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February 25, 2009

The Road to Puglia

How italy's forgotten south became the country's it-region.
Originally published on July 9, 2008.

Silver-leafed olive groves and briny breezes crisscrossing the land from two seas: this is Puglia, the southern heel of Italy’s boot, and the area that’s now being hailed the next Tuscany. The moniker barely does the place justice: The country’s warmest and driest destination, Puglia claims the most mainland coastline (500 miles) and nearly half the nation’s olive harvest. But it’s the area’s burgeoning wine renaissance that’s caught our attention. Long known as “Italy’s wine cellar,” Puglia has started to pull powerhouse vintners from the north who are investing in estates and nurturing native varietals such as Negroamaro, Aglianico and Primitivo into so-called ultra-premium wines.

Antinori is one. Famed for its Tuscan and Umbrian labels, the Italian wine dynasty purchased two estates in Puglia in 1998 — Bocca di Lupo in the northwestern Castel del Monte DOC (vineyard pictured), and Masseria Maime in the southern Salento IGT — and put them under the banner of Tormaresca, meaning “tower by the sea” (a nod to the myriad medieval towers that dot the region). Tormaresca’s Neprica (a blend of Negroamaro, Primitivo and Cabernet) was just introduced to the US market this year, and, on a recent visit to the estates, manager Francesco Domini told globorati it was “literally flying” off the shelves.

After five years of construction, Bocca di Lupo just debuted a spanking new winery fashioned in the style of a masseria — a fortified farmhouse typical to Puglia. The tasting room looks into a dramatically lit, subterranean barrel room, while a second-story terrace takes in sweeping views of the vines. Meanwhile, Masseria Maime, a 17th-century seaside estate, will unveil its new winery this month — a contemporary structure that will be among the largest in the region. The estate is set amid Brindisi’s spectacular string of coastal nature preserves, where the public can walk among acres of almond and cypress trees or take a dip in the sea.

The vineyard is also a 20-minute drive from Lecce, Puglia’s jeweled city of swirling Baroque architecture (“the Florence of the South,” if you must). Since the region is so compact it’s worth exploring other nearby treasures, too: the fairy-tale town of Alberobello, a UNESCO Heritage site of little conical-shaped houses called trulli (pictured); Ostuni, “the white city” of sugarcube houses perched on a seaside hill; and the mysterious octagonal Castel del Monte, a fortress built by Emperor Frederick II that was too impractical to live in or to guard from.

But whatever you do, don’t forget to sample Puglia’s particular cucina, including creamy burrata cheese and ear-shaped orecchiette pasta. You won’t go wrong at Michelin-starred Osteria Gia Sotto L’Arco in Carovigno or at the acclaimed Antichi Sapori in Montegrosso. The latter is just five minutes from Lama di Luna (pictured), a masseria-turned-boutique-hotel where the 17th-century bedrooms of floor-to-ceiling stone are among the most romantic in southern Italy.

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read more: 02. Sleep | romantic | secluded | 05. Eat | 06. Drink | 10. Culture

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