After 26 generations and more than 600 years in the wine business, the Antinori family of Tuscany has expanded its involvement in Puglia. This is a big deal. It certainly got my wine juices going as we received confirmation to visit the new Tormaresca operation at Masseria Maìme in the Salento DOC.
In 1971, Marchese Piero Antinori, helped light the dawn of the super-Tuscan blends with a Sangiovese/Cabernet sauvignon blend called Tignanello. (Piero’s uncle, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rochetta of Sassicaia, first commercially released his fabled super-Tuscan Sassicaia in 1968.)
In the 1990s, the Antinori family invested in Puglia, the heel of Italy, a region that has traditionally been recognized more for the quantity, than the quality, of its wine grapes. A number of economic and terroir factors helped drive the decision. Land prices (especially compared to Tuscany) were inexpensive. Soil conditions and climate were conducive to expanding production of native grape types and some international varieties as well.
Maria Tolentino De Bellis, Tormaresca’s marketing and PR representative, suggested we meet at the San Pietro Vernotico train station. I thought it was odd that we couldn’t just connect at the winery. It didn’t take long to realize that the Antinori presence in Puglia was large – but subtle. Maria drove us up a gravel road marked only by a modest, hand-painted sign that read Vigneti del Sud, “Southern Vineyards,” with no mention of the super-star Antinori name.
At the cantina, she introduced us to Giuseppe “Peppino” Palumbo, the CEO of Tormaresca. He was dressed in work clothes and had the sun-drenched, weathered look of an executive who spends more time in the vineyards then he does in the board room.
I asked Peppino about the branding strategy behind the Puglian venture.
“Tormaresca is a fantasy name, a play on the Puglian dialect, and means Tower by the Sea,” he explained. “It’s also an extension of the Antinori philosophy to respect local tradition and original vines, while leveraging technology to improve the results. We respect the past, but we never stop innovating.”
We jumped into his SUV, and bumped out on rough trails alongside the vineyards. Peppino pointed out some Negroamaro grapes planted with a cordon trained system, as well as some older vines still in the traditional Alberello system — without support.
We headed east until we reached the beach grass and dunes of the Adriatic shore. “The terroir and growing conditions are perfect,” he said.
Back at the cantina, Peppino raved about indigenous Puglian grapes. “Negroamaro is wonderful. Primitivo (identified by enologists at U Cal Davis as the genetic clone of California Zinfandel) is well suited for this climate. And Aglianco, the red grape we grow further north at our Bocca Di Lupo vineyard, earned a 91 from Parker.”
I asked Peppino about two ancient Puglian grape types, Sussumaniello and Ottavianello I had learned about from Cinzia Rascazzo of Stile Mediterraneo.
Peppino looked pleased about the question and smiled. “Yes, we found some growing here and will preserve and cultivate them. We are experimenting with them now to complement Negroamaro and add a little color.”
The time was running late, and I asked Peppino if I could use a phone to call our next stop to let them know I’d be a little tardy.
“Who are you visiting next?” he asked.
“Candido” I answered.
“I have them in my cell phone.” He noticed that I looked a little surprised. “We’re not rivals. We both flow together in the same current of wine, and the trip is easier if we run together, not against each other.”
For a sampling of Tormaresca here in the U.S., pour these two.
Neprica IGT (Negroamaro, Primitivo and Cabernet grapes) I love this super-Puglian which is every bit as intriguing as a more expensive super-Tuscan.
Masseria Maìme IGT (Negroamaro grapes) is spectacular with grilled meats and fish.
Coming next: Our visit to Candido Wines.