When I was a kid, I heard Italy referred to as the country that “looks like a boot”. This description gave me a feeling that Italy was the sort of place that would be instantly recognized, if not from it’s map-friendly shape then from the taste of the food, the feel of the wind, the cut of the coastline, the essence of the wine. It was like, you know, Italy!
Years later I got my chance to find out for myself if Italy would take hold of me and prove her identity with the boldness she’d obtained in my imagination. Would the meals fill me up beyond lunch the next day? Would the conversation fill the tables with hand-spoken arguments? Would the scenery fill my heart with beauty and wonder? Would the sea fill my mind with uncertainty about my little-me space in this world?
Italy did fill me up, in all of these ways and more and since that first trip I’ve wondered if more time spent there would not only fill me up, but open me up to new ways of sensing, thinking and feeling. There are many nooks and peaks of Italy that I crave, places that are stuck at the top of my bucket list. One of these spots, decorated with a fat gold star, is Puglia
If Italy is a boot, Puglia is the temptation-rich heel. Puglia has over 800 km of coastline and is nestled between the Ionian and Adriatic Seas. This location creates more than just seaside views; in Puglia you’ll find cliffs and beaches but also olive groves, vineyards, rich history, incredible art and several distinct wine regions
I’m taking an intensive trip to the southern-most tip of the to the area of Salento in the Copertino DOC, where my special bottle of wine was grown and sourced and where my imagination is fully satisfied by the descriptions I’ve read of this gorgeous and interesting setting generously peppered in vineyards and olive groves. It’s here where I have to put the brakes on the well-known phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Of course Puglia is a feast for the eyes (and apparently the stomach, as I’m about to reveal with our at-home-Puglia-inspired meal) but there is something simply lyrical about the stories of this place that make it a feast for the ears and for the mind. I love this, the evocative nature of a place so rich in balances and counter-balances that I’m inclined to close my eyes and imagine myself a child there, exploring the region through the delights about which I’ve read:
The Salento is sun-kissed year round. Alongside art, excellent Mediterranean cuisine, and genuine hospitality, the area boasts a fabulous landscape, ranging from the Adriatic coast and the marinas of Melendugno, Santa Cesarea Terme and Otranto, to the Ionian Sea and towns like Porto Cesareo, Portoselvaggio and Gallipoli.
Here, the Middle Ages are tinged with an Oriental hue and, in Grecìa Salentina, you can still hear ancient nursery rhymes in the Griko dialect. In towns like Melpignano ancient rhythms are turned into contemporary music at the Notte della Taranta festival.
A green peninsula fringed by two seas, this is a magical land in which mysterious dolmens and menhirs indicate the way, hidden amidst the olive trees and drystone walls of the countryside between Giurdignano and Minervino di Lecce, and where ancient masserie (manor farms) have been transformed into sophisticated hotels. Take a hike and discover Early Christian churches and hypogeum olive-presses. Be sure not to miss the natural wonders of the sea caves at Castro and Santa Maria di Leuca.
A stroll through Lecce is a journey into the Baroque, with churches and palazzos embroidered in stone, and courtyards, secret gardens and a surprising Roman amphitheater in the heart of the city. In Brindisi, you can visit two castles and enjoy views from the Regina Margherita seafront.
Villages reveal workshops where artisans craft objects out of papier-mâché and local stone. The local cuisine boasts all the flavors of the Salento, which are best accompanied by excellent local wines – try tria (homemade pasta prepared with chickpeas), the flavorful wild vegetables, and delicious sweets such as pasticciotto (which has a crème filling) and spumoni (excellent artisanal ice cream). ~The Official Apulian tourism Website © 2016 Regione Puglia
This set the scene for some amazing daydreaming, and lots of learning. Mysterious dolmans? Ancient Griko dialect? Objects of papier-mâché and local stone? I can’t imagine a more intellectually stimulating set of topics. I’m so in for this night celebrating Puglia…
We built the evening around the wine, a bottle I bought at my local shop, The Corkscrew. It’s a 2008 from the Copertino DOC (Deominazione di Origine Controllata). Copertino Riserva Red Wine is created by the Cantina Social Cooperativa, a commune in Salento, and is made from 95% Negromaro grapes, topped with 5% Malvasia nera grapes. Negromaro grapes are known for their dark skin (perhaps gaining their name from the rich tint of the grapes) and medium-full tannins. The wine is aged for at least two years before release.
This wine is a ruby-colored mama, a color as close to the jewel as you’d find in any vintage shop. It needed a bit, being a few years old and quite intense. Flavors opened up nicely, quite a rich nest: warm berries, a little nutty. I’m apt to find a gaminess too. Substantial, deep. Old money saved up, leather purse.
I’m intrigued by the history of the commune, a decades old collaboration of regional winemakers. In 1935, 36 wine-growers came together (“setting aside the individualism that characterized the area” according the co-op’s website) to form the winegrowers group that still releases wine to this day, now with over 350 growers involved under the name The Cupertinum.
About 400 hectares are cultivated as grape trees and they spread over different areas with their own name and unique soil and climate. With the wisdom coming from tradition and innovation, grapes, from the best soils and gobelet vineyards, are handled and produce excellent wines, capable of exciting experts and enthusiasts alike. ~ The Cupertinum, co-operative winery of Copertino
We paired the wine with a set of pastas, the highlight being the regional Orecchiette, named after its delicate shape which is said to resemble a little ear. My husband prepared the pasta with a mix of sautéed mushrooms and shallots, covered in a tomato basil sauce, and enhanced (ever so lightly, of course) with parmesan cheese and fresh basil. For variety he mixed in a few potato gnocchi (not a regional item). We invited a few friends over to share in the special evening and also served a lasagna (based on this recipe from Un Assiago).
It was an evening of old friends, children playing, an early dessert and of course wine and a great meal. It seems that all over our Earth this type of evening is what we live for. Relishing a moment shared with friends over a bottle of wine from years ago and miles away certainly makes space and time seem comfortable, like anything is possible.
After this evening I have a to do list. I’m going to find a few pieces of fiction based on Puglia, read all of them in the bathtub. I’m going to seek out a few more bottles and line up a tasting on the region (this bottle was the only Puglia-sourced bottle at my shop). And: trip to Puglia
This post is in collaboration with a set of bloggers joined together under the name #ItalianFWT… Food, wine, travel. What else? Join us on this adventure, a journey of the imagination and senses that disembodies passports, planes and press passes. Guess what, we are going to Puglia today: Join our live Twitter chat Saturday April 2nd @ 11am EST at #ItalianFWT.
On Saturday May 7th we celebrate Lombardy.
Here is what waits in your Puglia picnic basket: