Mezzo Giorno or “mid-day” is synonymous with a siesta and a lethargic lifestyle in Italy. Also, it is a generic nickname Northern Italians refer to Southern Italy implying a less than frantic lifestyle where urgency doesn’t bother to get up in the morning.
Previously associated with bulk and neutral tasting wines to be enhanced by herbal flavoured spirit for the Vermouth classics. Recent years have seen wines of character and personality throughout the local regions.
The Campania region with Naples as its capital, is home to more of the highly regarded DOCGs than any other region in Italy. The grape that reigns supreme is Aglianico. Similar to northern Italy’s Barolo whose Nebbiolo grape also has high levels of natural acidity and firm mouth-drying tannins earning the wine Taurasi DOCG “The Barolo of the South”. However, unlike Nebbiolo, the Alglianico grape has a distinct floral perfume and a blackberry and black cherry character that performs well when aged in new oak barrels.
Taurasi’s strongest competitor is in its neighbouring region, Basilicata, a bleak mountainous landscape where Aglianico is also grown. Here, the vineyards, some growing as high as 900 metres around the cone of the volcano, Monte Vulture produce wines named after the volcano, Aglianico del Vulture.
Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot is a vast area of vineyards on a flat and sun-scorched plain. Producing an interesting range of reds with local varietals of personality and local accents: Uva di Troia, Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera and Primitivo are grown with more internationally famous varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Vineyards on the Salento (Salentino) peninsula have cooling Mediterranean sea breezes at night to preserve freshness in the wines.
Negro Amaro (black and bitter) has a masculine and rustic charm often softened by blending with a little feminine perfume from the Malvasia Nera. In stark contrast is the Primitivo that puts the jam in the doughnut with its ripe opulence. An ancestor of California’s Zinfandel, Primitivo shares a similar opulent, jammy ripe blackberry and plummy fruity character with potential for very high alcohol.
However, its Italian accent has a slightly bitter olive and food-friendly tone. While the tannic Uva or Nero di Troia, can be a reserved and brooding wine, taking time to develop and reveal its full potential, but worth waiting for.
10 Southern Italian Red wines:
Twenty-five red wines from Southern Italy were blind tasted and scored and the favourite ten are featured below in no particular order.
1. La Carta Riserva 2013, Candido, Salice Salentino DOC
€12 – Dublin at The Drink Store, Manor Street; Carpenters, Castleknock, Londis, Malahide and Nolan’s, Clontarf.
The subdued earthy aromas don’t prepare for the rich and concentrated palate of baked black berry and cherry fruits unfurled in a velvety texture, satisfying and complete. A consistent and dependable over-achiever for many years.
Food friend: Experiment with a lamb tagine.
2. Nero di Troya 2017, Tufarello, Puglia IGP
€18.99 – Drinks Store, Manor Street; Grapevine, Dalkey; McHugh’s, Kilbarrack and Malahide roads; Red Island Wine, Skerries; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Wine Well, Dunboyne and Wineonline.ie
Intense flavours and firm tannins hold chewy black inky fruit, well balanced with a long and liquorice finish.
Food friend: Enjoy with a slow-roasted brisket of beef rolled around chopped olives and garlic.
3. Primitivo 2016, Torcicoda, Salento IGT
€25.95 – Searson’s, Monkstown and online from searsons.com
Baked and earthy aromas. A serious Primitivo with power and depth, richly flavoured and full-bodied. Juicy blackberries supported by an earthy foundation. Potent but well-balanced alcohol and a long earthy finish.
Food friend: Try with slow-cooked beef ragù and your favourite pasta.
4. Appassimento 2017, Rocca Pagliara, Puglia IGT
€15.00 – Marks & Spencer nationwide
Muted aromas don’t prepare for the ambush of an intense baked fruity attack on the taste buds. Full-bodied fuelled by the potent alcohol. Juicy blackberry and plum finish with a peppery spice. Made from a blend of locals Negroamaro and Malvasia with Merlot.
Food friend: Indulge with a dark chocolate mousse.
5. Primitivo 2017, Torrebruna, Puglia IGT
€9.50 – Dunnes Stores nationwide
Fruity youthful blackberry cordial aromas. A joyful Primitivo, exuberant juicy black fruits yet with a restraint. Medium-bodied, well balanced with moderate alcohol, acidity and tannins and intended for instant enjoyment.
Food friend: Serve with blackened Cajun-style chicken.
6. Vigna La Cupa Riserva 2015, Brindisi DOP
€9.99 – Lidl nationwide
A subtle earthy bouquet. Delicious with rich and dark baked fruits with a dusting of cocoa powder underpinned by a terracotta earthiness. Elegant and mellow. Outstanding value for this quality.
Food friend: Partner with chicken sprinkled with smoked paprika and oven baked in red wine with chorizo, star anise, cumin seeds and a little cocoa powder and honey.
7. Salice Salentino DOC Riserva 2015, Leone de Castris
€19.99 – Dublin at Vintry, Rathgar; D-Six, Harold’s Cross; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Lilac Wines, Philipsburugh Avenue; Kelly’s, Clontarf; Baggot Street Wines; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock and McHugh’s, Kilbarrack and Malahide roads.
Intense and concentrated earthy foundation with bright dark fruit flavours. Well-balanced tannins and acidity deported with elegance. Still evolving with several years to continue improving. Finishes with an expression of the vineyard’s terroir.
Food friend: Serve with a thick bean stew of smoked bacon, tomatoes and bell peppers.
8. Mirus Primitivo 2016, Feudo Monaci, Salento IGT
€15.00 at specialist independent off-licences
A more unusual feminine style of Primitivo. Sour cherry aromas and echoed on the tangy palate lifting the ripe black fruits refreshed by lively acidity.
Food friend: Enjoy with hard cheeses with a slightly sweet note, French Comté.
9. Aglianico del Vulture 2015, Piano del Cerro
€29.99 – 64 wine, Glasthule; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Donnybrook Fair; Fresh; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Leopards Town Inn, Michael’s, Mount Merrion; O’Briens, nationwide, Red Island Skerries; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; The Vintry, Rathgar and Wineonline.ie
Perfume of rose petals. Intense dark and brooding palate with the firm tannins holding the attention initially. Concentrated and seriously impressive and a terroir mineral finish.
Food friend: Try with duck accompanied by a black cherry fruity sauce.
10. Pago dei Fusi 2010, Terredora Dipaolo, Taurasi DOCG
€45 – 34 O’Brien’s stores nationwide
Hint of a bouquet of roses. A complex palate of intense baked fruits bound in leather and a dry tannin finish in a serious contemplative style.
Food friend: Match with a Chinese beef in a black bean sauce.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as a judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.