Notes from our trip to Italy in 2016
We have always wanted to visit Puglia, I suppose for two reasons; Brindisium came up a lot in Latin at school, and their claim to be source of Italian cooking. And the thought of sleeping in a Trulli has also seemed appealing. In more recent years their wines have moved from being the source of strong, heavy blending wines for the wine areas in the North of Italy to some really rather pleasant reds. The two main red varietals, Primitivo and Negroamaro, can be likened to Merlot and Cabernet. The former being soft and fruity and the latter being a bit more structured with stronger tannins as a broad generalisation. At the everyday end of wines we found we preferred Primitivo but at the Reserve end of the range we preferred Negroamaro. Another thing to look out for are Taralli, a biscuity type of snack with a hole in them that they serve with drinks - we got hooked on them (very healthy too, or so we tell ourselves, as they contain olive oil).
Fly into Brindisi on Wednesday afternoon and drive to Torre Lapillo, close the the vineyards where the best reds come from. On Sunday drive up to Cisternino in Trulli country. Wednesday afternoon fly back to London.
Accommodation and Restaurants
Hotel La Spiaggia, Via Gandhi, 13, 73010 Torre Lapillo, Porto Cesareo +39 0833 565229 www.hotelaspiaggia.it Right on the beach of this somewhat run-down town. A very pleasant place to stay except for the radio playing through loudspeakers loudly all day.
Evening in Torre Lapillo looking towards the tower on the left. La Spiaggia to the right of centre.
There was not much by way of fine dining in this part of the world so it was mainly pot luck. On the first day we arrived pretty late so decided to walk to the closest place, Mare Fritto.
Via torre, 73010 Torre Lapillo, Porto Cesareo +39 338 148 3804
Mare Frito view
Mare Frito prawns and calamari
TripAdvisor reviews were mixed but most thought that the food was pretty good even if other things were not. We had the several dishes but the one that got our attention was the frutti di mare pasta; the tomato-based sauce was simply amazing – so good we had to go back several nights later for the same again! And the calamari and prawn batter was the lightest we have ever come across. And then the price – unreal! They even had half bottles of wine! Their carafes of wine were poured from demijohns – see the picture at the Conti Zecca winery below. Booking is advisable; we only got in because we arrived when they opened.
The next day we went off on our wine tour and, because we had to wait a few hours because the whole place shuts down, we went to a local restaurant for lunch.
Il Giardino del Re
Via Cellino, 73010 Guagnano
Because we just wanted something light we chose the chef’s antipasta and a bottle of Cantele Primitivo (a winery less than half a mile away that was on our list to visit; it was pretty good and went well with the food). Some 11 courses later we didn’t need supper, just a few snacks and some Negroamaro.
For supper the next day we headed off to Torre del Cardo, a restaurant built into one of the ubiquitous watch towers of the area.
Torre del Cardo
Strada Provinciale Veglie-Torre Lapillo, 73048 Nardò LE +39 339 165 4489 www.torredelcardo.it
Chicory and fava beans
This was voted the best restaurant in the area on TripAdvisor. They had a set ‘tasting menu’ comprising seven dishes of traditional local specialities. Little did we know that historically the ‘locals’ were so poor that they hardly ever had fish let alone meat. The first sighting of meat was a couple of thumbnail size meatballs that were part of course 7! Even those of us that liked vegetables had lost the will to live so imagine what those of us that eat vegetables under protest felt like. Luckily the bottles of Lirica Primitivo di Manduria (from a local co-op) was better than we had hoped for. The picture shows a local speciality of chicory and fava beans; we just couldn’t get our taste buds around this.
We did the tourist bit round the Baroque historical arfea of Lecce, a town known as the Venice of the South. We can see why; when we were there it rained so hard that gondolas would have been really useful. Luckily we missed most of the rain whilst having lunch at a really good delicatessen Doppiozero, Via Guglielmo Paladini, 2, 73100 Lecce.
We then headed North for Trulli country which was mainly sightseeing although it is the source of the good white wines from the region. Needless to say we bought red wines to try the wines from wineries that we were not able to visit because of all the rain.
We stayed in a B&B near Cisternino that had a couple of the round trulli but we're sure that there are better places to stay so we won’t mention this disappointing one.
Of course, if you want to see Trulli then Alberobello has a whole suburb of them and the surrounding countryside is dotted with them. In Alberobello there is a good family trattoria is run by a sommelier and her Sicilian husband, so the food and wine are great and won’t break the bank .
Gioia del Colle, Via Concezione 9-11, +39 080 343 1728
We had a bottle of Primitivo made by a local winemaker. We now appreciate why people say that the best versions come from further south.
Alberobello trulli tops
The star of our few days in this area was Ostuni, also known as the White City. It has a fabulous mediaeval historical area. In the heart of this is a great restaurant.
