Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Wandering Puglia: Vittorio Pichierri and Vinicola Savese

The next day of our Puglia trip started in the rain, which is standard in the winter, and to be honest I wasn't as impressed as I should have been at the first sight of our first stop, Vinicola Savese: The winery is decidedly ramshackle, because Vittorio Pichierri, who was there to greet us, and the rest of the family care little for appearances, and -- I discovered -- prefer to devote all of their energy to what's growing in the vineyards and aging in the tanks. A sound philosophy all winemakers should follow, but it somehow doesn't always work out that way.

In any case, Vinicola Savese is something of an institution and always has been; 30 years ago when people mentioned Primitivo their name came up, as did the town of Sava, and the Cantina Sociale -- Manduria proved sharper from a commercial standpoint, affixing the grape name to its appellation, Primitivo di Manduria, but the quality in the region at the time was more centered around Sava.

Vittorio's winemaking is strictly traditional from the vineyard on; they used to source grapes from farmers who trained their vines in the traditional Alberello style, but now only grow their own. He ferments in cement-lined tanks, because he finds that they work well. He doesn't employ temperature control as such; during fermentation he puts his hand on the steel door of the tank, and if it feels too hot does something to correct the situation. Other than that, he pumps the wine over the cap by hand 3-4 times per day, and when he decides it's ready, racks it off the lees and into underground tanks where it slowly continues to ferment until Christmas, at which point the alcohol content of the strongest wines is about 18%.

He has tried fermenting with cultured yeasts, but didn't care for the results, and therefore returned to the yeasts naturally present on the skins of the grapes.

Vinicola Savese makes a number of Primitivi:
  • Primitivo IGT, which is about 14% alcohol
  • Primitivo DOC, which is 15-16% alcohol
  • Primitivo Dolce, which is about 18% alcohol, with sufficient residual sugars to reach 20, if it fermented to dryness
After this brief introduction, we began to taste, and it was an eye-opening experience: Vinicola Savese's wines are completely unlike anything else we have tasted on this trip. For me, they set the standard for Primitivo, and though they are stylistically quite different, I found affinities with the Barolo of Bartolo Mascarello and the Brunello of Gianfranco Soldera: they display a crystalline purity that is extremely rare in wines.

Vinicola Savese Primitivo Del Salento Novantino IGT 2009
This is 13% alcohol, and is a beautiful violet that stains the glass. Pleasant bouquet with brandied cherries and some graphite mingled with underbrush. Quite fresh. On the palate it's full, rich, and sweet, with powerful warm sour cherry fruit supported by clean slightly green sweet tannins that flow into a sweet brandied cherry finish with greenish accents and warmth. Beautiful opulent fruit and very fresh, a wine that has a lot to say and will go quickly. Exciting!

A tank sample from one of their underground tanks, which will become Terre Rosse 2009:
14.5% alcohol. Poured pyrope ink that's not cloudy, but not transparent either, earthy aromas, leafy underbrush with vegetal accents and some gunflint. A different animal. The palate is full and rich with greenish prune-cherry fruit supported by young zesty tannins that have a warm dry splintery burr and flow into a quick prune finish. A work in progress, and an impressive one too.

A tank sample of the 2007 Terre Rosse:
Deep cherry ruby with cherry rim. 2 years in tank have settled out much of the sediment, and it is crystalline. Elegant smoky nose with some gunflint and minerality mingled with elegant prune berry fruit. Great depth. On the palate it's rich, with clean fairly sweet prune fruit supported by tannins that are big, and still splintery, but have begun to smooth, and flow into a plum prune finish with some sweetness. "The real deal," says a fellow taster, and she's right.

Vinicola Savese Terre Rosse Primitivo di Manduria DOC 2006
Deep black cherry with almandine highlights and black reflections. The bouquet is elegant, with brandied prunes mingled with licorice root and green leather. Beautiful harmony in a youthful key, and many facets, a wine that has a great deal to say. On the palate it's full, with bright dusky cherry plum fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a warm slightly balsamic finish. A beautiful wine that despite its richness has no overt residual sugars to cloy the palate, and is -- again -- the real deal. Impressive, and I hated to pour it out of my glass.

