Castel di Salve
When a wine-producing region mostly makes bad wine it’s hard to tell what the potential is, but you only need to taste one good example to know that it’s possible. Most Apulian wines are poorly made, in fact, but the well-made ones are delicious; this is not surprising, as the indigenous grape varieties there are intriguing. Negroamaro, which the owner of Castel di Salve describes as a ‘wild horse’ because it’s difficult to vinify, shows very distinctive, savory and appealing notes of berries and tobacco-leaf; Malvasia Nera* is plummy and spicy, with hints of Mediterranean herbs; and both wines have attractive palate-cleansing fine tannins. Negroamaro makes very good rosé when it is carefully handled; ‘when good, [it is] very good, with aromas and flavors of almond flowers, wild strawberries, and fresh citrus…’ (Ian d’Agata). These rosés have a distinctive deep pink color, very different from those from Provence.
Castel di Salve is owned by Francesco Winspeare, whose family moved from England to southern Italy in the 18th century. Francesco has been making and bottling wine at the estate, which is in the little town of Depressa, in the very south of Apulia, since 1992, although the winery was originally built and used at the end of the 19th century. Francesco’s wines are well-made, distinctive, entirely made of local varieties, everything we look for.
Made of Verdeca (60%) and Malvasia Bianca, fermented and aged in stainless . Although the very tip of Apulia is hot, this wine shows fresh acidity (from the Verdeca), pale straw color with a greenish glint, and is satisfying in the mouth, with notes of apple, lemon, and hints of tropical fruit. A good dry aperitivo but also brings to mind various vegetable dishes (the vegetable cookery in Apulia is excellent), seafood...
Made of pure Negroamaro, fermented and aged in stainless steel. Typical deep salmon pink color; aroma and flavor of red berries, tobacco-leaf, herbs, sandalwood and spices. Negroamaro rosato is one of Italy’s best pink wines when carefully made, and this is a great example (at a very fair price, too). Useful food wine with all kinds of different dishes.
Made of pure Negroamaro, fermented and aged in stainless steel. Medium red in color.
Aromas and flavors of red fruits, tobacco leaf, sandalwood, very savory and open and appealing, delicious everyday red table-wine, medium weight, faint bitterness on the finish to balance the fruit. Perfect with pizza, anything tomato, many different pasta dishes...
(Santimedici means ‘sainted doctors,’ referring to the Saints Cosmas and Damian, two Syrian physicians who were martyred in the 3rd century AD and who are venerated in Depressa, the little town where Castel di Salve is located. Francesco writes that the locals say 'if you are sick, drink a glass of wine, the ‘Santi Medici’ will cure you.’)
Rosso 'Armecolo' (‘strawberry tree’ in English)
Made of 80% Negroamaro, with 20% Malvasia Nera di Lecce; this blend is very typical in southern Apulia, the Malvasia adding black fruit and a hint of olive notes to the Negroamaro.
Malvasia Nera ‘Lady Killer’
The name comes from an evening decades ago when Francesco’s father was having dinner with one of his tenants, a US Navy admiral and his wife, in the old Salve family house in Naples. The admiral’s wife ended up asleep on the couch after a few glasses, prompting the admiral to call the wine a ‘lady killer.’
The wine is fairly deep blackish red; warm, spicy, a cloak of lush black fruit, with notes of Mediterranean herbs and black olive. 100% Malvasia Nera di Lecce, stainless steel fermentation and aging.
* in this case the variety is technically called ‘Malvasia Nera di Lecce,’ Lecce being the nearest large town to Depressa, where Castel di Salve is found. Malvasia Nera di Lecce may be identical to Tempranillo, the famous Spanish variety (see Native Wine Grapes of Italy, by Ian d’Agata).