty museum curator: his winery is full of life and he thrilled us with the flight of wine he shared with us that day.

The tasting wasn’t just based on his many bottlings, from Tradizione del Nonno to Desiderium, Passione, and Terra Rossa (all of which we tasted together, just to mention a few).

But he also did something highly unusual: he took samples directly from the interred cement, glass-lined cisterns and from the large-format barrels used for long-term aging of his wines. Our tasting revealed these wines to be even more complete and more real in their evolution. And even more unusual was our tasting from Vittorio’s capasoni, a clay vessel similar to an amphora or the Italian earthenware jar, the giara. The capasoni vary in size and Vittorio Piccherri — who makes wine “by intuition,” as he likes to say — uses them to age his wine. He could care less about the dictates of marketing, modernity, or the “law of the market.” These wines are his masterpieces.

His wines are capable of challenging time and showing how Primitivo di Manduria — I beg your pardon — Primitivo di Sava, as he likes to point out, not only stands up to time but also evolves splendidly, acquiring a treasure of unimaginable elegance and complexity.

Unforgettable evidence of this was his truly moving, exquisite bottle of classic Primitivo Savese “obtained from the best ripe grapes in Sava” in 1975. A wax-sealed bottle with 21% alcohol, opened and decanted with great expertise by Enzo Scivetti, who accompanied us on the tour. The wine had an endless aromatic bouquet, with brilliant and aristocratic nuance, persuasive on the palate, enchanting, full of energy and still incredibly fresh, creamy, and drinkable with its notes of cherry and candied citrus, dried figs, spices, aromatic herbs, leather, tobacco, and cocoa.

Even more unbelievable was a wine more than twenty years old, drawn from a capasone by Vittorio and offered to us as the miracle of Primitivo.

This wine showed fantastic aromatic complexity, with an evolution of mid-palate notes that included dried mushrooms, truffle, rhubarb, Asian spices, black cherry and chocolate. In the mouth, it was fresh and full of life, with a magnificently warm texture, velvety with still impressive tannic structure. An enchanting, persuasive wine, very elegant, without the roughness and over-extracted leaning that we saw in a good number of wines from other wineries tasted that afternoon at the Manduria Wine and Must Producer Consortium. Too many wines we tasted tried to impress with power, concentration, and the intolerable woodiness that afflicts the many bottlings of Primitivo that crowd the production field of this noble and ancient Apulian wine.

Happily, there was no lack of good things to be discovered in Apulia but a hearty thanks goes to Vittorio Pichierri for having shown us the noble, ancient, wise, miraculous, and quasi-mystical face of Primitivo, a legacy of elegance, complexity, and calibrated sweetness (even in the rich naturally sweet wines, with their higher alcohol content), of harmony and — I believe — unrivaled balance in an ever more crowded panorama of Primitivo producers. This was one of those special visits, one of the best memories I will take away with me from this umpteenth vinous journey to one of the wine destinations I love the most, one of the best memories of an entire career of an itinerant chronicler of wine who seeks authenticity, poetry, and a capacity to inspire emotion and awe within…

—Franco Ziliani

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6 thoughts on “Amphora wine in Apulia

  1. Pingback: Amphora-aged Primitivo, pozoles and Rioja, and a Texas wine I liked « Do Bianchi

  2. Vittorio is a character, truly one of the last of the Mohicans. remind me to tell you sometime about the 4 hour, 19 course lunch we had that ended with his wife’s cherry grappa.

    The Pichierri’s are a great family. and the wines rock!

  3. i recently tried some of your wine. Which was deligthful not just in taste but also because my brother has done some research and found are ancestors are from the fabrizio family in this region

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