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An Exciting Puglian Red

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

2005 Mocavero "Puteus" Salice Salentino Riserva

Price: $18
 Puglia, Italy
 80 percent Negroamaro, 20 percent Malvasia Nera di Lecce 
 With roasted or grilled meat, game

One of my biggest pleasures is finding distinctive wines made from unusual indigenous grapes in emerging regions. At a tasting of wines from Puglia, Italy, I discovered the intense, full-bodied 2005 “Puteus” Salice Salentino, a blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera di Lecce from the Mocavero winery. This fresh red’s spicy, earthy aromas, bright ripe cherry flavors and satiny texture make you immediately crave another glass.

Puglia, the long narrow “heel” of boot-shaped Italy, is hardly a new wine spot. Vines have been grown here for millennia. Yet until a decade ago, the vast quantity of its wines, mostly produced by cooperatives, were pretty rustic, sold in bulk as high-alcohol blending vino. Then a growing number of growers began embracing modern innovations in viticulture, without giving up tradition. Now there’s a private investment gold rush.

A number of grapes flourish here, such as popular Primitivo, the same varietal as America’s Zinfandel. But the Negroamaro grape (it means black and bitter, a definite misnomer today) is king in the Salento peninsula, at the tip of the boot’s heel, with sandy beaches and stunning views of the Adriatic. Salice Salentino, a small DOC zone within it, is where some of the more complex examples come from. Producers in this DOC tame and brighten the tannins of this age-worthy, structured red by adding Malvasia Nera.

The Mocavero family has been making wine for 60 years. Their Negroamaro vines, grown in the traditional way, look like small trees.

I was surprised by how balanced this wine is; despite southern Italy’s heat, the alcohol is relatively modest and the texture not at all heavy. Yet it definitely needs time to breathe before serving, in best Italian tradition.

Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”