You may know two of Italy’s most famous reds - Nebbiolo and Sangiovese - but how familiar are you with Southern Italy’s red wines? From Campania to Puglia to Sicily, many other varietal wines are beckoning you to discover just how versatile and delicious they are.
Let’s explore the 5 Southern Italian red wines you should be sipping now.
The Romans loved the region of Campania, especially for its wine. But, we must thank the Greeks for this region’s wine diversity, especially the stunning red grape Aglianico.
Aglianico’s robust character yields impressive wines that are surely fit for the gods (no surprise that some people like to fancy this wine the ‘Barolo of the South.’) And - when made just right - these wines can age exceptionally well and mirror some of the ethereal qualities of the world famous Barolo.
Campania offers an exciting exploration of Aglianico. Let's start with Taurasi, a DOCG Aglianico grown at high altitudes, creating a structured red wine with firm tannins and elegant fruit flavor. As it ages, Taurasi can develop intense aromas of tobacco and leather. This is a dark and meditative wine that blossoms with age.
And, you can’t talk about Taurasi without mentioning Mastroberardino, the winery that introduced Taurasi to the world. They produce various expressions of Aglianico, including Irpinia, a larger DOC producing more young and light-bodied styles of Aglianico.
Venturing north of Irpinia, we will find Benevento, the province producing the stunning Aglianico del Taburno DOCG. Compared to Taurasi, this Aglianico is a full-bodied wine. Its fruit is more intense, matching its deeper ruby color. This wine is definitely the pick for the big red lovers in your life.
But, wait - Campania isn’t the only home of delicious Aglianico. Its neighboring region of Basilicata brings another spectacular Aglianico DOCG to keep an eye out for - Aglianico del Vulture. With grapes grown in the foothills of Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano with a superior, rich soil composition, the grapes gain incredible finesse. Aglianico del Vulture is a truly stunning volcanic wine, and Elena Fucci’s wines are a great example. Growing only Aglianico, Fucci produces her exceptional Titolo wine that showcases the brilliance of her family’s 40-year-old Aglianico cru vineyards. If you haven’t tasted the wet rock and floral components in wines grown in volcanic soils, try this wine.
If there’s a wine having a come-up, it’s Etna Rosso. This wine is a brilliant example of volcanic wine produced in the foothills of a still active volcano.There are many reasons that Etna Rosso is worth the hype. First, the wines feature the stunning Nerello Mascalese grape (comprising at least 80% of Etna Rosso according to the DOC,) an indigenous Sicilian grape with incredible finesse. Some find it similar to Pinot Noir in body and color. But, Nerello Mascalese has a personality of its own that singularly expresses the volcanic soil from where its grown.
In addition, Etna is home to excellent elevations for grape-growing, building on the freshness and acidity of the wines. Combined with Etna’s rich volcanic soils, these wines truly possess their authentic character. Realize that it’s high enough that it snows on Etna, in spite of its Mediterranean island location.
You’ll quickly notice the elegance of Etna Rosso’s refined tannins and almost garnet color. It's quite the stunner in the glass. And, on the palate, it boasts cherry and earthy spices that effortlessly match the smoky undertones the volcanic soil lends to the wines. In other words, these wines are pretty irresistible.
With Etna’s recent rise to the wine scene come talented producers with a real zeal for the grapes and terroir. Passopisciaro highlights the versatility of Etna’s volcanic soils through contrade- specific wines (contrade are specific areas on Etna with a unique terroir and history.) Tenuta Terre Nere similarly conveys the excellence of Etna Rosso - with cru bottlings of their vineyards across multiple exciting contrade.
In addition, there are even smaller producers doing exceptional things in Etna. Girolamo Russo expresses the finesse of its 15 hectares through expertly crafted, organically produced wines. They even offer an exhilarating Etna Bianco to slowly introduce your white wine-loving friends to this exciting wine region.
Are you a Zinfandel lover? Then this one's for you.
Puglia is home to many amazing things - olive oil, crystal blue waters, orecchiette - but it is also home to great red wine. Meet Primitivo - Zinfandel’s distant Italian identical twin.
Although Primitivo technically is Croatian by origin, according to DNA analysis (called ampelography) it's clear that this wine is now more Pugliese than anything. It's just as animated as the region’s culture. That said, Primitivo is a pretty big wine. It has high alcohol and juicy, ultra ripe fruit character, reflecting its warm growing area.
There’s a wide range of Primitivo out there to try. Many fall under the Primitivo Salento IGT, a wine zone in the gorgeous Salento peninsula. The wines are rustic and charming, with lots of fruit character. If you’re looking for a reliable Salento IGT, Tormaresca, owned by the Antinori family, is an excellent pick. Made with all estate fruit, it delivers quality and intensity.
When it comes to the appellations, one you must know is Primitivo di Manduria. It's the most known of the Primitivo appellations, with an attractive profile of concentrated fruit and spice. There’s also Gioia del Colle, a budding DOC just outside Bari with mineral-rich soil and elevation. The family winery Plantamura showcases how Primitivo can thrive in this region with three very unique expressions of the grape.
It’s quite hard to find a wine as vibrant as Frappato. Its bright pink color and berry-centric flavor make it a wine as brilliant as the Sicilian sun.
Frappato is quite a refreshing dry red wine. Its zippy acidity and approachable body make it easy to sip all year round. Plus, it’s hard to stop staring at its gorgeous color in the glass.
Vittoria DOC Frappato is an excellent wine pick showcasing the finesse of this grape. The DOC rests in southeastern Sicily, Vittoria - Frappato’s cultural home (although Frappato’s exact DNA origins are still unknown.) Vittoria is recognized for its red sandy soils and proximity to the sea, two terroir factors that lend the wines extra freshness. The area is also known for Vittoria Colonna Henriquez, the noblewoman who founded her namesake city of Vittoria in 1607!
When it comes to drinking Frappato, you’ll typically enjoy it in a dry red or Rosato style. Some producers understand this grape, delivering quite the stellar expressions of Frappato.
Located in the heart of Vittoria, Paolo Calì produces expressive Frappatos, including a delicious Rosato that perfectly rings in the warmer months. And, of course, we must always mention the ever-inspiring Ariana Occhipinti, the game-changing female winemaker who knows a thing or two about Frappato. She consistently delivers an elegant Frappato that evokes the land and all of its incredibly rich fruit and spices.
So, Ready to Drink More Southern Italian Wine?
The red wines of the Italian South are abundant in flavor and quality. Exploring them will open you up to a world of wine you never knew before, with histories and aromas that you may just fall in love with.
Big Hammer Wines is always evolving its selection of southern Italian red wines. Don’t be shy to explore the selection our wine experts put together for wine lovers just like you.
Wines to taste:
2019 Elena Fucci 'Titolo' Aglianico del Vulture Basilicata
2019 Mastroberardino 'Redimore' Aglianico Irpinia Campania
2015 Morella Primitivo “La Signora” IGP
2019 Rinforzo Primitivo Salento Puglia
2019 Tenuta Tascante 'Ghiaia Nera' Etna Rosso DOC
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