Puglia’s territory is long and thin, extending over Italy’s southeastern corner of the boot - the “heel” of Italy. Picturesque beaches with crystalline water, stunning olive groves, rows of vineyards, limestone studded hamlets, and a pleasurable climate all year long contribute to Puglia's magical atmosphere.
This southeastern jewel has been home to a plethora of occupants throughout centuries. The Greeks first settled, followed by the Romans, Goths, Lombards, Byzantines, and the Normans. The region’s history is also marked by its architectural peculiarity, the Trulli. These are UNESCO protected, whitewashed rural homes, found in the town of Alberobello. They were home to the Messapian population in the 8th century B.C.
Puglia is divided into 6 provinces; Bari, Barletta-Andria-Trani, Brindisi, Foggia, Lecce, and Taranto. Puglia’s lowlands, particularly in the southern regions, are some of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. Puglia produces half of Italy’s total olive oil yield. Olive groves and vineyards span across all 6 provinces, each characterized by a specific terroir.
The Terroir of Puglia
Puglia is as diverse culturally and geographically as an Italian region can be, although sunshine and mild coastal breezes are a constant we can find pretty much all over its territory. Puglia can be divided into three main wine areas - Northern, Central, and Southern Puglia.
Northern Puglia (Province of Foggia): the grapes produced are those used all over Central and Northern Italy, mostly Sangiovese and Montepulciano. This is likely due to the hillier territory which produces quaternary soil, with fossils, clay, and sand.
Central Puglia (Province of Bari and Taranto): the vineyards thrive from red soil and clay, which is also well suited to the cultivation of olive trees, almond trees, and cherry trees. This terroir creates a happy home for the cultivation of mainly Primitivo wine.
Southern Puglia (Province of Brindisi and Lecce): the soil is composed of layers of limestone and red clay, the ideal environment for both Negroamaro and Primitivo.
The Red Wines of Puglia
Primitivo - a far cousin of Californian Zinfandel and Croatian Crljenak Kaštelanski grapes, Primitivo is known for producing inky, tannic, and full-bodied wines. Primitivo tends to be high in alcohol, with flavors of fresh figs, plums, blueberries, and baked blackberries. Natural winemakers are reinventing this varietal, producing leaner wines, lower in alcohol, and with good acidity.
Negroamaro - this is a red grape varietal grown exclusively in Puglia, more specifically in the Southern tip of Puglia, called Salento. Negroamaro gives black-ink full-bodied wines, with notes of blackberry, and raspberry. Negroamaro wines tend to be fruit-forward with low acidity, Salice Salentino wine being the best example of this style.
Uva di Troia - wines made from Uva di Troia grapes, another grape varietal native to Puglia, are usually called Nero di Troia and are high-alcohol, low acidity red wines. Uva di Troia ripens very late in the year, in October, during Puglia's rainy season. Nero di Troia is a straightforward wine with smooth tannins, flavors of smoked spices, dried cherries, and leather.
Susumaniello - a little-known red wine grape varietal grown almost exclusively in the Salento area and in a small number of vineyards around Brindisi. Susumaniello is one of the world’s rares wine grapes and it's used to make red and rose' dry wines. Susumaniello wines have deep ruby hues and aromas of red berries and plums, with notes of spice and dark chocolate on the palate.
The White Wines of Puglia
Bombino Bianco - this is a white variety widely planted all over Southern Italy. Bombino Bianco is made into medium-bodied white wines with aromas of butterscotch, jasmine, and an underlying mineral note. Bombino Bianco-based wines are pleasant and easy-drinking, although they might lack in complexity.
Verdeca - white grape varietal grown also in several other Italian regions mainly used as a blending grape. Wines made from Verdeca are bright yellow in color, with notes of passion fruit, mango, lemon, and flint on the nose and a well-balanced palate.
The Cuisine of Puglia
Puglia has a rich culinary tradition based mainly on fresh seafood, olive oil, and hand-shaped pasta. If you take a trip to Puglia’s capital, Bari, you’ll find grandmas rolling and selling pasta on the street. Bari, a seaside town, is also famous for its raw fish culture. But it is pasta Puglia's culinary star; pasta shapes and dough recipes have often been passed down for generations.
Orecchiette - meaning “little ears” in Italian - is Puglia’s most famous pasta shape. Each family has been taught to roll the pasta in different ways, but the shape comes out nearly the same. Typically, you cut a small piece of pasta, roll it with the end of a butter knife, and flip it on your thumb to create an “ear” shape. Orecchiette are served with cime di rapa which is similar to broccoli.
In Puglia's traditional cuisine the most common meat is lamb (agnello), slow-cooked in a number of dishes. One of the most famous dishes is called Gnummarieddi - small rolls of lamb cooked with the liver, lungs, or kidney.
Puccia is a sandwich made of rustic pizza dough stuffed with a variety of meats, cheese, and vegetables, a sort of local street food for a quick bite. Focaccia Pugliese is also consumed daily as a quick bite, usually served with a tomato and black olive topping.
Burrata, a staple of every Italian restaurant event in the United States, is found everywhere in Puglia. The decadent cheese can be eaten alone or served with Frisella, a Pugliese dry bread baked in a stone oven.
The History of Apulia
- Prehistoric and Ancient Period
- Roman and Byzantine Eras
- Norman and Swabian Dominance
- Spanish and Bourbon Rule
- Italian Unification and Modern Era
- Apulia Today
Prehistoric and Ancient Period
Apulia, a region in southeastern Italy, has a rich history dating back to prehistoric times. The region was inhabited by various Italic tribes before the arrival of the Greeks in the 8th century BCE. Greek influence was strong in cities like Taranto, which became a major cultural and economic center.
Roman and Byzantine Eras
Roman conquest in the 3rd century BCE brought Apulia into the fold of the Roman Republic, and later the Empire. The region benefitted from Roman infrastructure, such as the Via Traiana road. The fall of the Roman Empire saw Apulia transition into the Byzantine Empire, which left a significant religious and artistic legacy in the region.
Norman and Swabian Dominance
The 11th century marked the beginning of Norman rule, which introduced feudalism and led to the construction of characteristic Romanesque churches and castles. The Swabian period under Frederick II in the 13th century was notable for the promotion of art, science, and literature, exemplified by the Castel del Monte.
Spanish and Bourbon Rule
Spanish rule began in the 16th century, marking a period of economic decline but rich cultural development, especially in Baroque architecture. The subsequent Bourbon rule in the 18th century continued this trend, with a focus on agricultural development.
Italian Unification and Modern Era
Apulia played an active role in the Risorgimento, the movement for Italian unification, and became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. The 20th century brought industrialization, but also challenges like emigration and World War II devastation.
Today, Apulia is known for its diverse cultural heritage, stunning landscapes, and vibrant agricultural sector, especially in olive oil and wine production. Its historical sites, like Alberobello’s trulli and Lecce’s Baroque architecture, attract tourists from around the world, contributing significantly to the region's economy.
Author: Melissa Norton ©