Hotel Relais La Sommità. Via Scipione Petrarolo, 7, 72017 Ostuni +39 0831 305925 www.lasommita.it
Cielo amuse bouche and staff
Cielo pork belly
As the other restaurant we had targeted for another night was booked out for a function and closed the next night we took pot luck. The restaurants were ok but reinforced our policy of doing research to find the better restaurants.
The East coast of Puglia has a number of sandy beaches so we took ourselves off to Torre Canne. The beach was unremarkable but the restaurant right on the sea was.
Ristorante La Rotonda 2
Via Eroi del Mare 6 +39 080 482 9745
We had calamari and sea food pasta with a bottle of Leone de Castris, 2013, Salice Salentino DOC Reserve. We were so impressed with this that we have stocked their half bottles of red wine – see here.
As a general comment we found directions a real problem in this part of the world. Road numbers were difficult to find and following the directions in towns was really trying; the number of times we landed back where we started wasn’t funny. It is the only time we have felt the need for a SatNav but we’re not sure if it would have helped. Eventually we came to the conclusion that one mustn’t follow the the ‘round the houses’ directions but drive straight through the town and pick up directions at the other side. And as for the roads, we thought that the UK had the worst roads in Europe, but Puglia’s were much, much worse.
Feudi di Guagnano
Via Cellino 3, Guagnano (Le) Tel. 0832.705422 www.feudiguagnano.it
Monday to Friday 9:00 to 12:30 and 16:00 to 19:00; Saturday 9:00 to 12:30
We met this winermaker first at the London Wine Fair a few years ago and were impressed with their wine. They had half bottles of red wine, Primitivo, but unfortunately sold the whole lot to one customer and have not made any since. They are a boutique winery making premium wines so it was good to start our tour with what good tastes like. We started with their basic range Diecianni, a 100% Primitivo (their best-selling wine) and a 100% Negroamaro and then tried their blend Le Camarde (80% Negroamaro and 20% Primitivo) all of which had a touch of barrel aging. We though the pure varietals were excellent as simple wines; the blend had port-like hints, especially on the nose which we didn’t like. The Nero de Velloto, a 100% Negroamaro that had spent 12 months in oak was very port-like and not to our taste. We were to come across these port-like hints at several places and no one had an explanation as to why it occurred. We then moved on to their flagship wines. Cupone was a blend of Negroamaro (90%) and Malvasia Nero that had spent 24 months on oak. This had intense red fruits on the nose and palate. We did not taste their whites or rosé. We bought the Diecianni Primitivo and Negroamaro and the Cupone.
Cantina Due Palme
SP 75 on the way out of Cellino San Marco towards San Pietro Vernotico Tel. +39 0831 617865 www.cantineduepalme.it
The tasting rooms are not at the winery but at the address above which is primarily a shop and keeps shop hours. They make about a dozen different red wines with Negroamaro, Primitivo and Malvasia Nera in differing proportions. It was not easy to tell the difference other than the varietal composition so a somewhat confusing range. We bought the Selvarossa (primarily Negroamaro) and the Ettamiano (Primitivo) which seemed to be the top of their range. We did not taste their whites or rosé. They did not make any half bottles of wine and we preferred the wines from other makers.
Leone de Castris
Via Senatore de Castris, 73015 Salice Salentino (LE) Italy Tel. +39 0832 731112 www.leonedecastris.com
We did not manage to locate them despite trying twice (should have had the SatNav even though it is not a big town). We tried their wines in restaurants and their Salice Salentino Riserva became our favourite. They make half bottles of red wine and we got some for you – see here)
Via Cesarea – 73045 Leverano (Lecce) www.contizecca.it
Conti Zecca cellar door
Conti Zecca wine pumps
Monday to Saturday: 8:30 am-1:00 pm and 3:30 pm-8:00 pm. Sunday: 9:00 am-1:00 pm
Conti Zecca also had a large number of different variations of Primitivo and Negroamaro across several brands ranging from wine from a pump to Reserva. It was really interesting to compare the Riserva versions to the simple unwooded versions. We preferred the Cantalupi range of unwooded wines and bought the 100% Primitivo and Negroamaro. They also produce this range in half bottles of wine so we will look to get them in some time. That also had a fizzante rose that was reminiscent of strawberries and only lightly sparkling. We bought this too.
Cantine Paolo Leo SRL - Via Tuturano, 21 - 72025 San Donaci (BR) Tel +39 0831 635073 www.paololeo.it
Mare Fritto frutti di mare with Primitivo
We had the Paolo Leo wines in the restaurant Mare Fritto. We had both the Primitivo and Negroamaro in half bottles of wine. We preferred the Primitivo finding the Negroamaro a touch sweeter.