Puglia, Italy: Raw, real and fabulous

Grotto Palazzese Polignano a Mare Italy

Grotto Palazzine in Polignano a Mare, Italy

Puglia surprised me, in a good way.  This is a wine region on the verge of greatness.  It is still relatively undiscovered and the wineries need help with creating experiences – but for the quality of the wines and incredible value, the no frills tours and interesting culture, it is a great place.  If you have been to Tuscany, and Northern Italy, then this is your next stop.  I was amazed at how approachable the wines are and the value as compared with any other wine region in Italy, or the world of wine in general, these wines are a serious bargain.  For $20 you’ll get a top bottle of wine – when the average is probably around $6 a bottle.

How to get there:  Fly into Bari or drive over from Naples like we did.

Where to stay:  Bari is not the place you want to stay.  We chose to stay in Alberobello, a small town known for their iconic “truilli” houses.  We found a resort where you can actually stay in these historic truillis which was really fun.  If you are interested check out Il Gabellota Resort in Truilli.

Dinner:  Like the rest of Italy – you cannot eat dinner before 8pm.  All restaurants were closed before then and turning up at 8pm really shows you are a tourist.

Long before I even thought about a trip to Puglia I read about this amazing cave restaurant called Ristorante Grotta Palazzese that was featured in Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and many luxe magazines…  it was truly the dining experience of a lifetime.  Grotta is in Polignano a Mare, a small town on the Adriatic Sea about a half hour drive from Alberobello.  I recommend before you even book your trip make sure you can get a reservation there.  The food is divine, there was a saxophone playing during our dinner which with the natural acoustics of the cave was just magical.  The sea comes in under the dining space, and there are seagulls under you hanging out on the crevices in the rock.  The waiters are so professional and the whole experience is perfected from service to the music.  I realized then that this was more than a dinner, and what restaurants mean when they say they want to create a “dining experience”.

Getting to the wineries:  We asked our hosts which wineries to visit.  The best wineries are in an area called Salice Valentino.  There are only a few wineries that are worth visiting – it’s just such a rustic place still and most honestly just aren’t set up for visitors.  What you’ll be tasting is mainly Primitivo and Negroamaro.  These wines are GREAT.  Being Southern Italy, and a hot climate they are much more like Californian wines than Tuscan.  Full-bodied and plenty of fruit which I think will please most people I know, however most people just don’t recognize these grape varietals.  They have a classic Italian quality which I think is more about the level of cleanliness – think old vats, and other things mixed in with grapes, etc – a completely different level than what you’ll see in pristine US or New World wineries.  Wineries we visited include Cantele and Conti Zecca.

Things other than wine:  We also visited Matera – an historic city that has been well preserved and was the capital of Basilicata from 1663 to 1806. The white stone town contains churches, a couple of restaurants and places to stay.  It is truly amazing to see for a day, but I don’t think it offers enough to stay there.  There are plenty of stray dogs and cats and with all the cigarette butts everywhere, and lack of merchants, we just felt it needed some work to be a great experience.  The view is so impressive though.  Definitely worth a visit!

Alberobello Puglia WineryCritic

Il Gabellota Resort in Trull, Alberobello, Puglia

Matera Puglia

Primativo Puglia WineryCritic

Entrance to Cantele Puglia

Cantele, Salice Salentino, Puglia

Cantele tasting room WineryCritic

Tasting room at Cantele

Cantele tile Puglia WineryCritic

Cantele WineryCritic

Conti Zecca 2 Puglia WineryCritic

Conti Zecca Puglia

Harvest Conti Zecca Puglia

Have you been to Puglia? What did you think?