Wine of the Week: Varvaglione, 2017 Papale | Puglia, Italy

By Dirk Smits

Primitivo di Manduria | October 4, 2021

Puglia is a long, narrow wine region in the far south-eastern corner of the “boot” of Italy. The name goes back to the Apuli, a tribe of the Oscians. The area is one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world, as the Phoenicians and Greeks planted vines here 3,000 years ago. The Romans particularly appreciated the wine from Tarentum (now Taranto) and the poet Horace (65–8 B.C.) described the area as a place of “eternal spring.”

In contrast to the other southern regions of Italy, there are hardly any mountains; instead, the landscape consists of plateaus and lowlands. The climate is hot and dry with little rainfall so that irrigation sometimes is necessary. The soils consist mainly of limestone, clay and sandstone.

There are many autochthonous grape varietals in Puglia, one of them being Primitivo. Manduria is Primitivo’s spiritual home (even if the varietal originates from Croatia). It is the only viticultural area in Italy to specialize in this grape. California is also a major center for the grape in its guise as Zinfandel.

The Primitivo grape got its name because it ripens early. It shares this characteristic with Spain’s Tempranillo grape, temprano means “early” in Spanish. The grape’s naturally dark skin contributes to the inky, tannic wines of intense flavor and color.

Founded in 1921, the Varvaglione family lives on. They have been making wine for one hundred years, spanning four generations of the family. Today, it is one of the biggest and fastest developing companies in Puglia, steadily increasing the number of bottles produced as well as the quality. The company is based in Leporano on the Gulf of Taranto, in the famous Salento region.

The “Papale” wines are a reference to the time that Pope Benedict XIII made Primitivo wine for himself in the same plot of land.

Varvaglione, 2017 Papale

Origin: Manduria, Puglia, Italy
Varietals: Primitivo di Manduria
Sustainability: organic
Suggested Retail Price: $28.00
ABV: 14.5%

The wine is made following the traditional methods. After the malolactic fermentation, the wine is aged in French barrels (tonneaux) and American barriques for at least 10 months.

The color is an intense, ruby red with violet hues. The nose reveals ripe blackberries, currant, black cherries, cassis, dates and a hint of spice, chocolate and toffee. The palate is jammy with the same fruits showing up, well-balanced with present but ripe tannins and a long finish.

Suggested food pairings: charcuterie, grilled meats and vegetables, game, pasta with meat sauce, cheeses.

> For more information, visit the Varvaglione official website.