Friday, 9 March 2012

Feudi di San Marzano “Villa Magna” Primitivo di Manduria DOC (2008)

It is the opinion of the Independent Wine Review that Southern Italy (and indeed specifically Puglia) offers some of the best value wines in Italy and that the region has a huge potential for wine production into the future. “Afflicted” with a baking hot climate, delicate white wine is not (on the whole certainly) what Puglia is about when it comes to wine, instead it is the red wines from this part of the world that take on the starring role. Ancient Primitivo and Negroamaro vines soak up the sun and transmit its power and the long history of Puglia as a trading stop on the way to the East, into wines made from the few intensely flavoured grapes produced. Deep and dark fruit, exotic spice notes and prodigious alcohol leap from the glass.

Not always for the faint of heart, these full-bodied Southern reds were once referred to as “peasant wines” being as they are, considerably more “rustic” (and simply different in flavour) than those more awarded Italian wines that hail from further North. For a period during the ‘90s, Puglia somewhat lost its unique winemaking identity. In the face of continued criticism of its native grapes and their flavours, many producers ripped up old Primitivo and Negroamaro vines and replaced them with “international” varieties that failed to thrive in the heat. However, after a wasted 20 years, Puglia is now back and is focussing on native grapes, but with a better understanding of how to marry their unique characteristics and international expectations of them than ever before.

At the forefront of this revolution is Feudi di San Marzano. Set up in 2003 by Valentino Sciotti, Feudi di San Marzano now leases around 500 hectares of vineyards, nearly all of which sit within the municipality of San Marzano, within the sub-region of Taranto on the Salento Peninsula (the bit of Puglia that sticks out into the sea). Having installed Mario Ercolino as Chief Winemaker and given him the brief to craft wines which were both inherently Puglian (and indeed with very limited exceptions are all crafted from historic Puglian grape varieties) but also approachable and understandable, increasing international interest has followed these wines. This is in direct contrast to the approach of many Puglian winemakers previously, who had an eye only for domestic, Italian demand.

Seemingly produced and bottled only for one UK supermarket, this Villa Magna” Primitivo di Manduria is one wine of several Feudi di San Marzano offerings that are now available outside of Italy. Produced from the fruit of 25 year old Primitivo vines, this Feudi di San Marzano “Villa Magna” Primitivo di Manduria sees maturation in a mix of French and American oak before bottling.

Examining the bottle, it seems that it is the same as the bottles used for several of the other Feudi di San Marzano Primitivo-based wines. Weighty and high shouldered, there is a taper into the base of the bottle in the Puglian tradition. The front label is simple and displays a crescent-shaped moon and three stars. The cork is real, although is a reconstituted style made up of many separate pieces of cork bonded back together.

In the glass, this “Villa Magna” Primitivo di Manduria is a clear, intense ruby colour. The oak aging experienced by this wine is not immediately apparent from the colour of the wine with almost no rusticity or discolouration showing towards the rim of the wine. The alcoholic content is average for wines made under the Primitivo di Manduria DOC classification, with this “Villa Magna” Primitivo weighing in at 14% abv.

On the nose, dark fruit and sweet spice leads. Dark cherries, figs, prunes and even a hint of raisin mingle to create a set of aromas for this “Villa Magna” Primitivo di Manduria that is quite pronounced and unmistakeably Puglian. A little sweetness is added to the nose by the Primitivo grape’s natural tendency to generate high sugar levels and a note of vanilla that has been imbued by oak.

Once in the mouth, this “Villa Magna” Primitivo di Manduria is dry and full-bodied. As an initial attack of damson and red cherry fades, a muscular and weightier mid-palate of dark and lush fruit builds. All of those darker cherries, figs and prunes evidenced by the nose create a delectable fruit compote with a touch of liquorice. A low level of acidity and limited tannins keep the wine lush and weighty without being cloying or too structured. On swallowing, this “Villa Magna” Primitivo di Manduria fades into a long finish of lifted cherry, dried fruits and even just a touch of menthol.

A very easy drinking wine, despite its full body and alcohol, this Feudi di San Marzano “Villa Magna” Primitivo di Manduria is clearly a very well made bottle of wine. As well as being inherently Puglian, this “Villa Magna” Primitivo di Manduria also proves that Puglian reds can appeal to the international market successfully and indeed can do so with a dash of panache and style thrown in too!
Feudi di San Marzano “Villa Magna” Primitivo di Manduria

Score: 86/100 – Smooth, rich and inherently Puglian!

Value for Money: 8/10 – This Feudi di San Marzano "Villa Magna" Primitivo di Manduria is a highly attractive wine at an accessible price point (£10 per bottle)