In graduate school in Mississippi a lot of preoccupation centered around “southern” studies, and by extension, the meaning of the “global” south. How interesting that across the globe you can see the split between wealthy, industrialized northern provinces and the poor, oppressed southern regions. This happens, too, in Italy. Without going into politics, you can see (or taste) the changes simply in wine production and style. A lot of southern Italy wineries still struggle with antique equipment, outdated technology and lack financial resources to make better wine investments. Their wines have a rustic flair, abrupt tannic edges and a certain comforting quality, which, for me, has something to do with its subtle barnyard nuance. It calls me back home, to the memories of cattle and sheep. But moreover, once these wines open up and breathe, they seem to sing.
I really like wines like this. Big, rustic country cousins compared to the cosmopolitan Barolos of Piedmont, or the time-consuming processes of drying the recioto style wines of the Veneto, these wines have a charm of their own. I think for me and my romantic tendencies, I prefer the desolate, scrubby landscape of southern Italy. The widows in black, the silence at mid-day. I imagine herds of sheep and wild caches of honey high in the rocky hills where you can look and still see the ocean.
We are oriented in the boot heel of the peninsula in the larger province of Apulia, a hot, dry region that gets divided into smaller DOC wine production zones, whose famous red grapes include primitivo and negroamaro. The Li Veli Passamante Salice Salentino DOC contains 100% negroamaro that exudes dark and red fruits: raisin, dried cherry, and dried black currant. Haunted with breezes of shrub, rosemary and black olive, the wine gains complexity and balance with oak spice and tannic grip. The one deciding taste component in blind tastes that determines Old World or New World wine styles has to do with the amount of acidity in the wine reacting in the mouth. That salivation in the the back of the mouth you feel, that zip near the molars that almost makes your jaw clench is acid. Which is a good, vital part of wine. This is why and how wines are paired with food–the acidity cuts through fats to freshen the palate and help digest food. You will more often find higher, more evident acid levels in Old World wines–those wines from Europe. In this wine, the acidity and tannins share a structured composition with mid-range alcohol levels (13.5%), so that everything becomes softly focused. Nothing overwhelms the other components.
Give this wine a few hours to decant. Maybe even open the morning of, or night before you serve it. This will help to reveal even more complexity and depth. Plan on serving grilled meats, slow-cooked meats or roasted meats. Did I mention meat? Chocolate, dark fruit sauces and dressings, pasta and even some fish–after all this is a sea coast region–can go with this wine. Try puttanesca or cioppino with black olives and herbs.