Last year in the course of Radici we went on an interminable bus tour (the driver got lost), the high point of which (and it was most definitely a high point) was a visit to Morella, a tiny winery a few km southwest of Manduria, to see old growth Primitivo trained to the Alberello, or shrub style.
It was quite instructive to wander the vineyards, looking at the gnarly vines while Lisa Gilbee, an Australian winemaker who came to Puglia to work about 10 years ago and fell in love (with the land, but more importantly, with Gaetano), told us what she was doing, tales that made us all the more eager for dinner, where she would be presenting several vintages of her Primitivo. They were beautiful, in a vigorous very modern style.
This year Lisa and Gaetano came to Radici to present their wines, and I spent a very profitable hour tasting, talking and learning.
Morella Mezzogiorno Bianco IGP Bianco Salento 2010 Pale brassy white with breassy reflections. The bouquet is delicate, with floral accents and some greenish notes mingled with honeysuckle and some spice. Graceful; nice depth and very fresh, and as it swishes some minerality also emerges. On the palate it's delicate, with nice white berry fruit supported by minerality more than acidity, and by deft savory accents with a warm burr that flow into a clean fresh fairly mineral finish. Quite pleasant and will be a versatile food wine. 2 stars
Morella Primitivo - Negroamaro Terre Rosse IGT Salento 2008 This is a blend of Primitivo and Negroamaro, the grapes, which are harvested plot by plot (thus allowing her to tell exactly what each plot is like), are pressed using a basket press and fermented in upright conical wood vats. There's no filtration, only racking. Returning to the wine, it's deep, almost violet ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with berry fruit supported by quite a bit of cedar and some spice at the outset, and as it opens elegant berry fruit, a mixture of fairly tart cherry and plum, emerges. Gives an impression of fullness. On the palate it's rich and full, with bright berry fruit supported by berry fruit acidity and smooth tannins that do display a slight greenish burr and some peppery accents, and flow into a clean fresh berry fruit finish. Nice depth in an international key and quite bright; it's very approachable and will work very well with roasts or stews. 2 stars
Morella Primitivo - Malbec Terre Rosse IGT Tarantino 2008 This is an IGT Tarantino because the Tarantino Disciplinare allows for Malbec, which was planted in Puglia after the Phylloxera outbreak to make bulk wine to sell to the French. Though Malbec is no longer an important varietal in Puglia some has survived, and they have enough in their vineyards for it to contribute 15% to the blend. The wine is deep almandine with almandine rim, and has a fairly intense bouquet with spice and berry fruit supported by some cedar, with underlying acidity. The Malbec, despite it's being a relatively small percentage of the blend, has a profound impact, adding verve and bite to the Primitivo. On the palate it's full and quite smooth, with nice cherry plum fruit supported by deft greenish acidity and peppery spice, while the tannins are smooth and peppery and flow into a clean peppery finish. It's quite approachable, and will work well with red meats; for example grilled or roasted leg of lamb or even lamb chops. 2 stars
Morella Old Vines Primitivo 2007 This is from 80 year-old vines trained to the Alberello style. Deep pigeon blood ruby with black reflections. The bouquet is intense, with vegetal notes and plum fruit supported by spice and cedar; it's fairly harmonious but also very young, and though the energy is there it's still coming together. On the palate it's full and fairly rich, with plum cherry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that have a savory cedar underpinning and considerable warmth, and flow into a long warm cedar-laced finish. A beautiful expression of Primitivo in an international key, and if you like the style you will enjoy it very much. If you prefer the more traditional style it won't work as well for you, though you may find yourself reevaluating it with time because it will age quite well. 90
Morella La Signora Primitivo 2007 This is from a contiguous vineyard they now own; the vines are planted to the Alberello system but are only 60 years old, and are a different clone than those of the Old Vines. Almandine with brick rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with peppery spice and some cherry plum fruit mingled with balsamic accents. Quite elegant, in a brighter key than the Old Vines, with more berries and cherries than plum. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful plum cherry fruit supported by smooth sandalwood laced tannins and fairly bright warm acidity that flows into a warm berry fruit finish; it has redder fruit than the Old Vines, and is also somewhat more savory, but is equally elegant, and which you prefer will depend upon your personal tastes. 88-90
Morella Old Vines Primitivo 2001 This was their first vintage, and was poured from a Magnum. Deep pigeon blood ruby with almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with jammy berry fruit supported by quite a bit of cedar and some greenish accents; it's much more oaky than the more recent vintages. On the palate it's full, with rich powerful berry fruit supported by warmth and peppery cedar-laced tannins that flow into a long warm berry fruit finish. Pleasant in an international key, and has held very well, showing considerable potential and fruit. It's interesting to note how Lisa has backed away from oak since this vintage -- the 2001 had terrific fruit that shoulders the oak well, where a less good vintage would have been overwhelmed. Then she was clearly very good at her job, but doing what she knew worked (elsewhere) in new surroundings. Now she has a much better feel for Puglian terroir and varietals, and her touch is ever much defter. 2 stars
Morella Mezzanotte Rosso IGT Salento Rosso 2010 This is something in a different direction, made by leaving Primitivo on the vines longer to obtain jammy notes, and harvesting it together with Petit Verdot, Cabernet and Negroamaro (about 30% in all) and fermenting the resulting wine in cement. At least this was the plan; this year it rained, forcing her to harvest a little sooner than she's have liked, and to compensate she put some of the wine in oak. But the goal remains a different style of Primitivo. Deep ruby, with a fairly rich bouquet that has red berry fruit supported by vegetal accents and some spice, and also by minerality and floral accents,. With, as it opens, some savory tobacco leaves too. Pleasant and fresh. On the palate it's full, with bright rich plum cherry fruit supported by greenish accents and savory notes mingled with some underbrush and fair warmth, and by sweet peppery tannins (the Cabernet, remember) that flow into a long fruit laced finish. Quite approachable and a fine food wine that will work very well with grilled meats or light stews; it's quite fruit forward, and while the Primtivo lays the foundations the other varietals provide depth and character, and also help to lower the total alcohol levels. Impressive for a first vintage, and future vintages will be interesting to follow. 2 stars
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.