2015 Vallone Salento Susumaniello

No matter how much you think you know Italian varieties along comes another to put your shallow understanding in its place. Andrea, the amazingly knowledgeable source of Pugliese wine wisdom and owner of the great Mama Elvira wine bar in Lecce, says Susumaniello is an old variety gaining new popularity for its relative freshness and medium weight. Other sources say it may be a cross of Sangiovese and an as yet unidentified partner. This savoury lovely bears out both views. Initially some coffee oak lifts the the odour, then sweet ripe cherries pushing into plum and a nutty savoury finish in an old leather chair. Just a bit of regional dried grape skin and some good natural acidity wound with fine tannin drag things along.

13.50% alcohol. Diam again, becoming a thing in Puglia! 11 euros.

92 punti.

2017 Feudi di Guagnano Diecianni Salento Verdeca

After a few more local bottles which were perfectly clean and perhaps made with safety first and a sensible business plan in mind for which nobody can be fairly criticised, a return to Feudi di Guagnano. One of the those recent bottles, however, did raise an exasperated sigh. A local blend of Fiano and Manzoni ordered with some amazingly fresh seafood pasta was made with an eye to the vast Savvy Bland market. More yeast than what could have been a taste of a special place. Expectations deflated.

So, back to a local Verdeca. Clean, fresh with a touch of Meyer lemon and camomile tea fragrance and a twist of green herb bitters. Deliciously simple, local and drinkable with the warm golden sun declining into the Ionian Sea. A perfect match.

88 points but true to its roots.

12.50% alcohol. Diam, bravo. 9 euros.

2015 Feudi di Guagnano Diecianni Negroamaro Salento

A couple of days in Puglia and a few glasses of local red later it was starting to seem as if there’s a common theme of size, maximum extraction and alcohol ripeness, and that despite avoiding the richest Primitivi. Last night’s dinner choice was a welcome relief. Medium weighted, moderately extracted and mouthwatering cherry fruit mingled with fresh natural acidity, properly integrated with some gentle fine tannin. Hooray, instead of tiring after a glass, the bottle emptied easily and just got more delicious. Brilliant with local veggie, fishy pasta as it should be. Now to try and find more of this sensitive producer’s wine in the local shops. Avanti!

13.50% alcohol. Cork. 16 euros on the osteria’s list, perhaps under 10 retail I hope!

91 yum points.

Other goodies by the glass from the Pugliese stiletto –

2016 Erbaceo Colle della Murgia, Greco di Tufo e Minutolo. Refreshing fragrant flower and green herb scented. Green melon, citrus and great acid.

2017 Polvanera  Rosato, Aleatico, Primitivo e Aglianico. Deep colour for a pinky, toffee, cherry and an endearing chalky tang to bring you back to the glass. Enough to fling rosé prejudices aside!

2013 Le Temps Retrouvé Mourvèdre

From vines in the hills above Perpignan in Roussillon via the seminal natural wine caviste La Cave des Papilles in Paris’ 14th. Developed but still some freshness to the dark cherry fruit and relatively high acidity. Improved with being open for a day as the parts came together to make a delicious wine. As well as cherries there was a lasting sweet roasting pan juice flavour tinged with rosemary. Clean and fine for its warm climate origins. The last glass was wistfully the best.

12.50% alcohol. Cork. 25 euros.

94 points

2015 Les Vignes OubliéesTerrasses du Larzac

A favourite caviste in Paris, Les Caves du Marais, run by the irrepressible Jean Jacques Bailly, is described by Paris by Mouth as the sort of place you always thought should exist but rarely does. Yet to be disappointed when asking for a coup de coeur. This Languedoc blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan is spectacularly rich, firm and at its powerful core deeply fruited. Dark squishy cherries and blackberries abound with earthy road tar, woody herbs, dried figs and scents of an old carbon black fireplace. The exuberance is nailed securely in place by dense wall of ripe tannin and acid that really brings the fruit to life with food. Sort of daunting without in that almost Italian way maybe. Wild but beautifully clean. The winery website shows just how carefully its beautiful old vineyards are tended. Forgotten no more.

14% alcohol. Cork. 24 euros.

95 points.

2016 Domaine Romaneaux Destezet Hervé Souhaut Clos des Cessieux Saint Joseph

About as far away from industrial alcoholic Shiraz as it gets. Perfumed violets, smoky Rhone and red fruits. An essence of raspberry and blood orange dances with real energy but so lightly it floats. Framed by tingling ripe acid and a smear of such fine tannin. It’s wild and earthy but not faulty. Crisp but not green. Seasoned by just a touch of pepper. Wish all those…er….vins naturels were this dazzling and clean. Probably never going to please the power and concentration seekers. Polarising without doubt.

12.50% alcohol! Cork. 27 euros.

95 points