Monday, January 2, 2012
The Port of Bari, Italy – Burrata Cheese and the Famous Primativo Grape
Sept. 2011 - The ship docked in Bari two hours late because of a strike going on in the city that day. Apparently all the transportation workers were picketing so there was no way to obtain taxis, buses, etc. However, when the strike was over we were allowed to go into the city around 1pm. This is another port where you can actually walk from the ship to the old city of Bari (about ½ mile walk), but as the day was very hot, we decided to pay to take the bus.
Bari is located in the Puglia region of Italy (also called Apulia) near the heel of the boot, and is the second largest city in Southern Italy after Naples. Like Naples, it has a reputation of being rather a “rough” city and we were cautioned to be wary of pick-pockets and to keep a tight hold on our purses. Despite these warnings, we found the city lively, fun, and friendly. It should be noted that many tourists opted to skip Bari and go instead to the Unesco town of Arbelobello with its famous conical stone houses near the sea. I would have enjoyed visiting this town, but wanted to see Bari as well, so it will have to wait until my next visit to the region – and I definitely plan to return to visit the famous wineries of Puglia.
As the day was hot, our first stop was to purchase a delicious Italian gelato, then we wandered through the narrow streets of the old walled city. It was very charming with small shops, restaurants, and laundry strung between buildings. We visited the famous Basilica of San Sabino built in 1035 with its shrine to St. Nicholas – yes, the original Santa Claus is said to have originated in Bari. It was fascinating to visit with some unusual underground crypts. Next we walked along the walls of the old Swabian Castle and visited a few shops, before heading to the wine bar, Blanc de Noir, to meet my friend Antonio.
Antonio is wine professor who is from the region and teaches at the University of Bari. I had met him at academic conferences in previous years in New Zealand and France. When I contacted him to ask where to try regional wines in Bari, he suggested we meet at a wine bar near the old city. Blanc de Noir is an impressive, modern style wine bar with a whimsical décor of black and white poka-dot walls. We were met by the sommelier, Jack Lavanco, who proceeded to provide an excellent presentation of local wines, cheeses, and meats. In fact, we were served so much food, we had to skip dinner that evening on the ship.
Amazing Burrata Cheese of Puglia
Before discussing wines, I must first mention the amazing local cheese called “burrata” which we had read about, but never tasted. This is because it is very difficult to export being a delicate creamy soft cheese made of mozzarella and cream. It is designed to be eaten fresh and almost immediately, and it melted in my mouth with the most delightful creamy flavors. There were also many local meats (salami, prosciutto) and other cheeses, along with “tarralli” which looks like a small pretzel and is made from fried polenta.
Wines of Pulgia – Primativo, Negroamaro and Nero de Troia
Antonio provided a brief overview of the wines of the region, stating that Puglia had over 300 wineries, and was the second largest wine producing region in Italy after the Veneto. They have 3 signature red grapes, which the first being “Primativo” – a clone of California’s Zinfandel, which came to Puglia across the Adriatic from Croatia where it is known as “Plavac Mali.” Since Americans love Zinfandel so much, Primativo has become better known in the US. The second signature grape of Pulgia is “Negroamaro” which creates a full-bodied berry flavored wine with plush tannins and is best known as coming from the commune of Salice Salento. The third grape is “Nero de Troia,” which is relatively unknown in the States. I had the opportunity to taste it several years ago when Antonio had brought a bottle to our NZ wine conference. It is a very dark, earthy wine with black fruit and high acidity which I very much enjoyed.
For this tasting, however, Jack our sommelier had decided on showcasing the wines of Alberto Longo (www.albertolongo.it), a small local producer focusing on artisan style wines at higher prices points ($20 euros per bottle and higher). The first was an exquisite 2010 Le Fossette Falanghina made in stainless steel. It was a light yellow in color with melon and floral nose, and an intriguing salty taste on the palate. We also tried a sparkling version made with the same grape, but this was not to my taste – reminding me more of beer than wine. Next was a 2009 Donnadelle Rosato de Negroamara which was lovely, with a light berry nose/palate, very dry and refreshing.
The showpiece was a red wine blend made from Nero de Troia, Montepulciano, Bombino Nero and Bombino Bianco (the last two grapes, according to Jack, being the Italian equivalents of red and white grenache). This was the 2008 Cacc’e Mmitie di Lucera DOCG. It was a massive high alcohol wine with big tannins, dark fruit, and earthy notes. It was very complex with a long finish. As I could see my mother scowling over the big tannins, I asked if we could conclude with a dessert wine. Smiling, Jack brought out a sweet muscat which my mother loved. To end the delightful meal, we tried Il Tartufo Liqour Ice, which was made from liquorish ice cream – quite amazing!
After profusely thanking Antonio and Jack for the wonderful three hour repast, we departed into the still very hot evening and decided we needed to walk more before returning to the ship. As Bari is also known for its excellent shopping and good prices, we walked back to the modern part of the town and spent some time visiting the stores before heading back to the ship for the evening. That night I dreamed of a big platter of burrata cheese with a delight red wine from Puglia.