Antinori’s Tormaresca – At the Bocca di Lupo Estate in Puglia
By Brandy Falconer, grapelive.com guest columnist
Last week I had the pleasure of traveling to Puglia (Apulia) in Southern Italy to visit one of Antinori’s two estates under the Tormaresca label. We left Naples, driving southeast on the A16 toward the heel of Italy’s boot, and about two and a half hours later, encountering sun, snow and rain along the way, we arrived at the Bocca di Lupo estate. Directly translated as “Mouth of the Wolf,” it should also be noted that a common expression of “Good Luck!” is translated as “In bocca al lupo!”
My first thoughts when we arrived were of (my) home, the Salinas Valley, with its beautiful flat rows of agriculture, surrounded by green rolling hills in the distance. Even the weather was the same this time of year, a cloud-filled grey sky with a bit of rain and wind…which kept changing every minute. I appreciated the signage that guided us to the winery, something that doesn’t exist everywhere in Italy, and though the building was new and a bit stark on the outside, there was nothing sterile or overly modern about it. It fit in beautifully with the landscape, as if it was simply a renovated farmhouse and barn, reflecting the movement from grape-growing to winemaking at the facility. Grapes have been grown here for centuries, as in most of the south, and in the last decades there has been a noticeable movement from growers to producers.
Walking through the front door of the winery was like being welcomed into a home or small resort. Offices occupy the downstairs, then a spiral stone staircase brings visitors to a window-lined upstairs where there are meeting rooms, a salon and dining room, all looking out on the vineyards and across to the hills. The interior and exterior are represented in pale colors with sand-colored stone block, which is not only beautiful and serene, but also the result of a desire to use only indigenous materials in the construction. The furnishings also reflect the history of the area, equally inviting and functional; it is easy to feel comfortable here. Their guest rooms (sorry wine pilgrims, for business associates only) are cozy and relaxed, and above all quiet; something I really appreciate after living in downtown Naples for the last several months.
Maria Teresa from the Marketing and Sales department arrived to guide me through the winemaking facilties, which are spacious, modern and practical in a beautiful setting. Rather than looking dormant for the winter, the super-clean presses and tanks seem to be just taking a work break before spring. While one small cellar for the white wines is set up to easily move the barrels after a brief aging period, the main cellar has long, low rows of red stained barrels. Not at all a “warehouse” cellar, this deep, square chamber is so quiet and visually pleasing that it resembles a spa. It was so cold outside, the cellar actually seemed warm, and there was even a bit of fog hanging in the room which added to the atmosphere.
Adjacent to the cellar, we entered the tasting room. With its low arched ceiling and stone walls, it was much like being in a traditional cave cellar, but a large arch window at one end, looking out on the quiet cellar below created a charming ambiance. The long wooden table was set with glasses and bottles, and the tasting began. We started with the 2008 Chardonnay, considered their “base wine”. Not to be confused with “bottom of the line,” this un-oaked Chardonnay (music to my ears), with its fresh, well-balanced acidity and minerality is a wine that you can enjoy with your entire meal. The more complex 2008 Pietrabianca Chardonnay, made with a small amount of Fiano grapes and aged 4-5 months in oak barrels, has a richer, more tropical fruit flavor with hints of caramel. Tasting this wine again after 10 minutes in the glass, I immediately thought of my mom’s famous cheesecake and how delicious the combination would be. This isn’t your mother’s Chardonnay!
Something worth mentioning now is that although we did not have the chance to taste the Calafuria Negroamaro Rosato (Rose) this time, I did sample it at Vinitaly this Spring, and was impressed. Though it is not exported yet in the US because of limited quantities, I believe we will be seeing it, and many more beautiful Rosato wines from southern Italy soon, so prepare your palates and set aside your preconceived notions. Now, on to the reds. The first poured was the “base red,” called Neprica with its beautiful ruby color. Satisfying many palates in the US, this wine and its name, is a harmonious blend of Negro Amaro, Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon, hence, NePriCa. The concentrated flavors and dry finish of this wine bring to mind a dish of lean meat stewed with tomatoes, like pepper steak. As I began asking about the winemaking philosophy at the estate, it was a pleasant surprise to be joined by the estate winemaker, Laura Minioa, who comes from a family of winemakers and agronomists. With her guidance, we moved on to the 2006 Negroamaro Salento IGT from Tormaresca’s other estate in Puglia, Masseria Maime. Laura explained that this estate’s proximity to the ocean offers a variation in terrior and results in a distinctive expression of the grapes grown there. The Negroamaro’s dense ruby color prepares you for the blueberry and deep forest aromas and earthy flavors. Next in the glass was the Primitivo Torcicoda Salento. An even darker, purple-ruby color with aromas of prunes and straw gave way to a nice, smooth mouthful, with flavors of dark fruit jam and aged meats. This is an enjoyable wine, and my favorite of the lineup.
It would have been a shame to come all this way and not be able to enjoy these wines in their native environment…at the dining table. Luckily, there was another group visiting the winery and I was invited to enjoy lunch along with the other guests. To start, the Chardonnay was the perfect palate cleanser in between bites of delicately fried artichokes and bruschetta with melted cheese and black olives individually wrapped in parchment bags. The more substantial Pietrabianca Chardonnay complimented the full flavored home-made pasta with mushrooms and tomato-caper sauce. The surprise was the 2006 Bocca di Lupo Castel del Monte Aglianico DOC which was silky on the tongue with a tannic bite finish. Aromas of apple spice cake and chocolate covered cherries made my mouth water as much as the rosemary beef loin with which it was served. The wine enhanced the dish beautifully and the herb and salted flavors in turn harmonized with and softened the wine, which is what I believe is an exquisite pairing. In contrast, the last sips of Aglianico in my glass acted as a palate cleanser between bites of the decadent chocolate lava cake. As if we needed another dessert (am I complaining?) traditional almond cookies were served with the Kaloro Moscato dessert wine. Though I am not traditionally a fan of the Moscato grape, I enjoyed the orange flower aroma and flavor of this wine, especially with the cookies. Yes, I had more than one…for the sake of research of course!
Something to be said about this winery and estate is that there is a refreshing consistency among the aspects of the business, I think due to the strong sense of history and culture of Puglia, and the generations of experience of the Antinori family. The facilities, wine and food are all well thought-out, traditional, and simple without being plain – good representations of this little-known part of Italy. Puglia is a region to which I will always be glad to return, and Tormaresca offers wines that will be a pleasure to enjoy again and again.