Monday, January 11, 2016

How Puglia saved my life

“Is this your first trip to Puglia?” I was asked this past week. “No, I have been here a handful of times,” I answered. “In fact the very first time I came here, I was coming from Greece. I had a staph infection and my leg was swollen. My last wish was to die in Italy, not Greece.”

Fortunately, once I arrived to Brindisi, I found medical care and fresh water, clean hotel rooms and the familiar food and wine of Italy. And so I was nursed back to health.

Puglia has helped many people with their health, I imagine. And all these years later, there is an even more conscious effort to make the food and wine from Puglia cleaner, leaner and healthier.

Food wise, there is an abundance of vegetables and seafood. Whole grains are appearing more often on tables as bread that is darker, denser and crunchier. Of course, one must still try to resist the sheer volume of food that comes to the Italian table. But that really is more on each and every one of us who are temped with that extra bite of pasta, that cone of ice cream, that piece of prosciutto, isn’t it?

And what of the wines? I told my traveling group about the first time I remember drinking wine from Puglia. I was in the town of Locorotondo and we were walking by a winery, probably a cantine sociale. For the equivalent of $0.50 one could fill up a liter bottle of red or white. I remember the red. It was dark, not too high in alcohol, with ample fruit, not so much acidity. It was dry. And it was spicy. Not too spicy, but enough to make it an interesting spend at half a dollar. Good medicine.

Over the years I have come back to Puglia, to Lecce, to Sava, to the tourist town of Alberobello and the little towns around it. I’ve swam in the sea, eaten all manner of foods from that sea, along with some of the best vegetables anywhere in Italy. And of course, the olive oil. Yes, the great gift from Puglia to the world.

Oil, grains, seafood, vegetables and wine. One of my colleagues said to me, “If I were ever to live in Italy again, I could live here. It’s so easy in Puglia.” I totally understand.

And the wines, they aren’t so deeply self-conscious; hence they don’t appear to be “important.” There aren’t the Barolos and Brunellos; there are no “super” categorizations. No, these are wines that serve the culture; they are integrated into the fabric of life here in Puglia and they almost disappear into a seamless space. Oh, and they aren’t priced for the collector culture. They simply are. And that’s a wonderful thing for anything to be, human or wine.

Wine from Negroamaro, Fiano, Primitivo, Nero di Troia, Verdeca - understated, nothing high pitched or desirous of calling attention to its status. Just pull the cork and put it on the table. Over and over again. It’s part of an uncluttered life, leaving no stashes of ancient red wines in widow's cellars to be unearthed and sold across the sea for collectors and sommeliers to bid on and to snap pictures of from their latest cell phone to post onto their Instagram or Delectable page. They’re not important in that 21st Century “look at me” sense. They’re not the Lamborghini. But they’re the fuel that powers the life and soul and culture of the people they serve. They’re life enhancers and for me, life savers. And how much greater can a thing be than that, in the long run?

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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