Chase wine expert DAVID CLAY takes a trip through Italy to discover the country’s top tipples produced along its eastern coast.
Watching Gino’s Italian Coastal Escape started me thinking of the good places to visit and the wines that are down the eastern side of Italy from the Marche south through the Abruzzo and Molise into Puglia.
Above Puglia it’s best to fly-drive.
In Puglia there are some good escorted tours such as the excellent one by Riviera Travel called Undiscovered Italy.
Starting at the Marche.
Rosso Conero is a wine appellation in the central part of the Marche region of Italy just south of Ancona on the slopes of Monte Conero.
The red wine made here is based on the Montepulciano grape which must comprise 85pc of the wine.
If another grape is used, it is commonly Sangiovese.
It is a full-bodied wine that is well suited to robust dishes such as game stews.
The main white Verdicchio from around the villages of Jesi and Matellica is somewhat out of fashion but there are some good examples in most of our supermarkets and wine merchants.
Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi, Taste the Difference 2018 13.5pc (Sainsbury £7) Citrus notes and a mineral finish.
Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Classico 2017 13pc (M&S £8.50) A floral nose and taste of peach, pear and juicy apple.
In the Abruzzo the hills come down near the sea leaving a thin coastal strip with some good hotels and fine beaches.
I can recommend the very Italian Mion Hotel in Silvi Marina above Pescara with its lovely beach and easy access to the nice hill towns behind and a pleasant railway which goes along the coast south to Pescara and a long way up north.
The white wines are best from the coastal hills facing the sea breezes.
Here, the white grape Pecorino is a variety fast growing in popularity.
Usually dry and minerally it has an elegant floral bouquet with sometimes a hint of licorice.
Terre di Chieti IGT is a province-wide Indicazione Geographica Tipica for the Chieti province of Abruzzo.
Pecorino, Terre di Chieti 2017 13pc Abruzzo (Morrisons ‘The Best’ £6.50, Waitrose £7.99) Crisp and delicate with peach and lemon flavours. Great, easy drinking with or without food.
Finest Pecorino, Terre di Chieti 2016 13pc Abruzzo (Tesco £7) Hints of peach and apricot, perfect chilled, it pairs well with grilled fish, roast chicken or crunchy salads.
Fenaroli Pecorino Superiore 2017 13pc Abruzzo (Waitrose (£9.99) Citrus and flowery aromas, delicate exotic fruit on the palate.
The main red is from the easy drinking Montepulciano grape.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2016 13pc (Morrisons ‘The Best’ £6) Rich and spicy with cherry and peppery dark chocolate flavours.
However, there are some much more serious wines, such as: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva Fonte Barco 2015 14pc (Waitrose £19.99) This is a different animal to the Montepulcianos above.
Powerful, intense, savoury, aged in Slavonian oak, blackberry and mulberry and hints of coffee.
On then south through Molise into Puglia.
I enjoyed the attractive town of Vieste on the Gargano Promontary with its ancient houses and alleyways, a fine castle and cathedral.
The promontory is the Gargano National Park with small sandy beaches, cliffs and caves.
Then comes Bari.
Years ago, on a cruise with a Costa cruise ship, very small by today’s standards, we were stopped from leaving the Bari docks as it was said to be too dangerous.
Now it is very pleasant going round the old town with its mediaeval fortress and massive cathedral.
Nearby is the small picturesque fishing port of Trani. Not far away is the small town of Alberobello with its Trulli houses.
A must see, even though there are often masses of tourists.
The main red at this northern end of Puglia is Nero di Troia.
Maree d’Ione Organic Nero di Troia 2017 Puglia 13.5pc (Waitrose £8.75) An elegant, full bodied red; plum, cinnamon, spice, tobacco – it’s all there.
Then further south to Brindisi and the Salento peninsula.
Millions of olive trees and some good wines.
A little inland is the city of Lecce, known as the ‘Florence of the South’.
Well worth a day or two’s stop with its Roman amphitheatre, lovely Baroque architecture, narrow streets, lovely piazzas and gardens, a place to sit and watch while having a glass of good Puglian wine.
Salice Salentino is the name of a wine and a town.
The grape is Negroamaro which means “black bitter”.
It is not too tannic or acidic which makes it easy to glug.
Here are three good value ones from the area: Sette Muri Brindisi Riserva 2015 (Tesco £10) Made from 100pc Negroamaro, it has heady aromas of red cherry, black plum and vanilla.
The wine has a smooth velvety texture with a long spicy finish.
Sette Muri is Italian for “seven walls” and refers to the unique walled paths that line the vineyards of Brindisi.
Negroamaro 2017, Cantine San Marzano Puglia 13.5pc (Morrisons ‘The Best’ £6.50) A great wine for the price. Full bodied and rich, blackcurrant and plum.
Great with roasts, steaks and richly flavoured pasta dishes.
Salice Salento 2015 Vallone 13pc (Majestic £11.99, £9.99 mixed six) A savoury red with soft tannins, licorice, chocolate, leather, blackberryish.
A bit further to the west the big reds are from the Primitivo grape, the best from around the town of Manduria.
Organic Primitivo, Paolo Leo 2015 Puglia 14.5pc (Aldi £7.99) Complex bouquet, reminiscent of cherries, raspberries and red currants.
The Society’s Primitivo di Manduria 2016, Gregory Perucci 14pc (The Wine Society £10.50) A deep flavoured, brooding, velvety wine.
Puglia’s reds are some of the best value around.
I hope you enjoyed my quick journey down this lovely Italian coast.