Until about the mid-90’ies, primitivo from Apulia suffered a disastrous fate. The wealth of ancient vineyards, planted with the traditional alberello system so conducive to high quality, were destined to produce rough, often tired bulk wines for mixing with more anaemic northerly wines. Starting with what can only be called a revolution, certain primitivos out of the Manduria area then in the space of a few short years turned this image completely on its head. Primitivo from Manduria has since gone from strength to strength, and is today rated among the greatest red wines of Italy.
Interestingly, the original home of primitivo in Apulia, which is to say the area now encompassed by the Gioia del Colle denomination, for long lagged behind this exciting new development. I have never been able to find a single reason for this, as the Gioia area does not suffer any climatic or soil disadvantages that would dictate lower quality, but perhaps it has to do with the Manduria area simply having been more resistent to the advances of viticulture, thus preserving a much greater area planted ad alberello. To my great delight, the Gioia area is now coming back with a vengeance, with a wide array of producers producing truly exciting wines.
The area of Gioia del Colle is generallly situated at altitudes of some 300 metres and up to some 450 metres. The top soil is extremely shallow, and the karstic limestone rock of the Murge area – of which this area forms part – lurks directly underneath, when it does not form outcroppings breaching the top soil; viticulture here is hard work indeed. The area is more or less equidistant from the Ionic and Adriatic Seas, which creates a constant breeze at all times of the year. Coupled with the altitude, this breeze ensures very high thermal excursions between day and night, ensuring a relatively slow ripening of the early-ripening primitivo variety. Compared to the hotter Manduria area, this ensures a somewhat slimmer profile in the wines, with greater firmness of tannins and acidity and generally slightly lower alcohols (as phenolic ripeness can be attained at lower alcohol in the somewhat cooler circumstances). While there is little history to go by, I think that these characteristics generally ought to confer a longer life to the wines from Gioia,
While a broad array of producers of great primitivo from Gioia del Colle is a reasonably new phenomenon, one producer stands out for having embarked on the road towards quality at a fairly early stage. The full name of this producer is Azienda Agricola Pasquale Petrera di Orfino Rosa, but the wines are sold under the name of Fatalone (www.fatalone.it). The Petrera family have owned the property since the late 18th century, while Rosa Orfino is the wife of Filippo Petrera, fourth generation on the land.
The first bottle of Fatalone primitivo was the 1987, which also apparently happens to be the first 100% Primitivo Gioia del Colle DOC ever bottled. In 1993 the cellars were enlarged, and in 2003 a completely new, modern winemaking facility was constructed. The property includes some 8 hectares of vineyard, from which Fatalone produce some 45,000 bottles per year, split between a greco white wine and three primitivos. Methods are certified organic, and wines are aged in their cellars using music therapy. Fatalone seek freshness and drinkability in their wines without sacrificing the varietal characteristics. While great pride is taken in the longevity of the primitivos, I think it is fair to say that the winemaking at this estate has improved significantly in recent years, and Fatalone’s wines are now among the best in this exciting, revitalized area.
At the one-on-one meeting during the first day of the Radici del Sud 2012 festival, I tasted the following wines from Fatalone (note that I rarely provide notes on colour, as this is mostly completely irrelevant for the quality of the wine):
This is a white wine made from 100% greco, the variety originating in the Campania region. Fresh peachy/appley note with hints of sage/soap and a slight greenish bitterness (I know, you can’t smell bitterness, but this was the impression). Slim, but nicely round in the mouth. OK length with minerals, apple, herbs and slight soap. A nice and fresh – but not exactly great – wine.
Primitivo Teres 2009
This is made in a deliberately light and fresh style, by fermenting on the skins for a mere 36 hours at 15 C. Nose with cherries, fresh plum, sweet meat/snail (the smell of sweet, well-aged meat has much in common with that of snail; check it for yourself if in doubt), light spiciness. Fresh, light berry fruit in the mouth, fairly slim, very slightly spicy. Good length with minerals, light tannins, slight spiciness, fine acidity and at the very end an aromatic note of fresh plum/green apricot. While this is a good wine in its own right, and according to the owners marries well with a wide range of dishes, even fish, I somewhat fail to get the point. But perhaps I am just not creative enough, and too reactionary?
Primitivo Gioia del Colle 2008
This was fermented for 10 days on the skins and then spent 6 months in large botte. Nicely fresh and juicy nose of dark cherries, apricot, sweet meat/snail, and a spiciness that almost borders on sweet tar. Relatively light towards medium weight in the mouth, fresh, quite elegant, nicely balanced tannins. Good length, very minerally, with fresh fruit and floral notes and just a tiny hint of welcome tannic dryness at the very end.
Primitivo Gioia del Colle Riserva 2005
This has spent 12 months in large botte. Very complex, well-developed nose of slightly “high” dark berry fruit, well-aged meat, ripe apricot, almonds and light tar towards a slight Bovril note. Fresh, juicy, but broad and concentrated berry fruit in the mouth, mild, yet with good, firm tannins. Very long, with good frreshness, minerals, meat, juicy fruit, apricot and flowers. Very drinkable now, but the freshness and firm tannins should ensure this lovely wine a long life.