Monday, November 03, 2008

Torrevento: Fine Wines from Puglia

Torrevento is one of the largest Puglian wine producers, with holdings in all the major , and about 400 hectares under vine. Like most large Puglian wineries, they started out selling cistern wines, inky tannic things with high alcohol contents that other winemakers further north would buy by the cisterna (a tank truck is an autocisterna) to bolster whatever it is that they were making where they happened to be.

However, when the younger generation joined in, in 1990, they decided to start putting their own name on the bottles. It took a while for the established wine press to notice this new development, but with time a steady stream of successes has ensued.

Francesco Liantonio told us that they were among the first to work seriously with Nero di Troia, the northern Puglian grape that is currently attracting a great deal of attention. It hasn't always, however, because, by comparison with some of the other southern red varietals it gives low yields: At the most 95 quintals/hectare, and though this is a lot by the standards of quality wine making (especially further north, where the sun is less intense), those in the business of making blending wines needed more to turn a decent profit.

So while others were stripping it out, Francesco and his associates were among the few who were looking at it with a different eye, and liking what they saw. They also grow other autochthonous southern varietals, and in the course of a meal at Florence's Ristorante Oliviero we were treated to a very pleasant sampling of their production. We began with:

Matervitae Bombino Bianco Puglia IGT 2007
Brassy gold with brassy reflections. Rich bouquet with considerable citrus that gains depth from herbal accents and some green apricot. On the palate it's fairly rich with clean rather languid lemony fruit with green apricot accents flowing into a long green apricot finish. Pleasant in a direct, up front key, and will work well as an aperitif, or with fish or cheese-based antipasti, and also with fish-based pasta dishes or risotti, or with grilled or roasted fish or white meats. In short, versatile, and impressive for an entry-level wine.
2 stars

Followed by Reds:

Torre del Falco Murgia IGT Nero Di Troia 2006
This is another entry-level wine; it's deep pigeon blood ruby with cherry rim, and has a direct, fairly rich bouquet with jammy red berry fruit supported by some spice and hints of caramel from the grapes (no wood). On the palate it's medium bodied, with fairly rich dry cherry fruit supported by underbrush and moderate acidity, while there is also considerable graphite bitterness in the tannins that's typical of Nero di Troia, and provides both backbone and depth. Direct, up front, and will drink nicely with meat-based pasta dishes, simple grilled meats, and other like dishes. A wine that doesn't demand attention, but rather supports what it's served with, and will go quickly.
2 stars

Vigna Pedale Castel del Monte DOC Rosso Riserva 2004
This is a Nero di Troia, and is deep pigeon blood ruby with lively cherry rim. Poured ink; Francesco tells us some of the vineyards are 30 years old, and that they're trained in part to the traditional Alberello style (free standing bushes) and to Spalliera, rows with strung wires providing support. Returning to the wine, the bouquet is delicate, with fairly rich floral accents and clean forest berry fruit -- currants in particular -- laced with spice. Nice depth and pleasing elegance. On the palate it's ample, with clean rich forest berry fruit supported by moderate blackberry acidity and by tannins that are ample, with clean graphite bitterness that continues at length, becoming dusty as it fades, and this is a factor of youth; the wine will become silky with age, and has the capacity to age well for many years. It will work well with succulent, not too fatty red meats, or white meats too, for example turkey or roast beef sliced fairly thick. 200,000 bottles of this wine are produced yearly, and to be frank I'm impressed. This sort of quality usually comes in smaller volumes and at less favorable quality/price ratios (we were given cellar prices, which I am not passing on since the path a wine takes en route can have a tremendous impact upon price).

Sine Nomine Salice Salentino DOC Rosso Riserva 2003
A more southerly Puglian wine that's 90% Negroamaro and 10% Malvasia Nera; it's impenetrable pigeon blood ruby with cherry rim and has a vinous bouquet with jammy berry fruit and some gum Arabic mingled with wet earth and moderate spice. Very young. On the palate it's full, ample, and very smooth, with rich clean cherry fruit that has some balsamic accents mingled with underbrush, and is supported by clean sweet smooth tannins that flow into a smooth berry fruit finish. Graceful and elegant in a very approachable key; it doesn't have quite the depth of the Vigna Pedale, but is quite enjoyable and will drink very well with drier meats, for example roast turkey or an arista (roast boned pork loin). Again, excellent quality/price ratio.

Kebir Puglia IGT Rosso 2002
Puglia was one of the few parts of Italy not to suffer from the dreadfully wet summer weather in 2002 -- simply because it didn't rain, and hasn't rained much any summer since then either, with the result that Torrevento is sinking deep wells from which to provide the water necessary to keep the vines alive. Returning to the wine, Keber, which means sovereign in Arabic and is a bow to Federico II, the Holy Roman Emperor who was excommunicated for his openness with respect to Araby: It's their one nod to international tastes, a blend of Nero di Troia and Cabernet Sauvignon that spends 14 months in barriques, and is inky pigeon blood ruby with violet highlights. Deft bouquet, with forest berry fruit supported by some grassy herbal accents, spice, and hints of underbrush. Inviting, and the Cabernet is quite apparent, but doesn't overpower the Nero di Troia. On the palate it's smooth, with fairly rich red berry fruit supported by moderate spice and very smooth ample tannins, while there is sufficient acidity to provide direction, and it flows into a smooth finish. Quite elegant in an approachable international key, and is a wine you will enjoy greatly if you like large, smooth fruit driven wines. It will work well with flavorful, fairly dry meats, or also by the glass farther from the table. As with the others, fine quality/price ratio.
2 stars

And Finished With Another White:

Dulcis in Fundo Moscato di Trani DOC Dolce 2006
This would be more alcoholic, but they interrupt the fermentation when it reaches 12%, leaving sufficient sugar to produce another 3-4% alcohol were it to ferment. It's brassy gold with slight apricot highlights, and has a pleasant bouquet that combines rich honeydew melon with green apricot and quite a bit of sweetness. On the palate it's fairly rich, with languid full honeydew melon fruit that gains depth and contrast from bitter accents that gradually emerge, coming to overshadow the sweetness in the finish. Pleasant and will work quite well with dry patisserie, and is also a wine one could meditate over.
2 stars.

Bottom Line: I'm impressed. They have done a fine job of converting from vini da taglio, blending wines, to first-rate south Italian wines, and have done so while keeping a tight rein on prices -- though I won't give exact figures, everything we tasted sells for under 10 Euros, and most considerably under -- making the wines quite attractive to consumers.

In addition to making wine, Torrevento also makes olive oil, which they are not yet selling, and they grow durum wheat and make high quality pasta, which is for now aimed at the restaurant trade, though with time they hope to expand to quality retailers too.

Want to know more? Check out Torrevento's Site.

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