25 March 2021, The Tablet

Italy’s wild side

From the vineyard

Italy’s wild side


FEW EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY scions of the English aristocracy ever reached Apulia (or Puglia) on the Grand Tour. Though most made it to Sicily, only the more adventurous strayed into the wild heel of Italy, stretching from Lecce in the south to mountainous Gargano, the spur of the boot, in the north, a region described by the Roman poet Horace, himself a native of Apulia, as hauntingly sinister. An exception was the son of the Irish Bishop of Clogher, happily accompanied by his tutor, the Irish “immaterialist” philosopher, George Berkeley (not yet himself the Bishop of Cloyne) who, amazed by the profusion of Romanesque cathedrals and Baroque churches, thought that Lecce was the most beautiful city in the world.

Now Puglia is not only becoming increasingly fashionable among tourists, but also increasingly interesting among wine lovers for its mostly red, mostly strong and mostly reasonably priced but underrated wines.

In the not-too-distant past, Pugliese wine was distinguished more for quantity than quality – even today, it produces more wine than Australia – but throughout the twentieth century, most of it was used for blending purposes, chiefly in northern Italy and southern France. But the market is on the move and strong wine is back in fashion.

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