Puglia’s Loveable Rogue

The original Fatalone would’ve had no need for a matchmaker. But without the help of the boys at Boccaccio Cellars we might never have hooked up. I’d asked for an Italian wildcard to bring to a blind tasting. This is what I got.
It divided opinion among the group and there was no denying the rough edges. But it had depth, breadth and a strong foreign accent. I bought some more at the next opportunity and drank it with friends and lasagne. It more than repaid my loyalty.
The grape is Primitivo, which tends to travel under the pseudonym Zinfandel, and this is from its heartland in Puglia, southern Italy. As you’d expect it heats up down there, though these grapes come from a vineyard at an altitude of 365 metres in Gioia del Colle. There’s a line in Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion that makes you wonder whether the great British wine writer ever had a dalliance with this particular drop. “The Primitivo gives a pretty brutal red in these hot hills,” writes Hugh. “With age it becomes more politely overwhelming.”
Fifth-generation winemaker Pasquale Petrera grows the fruit organically and with no irrigation, ferments it with indigenous yeasts and allows malolactic fermentation to occur naturally. It’s released after 12 months in stainless steel tanks, 12 months in 750-litre Slavonic oak and six months in bottle, though obviously the vintage I tried has had a lot more time to develop. And it’s a fair bet it would have heard a few tunes over that time, given Petrera’s penchant for ageing wine to music.
But my favourite insight into this wine comes from a little card draped over the bottle’s neck, the kind of snippet that makes you bond with the liquid inside. It’s named after second-generation winemaker Filippo Petrera – aka Il Fatalone, which apparently translates to “irresistible heartbreaker”. He lived to the age of 98, washing down his breakfast each morning with half a litre of Primitivo and half a litre of milk.
Not convinced I’d break hearts on that diet. Smash a few milk jugs, for sure.
Fatalone Primitivo Riserva 2005 Gioia del Colle DOC, Puglia, Italy

Medium to deep ruby, brick-orange at the rim. A lot going on from first sniff: caramelised orange, balsamic, wood smoke, cedar, clove, ripe black plums. The palate has complexity to match the nose, combining fresh black cherry, stewed plums, candied orange peel and liquorice. The tannins are abundant but ripe, savoury and tamed by time. It finishes with a warm porty feel, chewy plum pudding, roast nuts, spice and tang. It’s a touch ungainly but lively, rangy and very enjoyable. Drink now to 2020.

Costs $30 at Boccaccio Cellars in Melbourne – Alcohol 15% – Tasted 29/07/13

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