Gioia del Colle

Published by Sally on January 17, 2012

Cellar at Polvanera showing red soil and limestone

Cellar at Polvanera showing red soil and limestone

Gioia del Colle is a DOC in the middle of Puglia, located on the limestone plateau of Murge, inland and south from Bari, which rises to around 450m above sea level, giving an element of temperature moderation in the otherwise sunny south of Italy.

The DOC is named after a town of the same name, and it was the original area specialising in primitive production.  Reds must have a minimum of 50% primitivo, with the rest mostly from montepulciano, plus a choice of sangiovese, negroamaro or malvasia.  But if primitivo is on the label, only primitivo is allowed in the bottle.

Primitivo grown here seems to retain acidity well, in part at least to notable diurnal temperature variations during the ripening season.  Raffaele Guiliani, of his eponymous property, said “primitivo has about 6 to 6.3 g/l acidity at harvest,” which provides a decent backbone on which to hang, said Filippo Cassano, of Polvanera “the essence of primitivo [which] is jam, prune, dark fruits, plum, raspberries and other berries; cherry.”

The area is a karst limestone plateau some 300 to 450m asl, and vineyards are based on red, iron-rich limestone soils. Cassano explained that primitivo in Gioia del Colle “is so different because of the limestone and red soils.  In July and August, when there is generally no rain, the roots can still access deep water.”

It is in Gioia del Colle that the story of selection of primitivo began. In the 18th century, said Cassano “primitivo was part of a field blend of grape varieties. Primitivo used to be called primaticcio, which also means early.” Vincenzo Verrastro, of the international centre for advanced Mediterranean agronomic studies said, at that time, “a priest, don Filippo Francesco Indellicati, from Gioia del Colle, with experience of wine, noticed a local vineyard that blossomed later and was harvested sooner, and he did massale selections on this primitivo. Other farmers transplanted the variety grown in this vineyard in their own farms and the surface area increased quickly.”

The area is now dominated by small and family producers, and while the total vineyard size of Gioia del Colle was never large, a period of decline in the 1960s and 70s meant that by the 1990s, Giuliani and three others were the only growers bottling their own production. Verrastro said “in 1996 the number of hectares registered in Gioia del Colle was 14.  Now it is 200 ha with small farms and around 20 cellars controlling all their production.  The largest farm is Polvanera.”  Giuliani has 25 ha, on the farm founded by his father in the 1940s.

Primitivo here, as well as readily achieving high alcohol levels despite a little altitudinal elevation, is capable of floral perfumes, which Cassano preserves by avoiding oak altogether. Giuliani is keen that “barrique doesn’t dominate” and he has settled on about a third new oak for his Gioia del Colle Primitivo Riservas.

Tasting notes, in situ, November 2011

Az. Agr. Giuliani, Primitivo Riserva 2001, Gioia del Colle DOC
Rich and attractive stewed brambly and redcurrant nose and palate. Plenty of smooth tannins, with sweet fruit flavours at fore, with still-fresh core of acidity running through. Sweetly balanced. Alcohol integrated at 14.5%. Vg.

Az. Agr. Giuliani, Primitivo Riserva 2002, Gioia del Colle DOC
14.5%. Smoky and sous bois notes on nose, bit of wet compost maturity developing. Sweet liquorice-confectionary, dark fruits, smoke and some meaty notes. Smooth and sweet core, in softly rounded body.

Az. Agr. Giuliani, Primitivo Riserva 2003, Gioia del Colle DOC
14.5%. Warm, spicy, full, sweet, youthful berried fruit. Sweet, fruit, round, supple, with defined balanced. Good.

Polvanera, Primitivo 17, 2008, Gioia del Colle DOC
From 60 year old alberelli, on clay rich soils. 16%.
Juicy, dark berries, sweet, pure fruit. Huge concentration, alcohol kick at the end, though considerably less than I might anticipate for 16%.  Lovely, dense, round, sweetness, rich, fleshy, raspberry jam and blackberries, but I’m not sure I’d want to drink a whole glass. Great purity of fruit with a core of freshness amid the sweetness and alcohol.  (Learn it is 9-10g/l RS after the tasting.)

Polvanera, Primitivo 16, 2008, Gioia del Colle DOC
From old alberelli, on iron-calcareous rocky soil.
Fragrant floral, violet perfume, elegant nose and palate attack, with hint of light chalky texture.  Upright, intense, well-deported. Also huge concentration, with good focus and intensity of sweet/ripe red berries. This has super balance, length and line, and I don’t feel the (16%) alcohol on this one. Vg. (Learn it is 2-3g/l RS after the tasting.)

Polvanera, Primitivo 14, 2008 Gioia del Colle DOC
From old alberelli and cordon spur trained. Calcareous clay soils.  14%
Dark spices and berries, hints of aromatic plums and cherries. Nice texture and balance, succulence of fruit and freshness. More approachable (half the price) than No. 16 or 17.

My trip to visit and judge wine in Puglia was sponsored by the Puglia Best Wine Consortium.

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