Puglia, like much of Italy, is primarily known for its red wines and varietals. But not exclusively, and the ValD'Itria, located south of Bari, in the territories of the Communes of Locorotondo, Alberobello, Martina Franca e Cisternino has always been known for white wines too. So when Lino Carparelli, the driving force behind Torrevento, decided to open his own winery in the Val D'Itria, it was only natural that he should have thought of white grapes.
The older farmers Mr. Carparelli talked with when laying the foundations of the new winery suggested he try a varietal that had almost completely vanished, Fiano Minutolo. So he and several friends spent the summer of 2000 working through old vineyards in search of Fiano Minutolo vines, which they then propagated. The first hectare was planted in 2001, and he now has 10 hectares, in addition to some Verdeca and some Bianco D'Alessano, two other classic Val D'Itrian white varietals.
But what is Fiano Minutolo? Given the name one would expect some sort of relationship with the Fiano grown in Avellino and other parts of Campania, but this doesn't seem to be the case. Rather, it is an intensely aromatic white grape of uncertain origin -- Roberto Giuliani traces its history (see link below), saying that Carlo II D'Angiò is said to have introduced it from Campania, but there are also records indicating that Frederick II had sent Apulian white grapes to Campania the century before.
Regardless of where it came from, he continues, it did grow well in Puglia, and was eventually introduced to the Val D'Itria, where it was held in considerable esteem, thanks to its quality. Unfortunately, it wasn't as productive as either Verdeca or Bianco D'Alessano, the other two white grapes of the region, and was therefore largely abandoned after the phylloxera outbreak, though a few vines did survive in the old vineyards.
And this was the situation when Mr. Carparelli began to work with it. He originally intended to use it to make an old-style Locorotondo DOC, which is a blend of Fiano Minutolo, Verdeca, and Bianco D'alessano, but realized once he began to work with it that Fiano Minutolo is actually 6 closely related sub-varietals (for want of a better term), and that the varietal is known by other names in other parts of Puglia, for example Greco Aromatico or Greco Bianco. In other words, there was a certain amount of confusion surrounding Fiano Minutolo. However, it was clearly distinct from the Fiano used in Campania to make Fiano D'Avellino.
Given the situation, Mr. Carparelli decided the best course of action would be to use Fiano Minutolo to make a wine in purezza, which would be easier to evaluate, rather than a Locorotondo Blend. And in the meantime, to avoid confusion with the wines made from Fiano di Avellino, Puglia's department of Agriculture is changing the name of the varietal from Fiano Minutolo to Minutolo, and this strikes me as a wise decision.
After a tour of the winery, which is located in a series of Trulli (the characteristic buildings of the region, which I will discuss shortly in Cosa Bolle in Pentola), we tasted Mr. Carparelli's wines:
I Pastini Cupa Bianco d'Alessano Valle D'Itria IGT 2008 Brassy white with brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is pleasant, with delicate floral accents and hints of hay mingled with delicate greenish accents, some gunflint, and bright acidity. Quite a bit to say. On the palate it's bright, with slightly smoky grapefruit acidity supporting lively citric fruit and clean slightly greenish tannins that flow into a clean rather bitter finish that has a clean citric underpinning, and becomes rather languid with time. Quiet pleasant, and will work well as an aperitif or with fish or cheese-based antipasti, and will also work well with fish. A nice discovery. 2 stars I Pastini Faraone Verdeca Valle D'Itria IGT 2008 Pale brassy white with brassy reflections. The bouquet is muted, with some gunflint and moderate acidity, but the overall impression is quite neutral. Pleasant, but not too aromatic. On the palate it's full, with fairly bright slightly gunflint laced citric acidity, and languid citric fruit that flows into a clean rather sour lemony finish. Pleasant in a direct key, and will drink well with foods, ranging from fish or cheese based pasta dishes, though fish and on to fried fish and vegetables (or meats too). Expect it to drink quickly. 2 stars
I Pastini Antico Locorotondo DOC 2008 This is a blend of 60% verdeca, 35% Bianco D'Alessano, and 5% Fiano Minutolo. It's pale brassy yellow with brilliant brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is delicate, with some gunflint minerality and delicate herbal notes. Direct. On the palate it's ample and soft, with moderately intense acidity supporting clean minerality and lemony acidity, and flowing into a clean citric finish. Pleasant in a very direct key, and will work well as a day to day white wine. 1 star
