Cardone Vini Classici is an old acquaintance of mine, and for decades have been a trustworthy source of high-quality wines from the Itria Valley in Apulia. Indeed, for quite some time they were without doubt the leading producer (in quality terms) of the iconic Itria white wine Locorotondo. If they are no longer the only ones in the quality department here it is certainly not because their wines have declined in quality – on the contrary, I think the wines have actually improved considerably – but because there has been a fairly recent re-evaluation of the potential of the indigenous white grape varieties in the valley, leading to several other producers also starting to make really good wines.
The Itria Valley is an interesting phenomenon. This bowl of karstic rock overlaid with a thin layer of soil has no surface water, and used to have barely no soil whatsoever, with most of what there was being covered by dense forests and shrubs. So human habitation here was basically nonsensical. It is an amazing testament to human ingenuity and millennia of sheer hard work that the valley has been converted into a beautiful paradise of small hilltop villages of brilliant white surrounded by the brightest red soil on Earth (most of which wrested from the rock by humans) and the thousand lush shades of green from all of the agricultural activity – dominated by vines and olive trees – and mediterranean shrubs. The Itria Valley is basically an extension of the karstic Murge plateau to the north, and altitudes vary between some 100 metres and 400 metres (at the apex of hilltop villages). Whenever I go there, a sort of joy and excitement takes hold of me. Somehow, the landscape, so carefully moulded to provide the essentials for human existence, speaks to me. There is magic there. You are not human if you haven’t been there…
With the altitude and constant winds varying between the Adriatic and Ionic seas, the Valley is fairly cool by Apulian standards, and therefore provides the obvious place to make white wine. The Valley as a result plays host to two of Apulia’s three white-wine-only denominations (disregarding the sweet Moscato di Trani), Locorotondo and Martina (Franca), which basically almost completely coincide in terms of area and allowed grape varieties.
These days, Cardone is a medium-sized operation relying on both own and bought grapes for the production of some 100,000 bottles per year. The product range is fairly wide for their size, and consists of both traditional wines made from indigenous varieties and more “inventive” wines from the usual brace of international varieties. I am an old, grumpy, dyed-in-the-wool lover of anything local (yes, I think locality is an important value in itself), so if you ask me, Cardone’s range is probably a little too wide, and I would not lament if they shed their “inventive” wines, however well made.
The Radici del Sud event, luckily, is for wines from indigenous varieties only, so Cardone had only brought that part of their range. My tasting notes:
Locorotondo Il Castillo 2011
Named for the Spanish influence that once was strong in this area. Fresh and delicious, lightly acidic nose with peaches, yeast, sage and fresh apple. Fresh but mild in the mouth, light to medium weight. Good, fresh length with sage, peach, soap. One of the very best examples of Locorotondo; classical.
Valle d’Itria Fiano Falera 2011
This is fiano, not minutolo. Deliciously appley fruit on the nose, with soap and rose. Fresh, crisp, dry. Good length, lightly aromatic with the usual slightly nutty and resinous fiano aromas. Delicious, very drinkable.
Salento Rosato Nausica 2011
100% negroamaro. Strong raspberry nose with light horseradish (this is probably a slightly reductive note) and garrigue. Fresh in the mouth, quite mild, probably lacks the tiniest hint of acidity. Good length with minerals, roses, raspberries.
Puglia Primitivo Primaio 2011
Fresh, delicious blue berry/fruit on the nose, a bit of liquorice, slightly spicy. Fresh, mild, round in the mouth, medium weight, fine tannins. Fine length with berries, spices, flowers. Highly drinkable.
Salento Primitivo Euclide 2010
This has spent 6 months in new barriques (alas). Thick nose with blueberries and plum compote, cherry essence, light new wood note, oriental spices, a bit of meat and a bit of smoke. In the mouth fairly dry and slender compared to the nose, fairly exuberant tannins. Good length but loads of dry exotic wood from the barriques, then fruit, berries, liquorice, garrigue. Clearly made from fantastic raw materials, but the new wood has been a bit overdone.