Wine Discoveries: Italy in Sonoma

Saturday I discovered three fun Italian wines in Sonoma…Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar in Washington, DC that is. 😉

The first wine was over dinner (very good food by the way) and part of the Tiny Bubbles wine flight, a comparison of sparkling wines. The flights at Sonoma are generous pours so you really get a taste for the wine.

Quattro Mani Franciacorta Brut

  • Grape Variety: 80% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Bianco, 10% Pinot Nero from Lombardy, Italy
  • Aroma & Taste: A combination of fruity and slightly yeasty/bready (like you get from Champagne)
  • Price: $15
  • My thoughts: This was a combination of grapes I hadn’t tried before and in a sparkling wine. It was a combination of a brut sparkling wine and a prosecco. Fun and different!

We served the second and third wines at my birthday party we held here Saturday night.

Terre Grillo IGT Sicilia 2008

  • Grape Variety: 100% Grillo, an ancient grape variety from Sicily, estate where the grapes come from founded in 1875
  • Aroma: White flowers and tropical fruit
  • Taste: Lively, round body, melon and citrus
  • Price: $9
  • My thoughts: This was my drink of choice at the party! Really great wine … a cross between a Viognier, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Definitely want to find this one for home!

Terre Negroamaro IGT Puglia 2008

  • Grape Variety: 100% Negroamaro grown in Lecce in Puglia (the heel of Italy’s boot)
  • Aroma: Red fruit with touch of earthiness (my girlfriend said almost mushroomy)
  • Taste: Medium bodied with red fruit and spice
  • Price: $9
  • My thoughts: Another really nice wine at a great price! I discovered this grape on our trip to Puglia last summer. Puglia is Italy’s largest wine producer. Negroamaro means ‘bitter black’ and produces a big wine. This wine wasn’t too big probably due to the fact it is aged in stainless steel tanks. The label has a great illustration of the region’s trulli on it, round limestone buildings with conical grey stone roofs dating back to the Middle Ages that served as peasant homes.

Cheers to new wine discoveries!

Summer’s Last Rosés: Cantina del Locorotondo Cummerse

The second rosé I grabbed off the wine rack for this week’s last summer beach trip was from our June trip to Puglia, Italy (Italy’s largest wine producer). I was so impressed with Puglia’s wines, especially their rosés made from local varietals like Primitivo and Negroamaro.

This rosé is from the Cantina del Locorotondo just outside the gorgeous little town of Locorotondo, the City of White Wine. The 2010 Cummerse Rosato di Puglia (rosé also called rosato in Italy) is made from 100% Pinot Nero grapes grown just northwest of town. When I opened it on the beach Tuesday at sunset, you could smell the red fruits. The nose is also a bit tart but the taste is BURSTING with strawberries and raspberries. It was perfect with our little cheese assortment. And I love the label which has an illustration of the typical white houses of Locorotondo.

We had a great visit to this winery during our trip and thanks to welcoming Oronzo and Mariella, we tasted 10 of their 21 wines. In addition to the Cummerse Rosato we brought home a white, a red and a sparkling. The winery is owned by a cooperative of 700 farmers who produce 18 wines, 3 sparkling wines and one grappa, one million bottles per year in total. The Cantina Sociale of Locortondo was formed by a group of farmers back in 1930, the first of its kind in Puglia, to promote their wines. Their great work was rewarded in 1969 when Locorotondo was made a DOC.

Cheers to summer’s last rosés…as this weekend back home is looking and feeling like Autumn!

Puglia: Masseria Torre Coccaro, Our Home Away from Home

As we pulled off the paved back road just off the sea onto the quiet dirt road per our TomTom instructions, we came upon two white stone pillars and a gate which opened to the gorgeous grounds of Masseria Torre Coccaro. We circled around the drive and into view came the pure white washed main house of the Masseria dripping with pinkish flowers and green vines. I knew we had picked the right place to call home for our week in Puglia!

Masseria are old fortified farmhouses of Puglia… many have been turned into bed and breakfasts or to five star hotels like this one. Torre Coccaro has so many fabulous offerings and amazing service that you could never leave to explore Puglia.

* Grounds: Gorgeous gardens and olive tree groves surround the property. We wandered around our first morning after breakfast and couldn’t believe all the secluded spots we discovered. The vegetable garden was alive with grape vines, fennel, almond trees, radishes, chicory, zucchini, artichokes and figs. A secret path leads you to the billiards room and event space. There’s ample outside seating areas constructed out of the white washed remains of the masseria. There’s even a beautiful little chapel off the main courtyard.

