One of the things that most people don’t realize about Puglia is that the great majority of it is flat… really flat.
In fact, most of the region — a narrow peninsula that forms the heel of Italy’s boot — is as flat as a pancake.
That doesn’t stop grape growers and winemakers from producing superb wines there. In Salento and Manduria in the southern part of the region, some of Italy’s most famous and most enduring wines are made from Negroamaro and Primitivo grapes respectively.
The limestone-rich subsoils in these appellations, the rarity of bad weather, and excellent ventilation (thanks to the fact that this narrow stretch of land lies at the top of the Mediterranean basin) are ideal for producing consistent, high-yield harvests and juicy, fruit-driven wines.
There are however two appellations in Puglia where the landscape is dotted by hills.
One of these is Castel del Monte.
The appellation gets its name from the Castel del Monte — the Castle on the Mount (pictured above), a remarkable octagonal fortress that was built during the times of King Frederick II the Holy Roman Emperor (1194-1250).
King Frederick ruled the Empire from Sicily but his love of falconry often brought him to Puglia and this castle served as his home while there. A man of great culture and the arts, he is considered by many to be the “first European” and his reign was a golden age for Italy.
The hills that surround the castle are ideal for falconry because wildlife prefers the woods over the flats. And they are also one of the best places in all of Puglia to grow fine wine grapes: higher altitudes and sloped vineyards are what helps to give the wines made in this appellation greater freshness and more vibrant acidity.
The Tenuta di Zagaria Castel del Monte Vignagrande by the Conte Spagnoletti Zeuli is a wonderful expression of this appellation.
When we tasted it the other day, it was bright and fresh with crystal clear notes of ripe red fruit that never eclipsed the wine’s acidity, light body, or drinkability.
The Vignagrande is one of the estate’s top growing sites and it lies atop a southward-facing hill, an ideal cru for the production of this excellent but highly affordable wine.