Saturday, 20 August 2011

Wine Review: Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria DOC (2009)

Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria DOC (2009) Review
Price: £10 per bottle
Availability: Supermarket and independent merchants

Puglia, Italy’s south eastern heel, is one of the largest wine producing regions in Italy (by volume produced), bettered only by Sicily. The vast majority of it’s wine production (including it’s Primitivo) is made within the “Puglia IGT” quality designation, meaning that wines must be produced from a particular number of grape varieties within a large geographic area. Quality of wine production within IGT areas varies and whilst it is still possible to find excellent wines designated as IGT wines, areas which are particularly suited to high quality production of a particular grape variety or blend should be rewarded with DOC or DOCG status. There is one such area designated for 100% varietal Primitivo wines within Puglia and that area is the Primitivo di Manduria DOC.

Set up in 1974, the Primitivo di Manduria DOC is amongst the oldest of the fifteen or so DOC designated areas within Puglia and stretches along the coast of the Salento Peninsula for 25 miles eastwards from the town of Tarranto, surrounding the town of Manduria. Yields (i.e. the amount of grapes allowed to be produced per hectare) are limited to encourage intensity and richness into the resultant wines and there is a minimum alcoholic content for Primitivo di Manduria DOC wines of 13.5% ABV (the highest minimum alcohol requirement for dry, unfortified wine in Italy).

Today a town of approximately 30,000 inhabitants, Manduria has been an important stronghold in southern Puglia during wars from 400BC through to the end of the middle ages and walled defences can still be seen today. Also still visible is a well with an unusually steady water level (reported on by Pliny the Elder during Roman times) - no matter how much water is withdrawn the water level remains the same in the well, which also has an almond tree growing in the centre of the well shaft (featured on the town’s flag).

Paolo Leo, the maker of this Primitivo di Manduria, is the owner of the (ironically named) Vinagri winery within the Salento peninsula. Setup in 1989, Paolo Leo has a range of vineyards planted with the traditional indigenous Southern Italian varieties such as Primitivo, Negroamaro and Malvasia Nero that have been planted here for centuries. 40 year old Primitivo vines from within the Primitivo di Manduria DOC area are used to make this Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria DOC wine, with vines grown using the “Alberrello Pugilese” method. This time-honoured Puglian grape growing technique sees low, shrub-like vines grown without trellises, thereby producing low yields of Primitivo grapes that are rich and intense, which are well-spaced on the vine (helping to avoid disease). After hand-picking and pressing this Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria then sees 6 months in French oak barriques (small oak barrels) before bottling.

Looking at the bottle of this Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria, an elegant gold and white label belies a bottle which is fantastically weighty (no half weight, environmentally friendly bottles here!). A thick metal foil and good quality Paolo Leo stencilled cork complete a package which lives up to this Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria’s higher quality DOC billing and sets it apart from some of the cheaply bottled, plastic cork paired with garish Southern Italian labels out there.

In the glass, this Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria is a deep, intense black cherry throughout the wine with some rustic, oak-induced, browning to the rim of the wine. Even though this Paolo Leo wine’s dark colour makes spotting the legs of this Primitivo easy, there is still a significant amount of alcohol on display in this Paolo Leo Primitivo with it weighing in at 14.5% in alcohol.

On the nose, there is a deep, rich and sweet black fruit compote. Blackcurrants and cherries form the main part of the bouquet of this Paolo Leo Primtivo with prunes and raisins also deepening the aromas and adding complexity. This Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria’s time in oak barriques is also obvious, with overt and open wafts of vanilla overlaying the fruit.

In the mouth, this Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria is excellent. Soft, open fruit features in-line with the nose along with a hint of slightly spice Dundee cake with candied fruit in the recipe. There is a long length of flavour broken up by the balanced spice bubbling through with the whole flavour mellowed and smoothed by the vanilla essence imbued by the oak aging. Surprisingly and pleasantly more balanced and medium bodied in nature than some very blunt Primitivo di Manduria offerings, this Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria is still a heavy, full bodied wine but one which manages to be nuanced as well. Critically there is perhaps not quite the depth of flavour in this Paolo Leo wine that can be seen in the very best examples of Primitivo di Manduria, but this is still a very accomplished effort indeed.

Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria (2009) DOC Review

Score: 86/100 – Rich and full, but nuanced too!

Value for money: 8/10 – Very close to outstanding at under a tenner in some outlets!

Other Puglian wine reviewed to date:

Poderi Angelini Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Cantine Teanum “Otre” Primitivo, Puglia IGT
Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Cantine Teanum "Otre" Negroamaro, Puglia IGT
Adria Vini “Conviviale” Primitivo del Salento IGT
Paolo Leo Salice Salentino Riserva DOC
Cantina Sampietrana “Tacco Barocco” Primitivo del Salento IGT
Torrevento – “Palastri" Primitivo, Puglia IGT
Mezzomondo Negroamaro Rosso
Ogio Primitivo, Puglia IGT