Every week, I taste dozens of sample bottles that have arrived on my doorstep, looking for good values. One that really impressed me last week was this striking, aromatic 2011 Masseria Li Veli Verdeca, with lively fruit, mint, and spice flavors and a crisp texture. This white is much more expressive and complex than its price would suggest. It’s also a wine that needs the right dish — like the pasta with freshly-made pesto we served — to shine.
Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week
Region: Salento region, Apulia, Italy
Grapes: 90% Verdeca, 10% Minutolo
Serve with: Pasta with pesto, grilled octopus, mussels
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The Masseria Li Veli stone winery is on the Salento peninsula in Puglia, the “heel” of Italy’s “boot.” Its long history began in the 19th century, when famous Italian economist Marquis Antonio De Viti De Marco transformed the estate with the goal of becoming a model for winemaking in Italy’s south. A century later, the Falvo wine family purchased and restored it, aiming to focus on local varietals.
This white is part of the winery’s Askos project, started in 2009, to rediscover and celebrate forgotten grapes. Some are red, others white, like the Verdeca and Fiano Minutolo used in this wine. According to “Wine Grapes,” the fascinating and massively complete new book on the subject by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz, Verdeca is identical to a Greek grape variety. Since Greeks were the first to settle the peninsula, it’s likely they brought it with them.
Minutolo (which used to be called Fiano Minutolo) was rescued from near extinction in the year 2000 when enologists discovered old vines in the Itria valley, now on UNESCO’s world heritage list. That’s where Li Veli grows its Verdeca and Minutolo vines, certified organic since 2005. The cool, windy micro-climate preserves acidity.
Local varietals at Masseria Li Veli
Puglia, once a land of mostly bulk wine, is becoming known for attractive, dark, hearty reds from grapes like Negroamaro and Primitivo, though local whites clearly do well, too. Sadly, some producers are planting international varieties. But who needs cheap Puglian Chardonnay? I applaud Masseria Li Veli for their commitment to indigenous varietals that have far more personality.
This once poverty-stricken region, home to an estimated 65 million olive trees, has also become a terrific food and wine travel destination, a place Romans head to for the weekend to sun themselves on beaches, spend time at thalassotherapy spas, and eat. With its long coastline, Puglia abounds in dozens of varieties of fresh fish and shellfish. With mussels, sea bass or grilled octopus, the 2011 Li Veli Askos Verdeca would be just about perfect.
Top photo composite:
2011 Masseria Li Veli Askos Verdeca bottle and vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Masseria Li Veli