Vinicola Savese Tradizione del Nonno Primitivo di Manduria DOC 2006
This is 16% alcohol and is more traditional -- grandpa's wine. It's elegant ruby with some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is powerful, with sweetness and prunes mingled with nutmeg, and it gives an impression of being in mid stride. Not quite a draft, but it's still developing and has a ways to go. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful sweet plum fruit supported by brisk acidity that keeps the sweetness from being cloying, and by smooth sweet tannins that have some greenish accents and flow into a long slightly green prune finish with tannic underpinning. A child, but a beautiful child, who has years yet to go.

Vinicola Savese Desiderium Primitivo Tarantino IGT 2006
16.5%, bottled in 2008. This could be a DOC Manduria, but they prefer to keep it separate. It's deep black almandine with some paler - but not orange - almandine in the rim. Powerful bouquet with prune fruit laced with licorice root and spice, and sweetness that is in part alcohol. Great harmony and beautiful to sniff. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful prune fruit that starts out sweet and is supported by smooth sweet tannins that have slight nutmeg overtones, and flow into a completely unexpected bright plum cherry finish with lively acidity that cleans the palate beautifully, preparing the way for another sip. And another. Most impressive, and what it is all about; it is also very young, and will age beautifully for many years.

Vinicola Savese Il Sava Primitivo di Manduria DOC 2004
This is 16% alcohol, with 3% residual sugars. Deep black almandine with almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, with prune berry fruit supported by spice and savory accents, and some underbrush. Beautiful and great harmony; as it opens green licorice also emerges as do dried figs, chocolate and all sorts of other things. Extraordinary evolution in the glass. On the palate it's beautiful, with rich sweet spicy prune fruit laced with cherries, chocolate, spice, and more, and supported by massive silky tannins and lively acidity that flows into a long clean finish. A fellow taster says, "wowie zowie," something I won't say myself but am happy to quote.

The tanks sample of the 2008 vintage of this wine is also very impressive.

Vinicola Savese Passione Primitivo di Manduria DOC 2003
This spent a few months in barriques. It is 17% alcohol, plus 3-5% sugars, and is deep almandine with brownish almandine rim. The bouquet is powerful, with slight pungency and wood smoke mingled with rich dark brown sugar sweetness, candied fruit, spice, licorice, and nut-stuffed figs. Extraordinary. On the palate it's full and rich, with brilliant sweet cherry plum fruit supported by dark brown sugar sweetness and brilliant acidity that keeps it from being at all cloying, One could go on, and on, but the word "superlative" comes to mind, and fellow English speaking tasters are saying "wow" and "amazing." Extraordinary elegance, finesse, and harmony.

While we were tasting Enzo Civetti, one of the organizers of the trip, was chipping the sealing wax from the neck of an old bottle:

Vino Classico Primitivo Savese 1975
Impenetrable almandine with brownish rim. The bouquet is amazing (yes, I finally use that word in a tasting note); as Enzo was decanting it it smelled of candied cherries and dark rich chocolate, and that's the beginning. Extraordinary harmony and there's also cinnamon, honey, dates, delicate tobacco, cherry liqueur, hints of white truffle, brown sugar, and it just keeps on going. Superlative; we're on another planet. On the palate it's creamy, and extraordinarily fresh, a caresse on the tongue with beautiful cherry strawberry fruit supported by clean dark brown sugar sweetness with some spice, hints of licorice, and acidity - such acidity! - that keeps things firmly in line, and fresh and youthful. Astounding; it's one of the finest wines it has ever been my fortune to taste, and any score I gave it would be insufficient.

We finished with Vittorio climbing up under the eves to remove the cap of a Capasone, a 5-foot tall glazed amphora that was filled more than 20 years ago, and whose label has long since fallen off. The wine within is deep brownish almandine with brown almandine rim. Dark and very rich, like velvet. The bouquet is beautiful, with dried fruit and prunes mingled with nutmeg and plump raisins and dark brown sugar and licorice root, while there is deft almost mineral acidity to keep it on its toes. I could continue as it opens, but it would take pages. On the palate it's silky, with rich plum cherry fruit supported by spice and dried fruit, and also by brown sugar sweetness and bright berry fruit acidity that keeps it on its toes. Extraordinary harmony, and a truly great wine that will age indefinitely. Rich, powerful, and so much more. A revelation.

1 comment:

Seth Cooley said...

Wow! Savese as fantastic. We went specifically there after reading your blog and absolutely love the wine, we bought 10 mixed cases, and enjoyed our time with Vittorio, a real gentleman. Thanks Kyle for introducing us to Savese