* Accommodations: Our superior room on the backside of main courtyard was Italian rustic country style. Our front porch terrace draped with pink beach roses was complete with lounge chairs and table where we spent many evenings with a rosé watching the sunset behind the broccoli field and olive trees. As you entered through our red wooden double doors, you came into another sitting area then the bedroom with crisp white bed linens and white linen canopy hanging overhead. The only noises we heard in the morning were birds chirping. There are 39 rooms and suites to chose from.

* Restaurants: Egnathia is the main restaurant where the amazing breakfast spread is served…fresh fruit table, meats and cheeses, long pastry table or order from the menu. The dinners are divine! We had three here for the food AND atmosphere… low lighting, candles, sitting outside looking out onto the white washed Masseria. The Cabana by the pool is the perfect setting for lunch as is the Coccaro Beach Club where we had lunch one day. Opening night of the beach club restaurant was during our stay… a big crowd was expected for an into the morning party.

* Spa: Ahhh! You’ll find this sanctuary through a small secret red door. You descend the steps into Aveda spa that’s been build into the rock for a relaxing treatment. I opted for Massagio Olio d’Oliva as it’s the ‘liquid gold’ of Puglia. And the olive oil used for the massage was from the trees on the property! Whether in your treatment room or enjoying the whirlpool tub after, you’ll feel like you’re in a secluded cave. I used the Turkish Hammam then fell asleep on the lounge bed by the whirlpool. If you’re so inclined, there’s also a nice gym surrounded by windows so you feel like you’re exercising outside.

* Beach & Pool: The pool is a great spot to laze away the day. It’s constructed to look almost like you’re on the beach with a ‘sand’ entrance and surrounded by a small pier. Or head to the beach (a 10 minute drive or shuttle ride away) and enjoy their Coccaro Beach Club. We spent half a day here but wish we had more time. Swim in the blue waters of the Salento sea and soak up the sun on one of their beach chairs.

The Masseria staff is extremely accommodating. They can arrange many activities to enjoy like tours of the local towns, cooking classes or horseback riding.

Yet with all that’s available, Masseria Torre Coccaro is quaint, quiet and other than the lovely people around you at the restaurant or pool, we felt like we had this gem all to ourselves!

Puglia: The Rosé Had Me at First Sip!

After our four hour drive across Italy from Positano, we arrived at the lovely Masseria Torre Coccaro just in time for our first fabulous meal. As the drive was a bit tiring, it was definitely wine time! As I perused the very local wine list, the sommelier recommended selections including several from a winery not too far away, Tenute Rubino. One suggestion was their Saturnino Rosato Negoamaro 2008. A rosé on the warm night sounded like a perfect idea!! This became one of my go to wines on the trip.

Rosé, as the head of Tenute Rubino Luigi Rubino says, is an ancient cultural tradition in the Salento region of Puglia. As I mentioned in my last post, Puglia is Italy’s largest wine producer. I had no idea Negroamaro and Primitivo grapes would make such fabulous rosé wine.

Saturnino, Rosé, IGT Salento is a superior example! In May 2011 it won the gold medal at Consours Mondial de Bruxelles international wine competition in Luxembourg. This gorgeous deep pink wine is made of 100% Negroamaro grapes. The scent is lovely raspberry and violet while taste is round, crisp and refreshing, helped by its fermenting in stainless steel tanks. It’s the perfect compliment to the delicious seafood and vegetable dishes of Puglia.

Tenute Rubino winery was founded in the 1980’s. With over 200 hectares of vineyards, its location on the Adriatic Coast outside Brindisi offer the perfect conditions for grape growing… sun in the day, cool air off the sea at night. In 2000 the family opened a state of the art vinification facility and cellar. Since then they’ve been winning many accolades for their eleven wines, four white and rosé and seven red. They use Negroamaro, Primitivo, White and Black Malvasia and the very unique Susumaniello grape. I also enjoyed their Giancola white wine (100% White Malvasia), recently awarded 88 points from Wine Enthusiast.

You can find my two favorites above as well as several Tenute Rubino reds on Snooth (although I haven’t tried ordering from the stores listed).  The winery is currently on a U.S. tour in New York City and Los Angeles with special dinners and events to promote Puglia Wines in America.