I Pastini Rampone Fiano Minutolo Valle D'Itria IGT 2008 Lively brassy gold with greenish brassy relflections and white rim. The bouquet is intriguing, with rich floral accents mingled with mint and some nutmeg, and hints of orange blossoms, and spice; though some of the other tasters are talking about Moscato I find that it brings to mind the Malvasias of Emilia Romagna. Very nice, and a wine one can converse with. On the palate it's rich, and rather languid, with full languid fruit -- apricot and bitter orange with pleasant savory accents and clean slightly greenish gunflinty tannins that lead into a warm savory fruit laced finish. Very nice, and a completely unexpected surprise. Worth seeking out. 90-91
I Pastini Arpago Primitivo Tarantino IGT Rosso 2006 Deep brick almandine with cherry rim paling to white at the nail. The bouquet is delicate, with balsam-laced cherry plum fruit supported by some cedar from grapes and deft wood smoke and spice, again from grapes. Nice depth and it opens beautifully, revealing considerable richness of fruit. On the palate it's ample, with fairly rich plum prune fruit supported by moderate acidity, and by warm balsamic tannins that lay a leathery burr over the tongue, and flow into a clean rather bitter finish. It's quite pleasant, though more a food wine than a sipping wine; it will work well with grilled meats or roasts, and will also age nicely for 3-5 years. 2 stars
I Pastini Elogio alla Lentezza Aleatico Rosso Dolce Puglia IGT 2006 Deep pyrope with dark brick rim. The bouquet is intense and intriguing, with jammy bitter cherry fruit supported by iodine and eucalyptus, mingled with quinine, whose bitterness balances the sweetness of the fruit. A great lot going on, and fascinating to sniff. On the palate it's rich, with powerful sweet cherry fruit supported by sweet greenish tannins and deft acidity, and it flows into a clean rather bitter -- there's quinine bitterness -- finish that lasts and lasts. A beautiful wine, and a perfect example of why it's worth getting excited about Aleatico. Great freshness, and perfectly balanced sweetness that keeps the wine from being cloying. 90
In the course of our trip, we did taste a few other wines made from the Fiano Minutolo, or Minutolo grape:
Candido Tenuta Marini Fiano Salento IGT 2008 Tasted during lunch at Candido; it's a Fiano Minutolo and is pale brassy yellow with greenish hl and brassy reflections. The bouquet is rich w powerful floral accents and honeysuckle mingled with some bitter orange and orange peel, and underlying sweetness. On the palate it's ample and fairly sweet, with honeydew melon and moderate acidity; there's more sweetness than acidity, though the acidity does emerge in the finish. Pleasant in a sweeter more approachable key than some of the whites we tasted, and will be nice as an aperitif; I found it a bit too sweet to want to serve it with western-style fish, but the sweetness will work nicely with more richly spiced Chinese or perhaps Thai dishes. If you like sweeter whites you will enjoy it. 1 star
Felline Rufiano Salento Bianco IGT 2008 This is a Fiano Minutolo; they call it Rufiano because Puglia doesn't allow people to use the word Fiano for a Fiano Minutolo-based wine. This is the first vintage, from 3-year old vines. It's brilliant brassy yellow with golden reflections and white rim. The bouquet is intense, with candied citron with some underlying minerality. Intriguing On the palate it's ample, with moderately rich lemony fruit that has some orange accents, and flows into a long citric finish with slightly greenish tannic underpinning. It's not as tight as I might have liked, but does display a certain grace, and because of its lively acidity it will drink well with rich foods such as fried fish or grilled fish. I would expect future vintages to improve, as the now very young vines mature. 2 stars
Vetrere Cre Salento Fiano IGT 2008 This is a Fiano Minutolo. It's brassy gold with golden reflections and white rim. The bouquet is intense, and quite aromatic, with strong mentholated greenish spicy notes that bring brill cream to mind Interesting, and particular. On the palate it's soft and fairly sweet with mentholated lemon fruit supported by sweetness and moderate acidity that flow into a rather soft finish. I'd have liked more tightness to it. 1 star
Bottom Line: I very much enjoyed Mr. Carparelli's wines. And was extremely impressed by Fiano Minutolo, which offers Apulian winemakers a unique opportunity that they will be quite wise to take advantage of. Keep an eye out for it.
NO STAR goes to wines that are correctly made but nothing to get excited about.
ONE STAR goes to wines that are good. TWO STARS go to wines that are very good to excellent. THREE STARS and a POINT SCORE (90-100) go to wines that are superb to extraordinary. And I will give pairing suggestions, which I consider much more important than the scores.