Travelogue: Manduria Wine Tasting
Have I ever mentioned how much I love wine? No? Perhaps I was too busy swirling my glass and talking about bouquets of blackberry and hints of oak. Just kidding, I was probably fixing you up with another heavy-handed pour.
I am on a continuous quest to find delicious, unpretentious, affordable wines, which could become a full-time job while I’m living in Italy if I could find anyone to pay me to do it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find a good bottle of wine here, and there are so many different wine regions and varieties that a lot of our travel plans tend to start with the question, “So which wineries are we visiting?”
For Brian’s birthday in December, I planned a surprise weekend trip to the town of Manduria, in the Puglia region (in the heel of the boot, between Taranto and Lecce and not far from Brindisi, Ostuni and Alberobello). Manduria is famous for its primitivo wine, which we had fallen in love with when we stumbled across a bottle at a wine shop in San Diego a few years ago.
Primitivo di Manduria is a DOC (denominazione di origine controllata, similar to the French AOC classification) wine and uses 100 percent primitivo grapes, which are genetically similar to those of California zinfandel (that may explain why this Sonoma girl likes it so much). But if you mention this fact to people in Manduria, you may encounter eye rolling and a good-natured lecture on the superiority of the ancient primitivo vs. the young whippersnapper zinfandel. Touché.
Happy birthday to Brian!
Manduria doesn’t have the rolling hills or breathtaking vistas of Tuscany or Umbria, but the area has its own charm and beauty. It is not yet overrun with tourists like other famous Italian wine regions, which is wonderful because you get an authentic and affordable wine tasting experience but difficult because there is not a lot of winery information available online (in English or Italian). I did a lot of research, made phone calls and sent emails, but in the end, it was easier just to figure out when the wineries were open and show up for a tasting.
Where to Stay
B&B La Casetta
Via N. Ricciotti 31/b
74024 Manduria (TA)
+39 338 9701025
I can’t recommend this place highly enough. It’s actually its own stand-alone apartment in the center of the small city of Manduria, with a living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and small courtyard. It was well-maintained and well-decorated, and the owners had left water, coffee and breakfast foods for both days we were there. When we told them we were in town to go wine tasting, they offered to take us personally to their favorite winery, Produttori Manduria Vini (info below). They were lovely and hospitable and went out of their way to make us feel at home. The only drawback to their B&B is that it doesn’t have Internet access (this was fine since we were only staying for the weekend). Their English is also limited, so some basic Italian would be helpful.
Where to Eat
Osteria dei Mercanti
Via Giuseppe Lacaita, 7, 74024 Manduria, Italy
+39 (0) 999713673
This is an adorable place tucked away on a sidestreet. We ate and drank ourselves silly (try the orecchiette – the ear-shaped pasta typical of Puglia), and the prices were very reasonable.
Manduria Wine Tasting Guide
I did make an appointment for a tasting here, but it didn’t seem to be necessary when we arrived. The winery has a small tasting room where you can taste from bottles or from the giant gas-pump-like tanks. While we were there, several locals came in with plastic jugs to refill for just a few euros. We enjoyed the wines here and bought a few bottles (I liked the 2009 primitivo di Manduria 15, around 12 euros I think) as well as a 5-liter glass jug full of the self-serve primitivo (6 euros, including the jug).
This is a quiet, unassuming little place, but we found our favorite wine of the trip here. It’s called Pliniana Re Noire, and it’s amazing — full-bodied, rich, just plain delicious. And it costs 9 euros a bottle. We bought six and have been rationing them (semi-successfully).
Produttori Manduria Vini
Our hosts made good on their promise to take us here at the end of our wine tasting day, and they introduced us to the president of the winery (they also said he is a count – I’ve never met a count before!). He was so welcoming and gracious and took us on a private tour of the winery and the primitivo museum that was under construction and not yet open to the public. Incredible. Some of the wines here are a little more expensive, but the cheaper bottles are still very good. The Elegia and Lirica are both tasty and under 15 euros a bottle.
If you want an unpretentious, off-the-beaten-path wine tasting experience in Italy, Manduria is an excellent choice. We’ll definitely be back.