After completing your annual marathon – of holiday eating, not running – it’s time to enrol in boot camp. And after a good stint kicking it up at boot camp, reward yourself with wine from the boot – Italy’s boot.
Wines of the toe, heel and ankle of the Italian boot were once so admired by the Greeks that the region was called Oenotria, meaning, “the land of wine.” Comprising Apulia (Puglia), Campania, Basilicata and Calabria, these are Italy’s most harsh, desolate and economically destitute regions , with craggy terrains and scorching heat highly unsympathetic to quality winemaking. However, these rugged and sparsely populated lands are home to the world’s most diverse range of indigenous grape varieties. Historically, most of the boot wines were made by indifferent cooperatives, but the region is currently experiencing the awakenings of a wine renaissance.
At the toe of this bleak landscape are the Calabrians and when you ask an Italian about a Calabrian, they usually tap their head with a fist, indicating ‘’hard headed”. Hard-headed indeed. In spite of the region’s unfavourable conditions, a few quality-minded producers are doggedly crafting some of the most innovative and exciting new wines to emerge from Italy in recent years. The Librandi family in Ciró Marina, passionate about neglected indigenous varieties and hoping to kindle an interest in these precious genetic jewels, has unearthed 175 previously undocumented varieties which they have planted in experimental vineyards. Other producers to watch include Stratti, Odoardi and Fattoria San Francesco.
Largely credited with ‘’inventing” pizza, Campania (Italy’s shin) is much better known for the stunning Amalfi Coast, the island of Capri and the chaotic city of Naples than for its wines. Yet it is here that southern Italy’s most promising grape varieties thrive: lush red aglianico and crisp white fiano and greco. The best vineyard sites are in the volcanic soils near Mount Vesuvius, the active volcano that destroyed nearby Pompeii in 79 A.D. Sometimes referred to as the archaeological grape varieties, their key proponent is southern Italy’s most important producers the Mastroberardino family, but Antonio Caggiano, Feudi di San Gregorio, Colli di Lapio and Terradora are also drawing attention.
On Italy’s heel, nearby Apulia is showing fascinating promise with three grape varieties, negroamaro, primitivo and uva di troia. Negroamaro is a deeply coloured, juicy red wine with port-like concentration, which is at its best when from Apulia’s most famous wine district, Salice Salento. Try producers such as Castello Monaci and Casa Catelli. Primitivo had a recent upsurge in popularity and quality when it was established that the grape variety is the same as California’s beloved Zinfandel. Apulia offers an enthralling array of historic and recently revived varieties, such as the uva di troia, thought to be named after the ancient city of Troy, but few are likely to be found on Hong Kong shelves. At the instep of the boot is Basilicata, which is surely the most arid desolate region in Italy. However, the region is home to one of Southern Italy’s finest wines, Aglianico del Vulture. Try producers Cantine del Notaio or Bisceglia.