Salute to Puglia Rosé!

Puglia: Itay’s Largest Wine Producer

Puglia wine dates back to Phoenician times and the Greeks named Puglia ‘Enotria‘, Wineland. Today Puglia is the largest producer of wine in Italy. Often referred to as ‘the wine cellar of Europe’ because in the past it primarily produced wine to send to the rest of Italy and Europe for structure and alcohol content in blending. However over the last decade, Puglia wineries have made investments that are starting to pay off. They realized making quality wine and bottling it for sale could be more profitable in the long run than producing large quantities for blending. The results I tasted were fantastic!

Red wine is king here (rosso) but you’ll also find white (bianco) and rosé (rosato). The rosato was my biggest surprise and some of the best rosé I’ve ever had!! As the climate here is very warm and the sun extremely strong, the grapes produce a wine high in sugar thus strong in flavor and high in alcohol. The grapes are grown in three ways: pergola (overhead canopy which I saw most often), bush (bushes on the ground) and cordon-trained (traditional vines on lines). The vineyard yields are quite high, about four to five times that of other regions.

Grape Varieties

The native grape varieties grown here were very new to me.

* Red

  • Primitivo: This is the king of Puglia’s grapes and its name comes from the early ripening of the grape. A clone of the Zinfandel grape, its the heavily ‘exported’ grape for its structure. The wine it produces is an intense violet color with scents of currants, berry and spice and a soft, velvety fruit taste.
  • Negroamaro: Meaning ‘bitter black’, this grape makes a strong wine with minimum 13% alcohol and no less than 2 years of aging. The wine it produces is dark red in color with a scent of cherry, leather and pepper and a taste that’s warm and powerful.
  • Nero di Troia: Also know as Uva di Troia, this grape is said to have been brought to Puglia from Troy by the Greeks 2,000 years ago. It produces a deep red wine with fruity and spicy notes.
  • You’ll also find Aleatico di Apulia (used for sweet dessert wine), Malvasia Nera, Montepulciano and Cabarnet grapes.

* White

  • Bombino Bianco: This grape also comes in red, Bombino Nero, often used for rosés. As a white its crisp and fresh, golden in color with a scent of ripe fruits.
  • Malvasia Bianca: It produces an elegant well balanced wine with a scent of iris, pineapple and vanilla.
  • You’ll also find Verdeca, Bianco d’Alessano, Fiano, Chardonnay and Sauvignon grapes.


There are 26 DOC (denomination d’origine controllata) in Puglia and only 10% of the wines in the region have this designation. Other wines from the region are either IGT (typical geographic indication) or Vini da Tavola (table wine).

  • DOC: Salice Salento is the most famous region with the highest concentration of quality wine produced. Reds are mostly Negroamaro grape and wines from this region can only use the local grapes. Whites are mostly Malvasia Bianca. Other widely known DOC are Castel del Monte (Nero di Troia is the dominant grape), Brindisi (Negroamaro), Manduria (Primitivo) and Gioia del Colle (Primitivo).
  • IGT: Six total designations include Puglia, Daunia, Murgia, Valle d’Itria, Tarantino and Salento.

For a great interactive map on Puglia’s wine regions visit Movimento Turismo del Vino Puglia.


My favorite wines out of the many DOC and IGT I tasted on our trip were from the following wineries…

  • Leone de Castris: Near Lecce, one of the most award wining wineries in Puglia. They’ve been in the wine business since 1665 and started bottling in 1925. We had a bottle of Salice Salento Riserva Red DOC 2007 made of 90% Negroamaro and 10% Malvasia Nera. With a fruity smell of blackberry, black cherry and sweet spices, its smooth berry taste is very well balanced.
  • Tenute Rubino: Located in Brindisi, they produce red, white and rosé wines including my FAVORITE rosé of the trip.
  • Cantina del Locorotondo: We had a great visit to the Cantina and tasted 10 of their 21 wines. We brought home a bottle of two favorites, Cummerse Rosé (100% Pinot Nero IGT Puglia, crisp, refreshing and a light fruit taste) and Casale San Giorgio (Negroamaro and Primitivo IGT Puglia, a nice round and curvy red). Although we didn’t try Locorotondo’s specialty sparkling, we brought home a bottle of Locorotondo DOC PrimoSecco (60% Verdeca, 35% Biaco d’Alessano, 5% Fiano).
Salute to the fantastic wines of Puglia!