Amastuola’s Bianco Salento boasts aromas of peaches and apricots and a softy, creamy texture.
Amastuola's Bianco Salento boasts aromas of peaches and apricots and a softy, creamy texture.

When it comes to wine, Giuseppe Sportelli describes Puglia as a "philosophy, a landscape, a testing place, an experience."

Located in southeastern Italy, Puglia is a hot, sun-swept region which forms the famous high-heel on the "boot of Italy". Its landscape is mostly flat terrain. Sea breezes blow over the land from three sides -- Adriatic Sea (east), Ionian Sea (southeast), Gulf of Taranto (south) -- and help moderate the high temperatures. The conditions, along with ancient, sandy soils, provide a good foundation for growing grapes and for experimenting with some Bordelais varieties.

The Amastuola estate, or winery, prospers from a key, elevated location overlooking the Gulf of Taranto.

Here, for 14 years, the family of Giuseppe Montanaro has practiced -- and preached -- the true art and science of organic agriculture, cultivating vineyards, fruit trees and olive groves without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Montanaro and family have opened the 100 hectares to biodynamic farming and study in collaboration with Italian universities, top agricultural experts and viticulturists. Using up-to-date equipment, including temperature controlled steel vats and vacuum presses, the result is an evolving, modern approach to crafting consumer friendly wines.

"Tradition is very important in the respect we have for the vines, soil, and all that is above and around us.


But we're constantly learning new things and if it helps to grow better grapes and create better wines, we adopt it," says Sportelli, the winery's commercial director and husband of llaria Montanaro, one of three siblings who manage the estate's business and wine-making operations with their spouses, father and mother Rosaria.

For that reason, Amastuola is known throughout Italy as a place of history and innovation.

"We're like a laboratory gaining more knowledge every day.

Amastuola Primitivo’s good acidity and red berry flavors make for a good barbecue match.
Amastuola Primitivo's good acidity and red berry flavors make for a good barbecue match.
And the quality of wine goes up with each year at the winery. That's what's important," says Sportelli.

Amastuola is indeed a living, breathing laboratory -- and one of the most beautiful in the world. The grounds were designed by legendary landscape architect Fernando Caruncho, who created a spectacular garden-style vineyard that draws visitors from all over the globe. The vines are planted in geometric rows resembling a field of green waves, or "flowing energy" in Caruncho's words. Giuseppe Montanaro uses the term "l'ondo del cambiamento" --the wave of change -- to describe it. (Amastuola bottlings feature the iconic wave on the label).

"We embrace the land and don't want to do anything to change the character of the soil (sandy limestone and clay infused with ancient sea deposits).

Giuseppe Sportelli says Amastuola is a place for agricultural study and experimentation in crafting quality wines.
Giuseppe Sportelli says Amastuola is a place for agricultural study and experimentation in crafting quality wines.
We want the true flavors of Puglia to be produced in our wines," he says.

Sportelli hosted a wine-tasting luncheon at EVOO in Cambridge recently in which three of Amastuola new releases were sampled -- the 2013 Bianco Salento IGP, 2011 Centosassi Primitivo IGP, and a first vintage Merlot IGP. According to Barbara Walsh, the Greater Boston sales representative for Panther Distributing, the wines are now being sold in area stores. They cost between $13 and $15 a bottle.

I tasted the wines with several wine experts, including Anthony Manifold of The Grape Press and Charlie Marquardt, owner of Cambridge Spirits. We agreed that the Bianco Salento and the Primitivo could be enjoyed either as alone or with food; the sturdier Merlot would be best paired with food, particularly a meat and pasta dish.

Here are my observations:

* Amastuola Bianco Salento -- Aromas of peaches and apricots blow through this Malvasia-based wine like a soft Mediterranean breeze. The grapes thrive in a clayish, black soil called argilla where they gain structure, minerality and ripen for an early August harvest. All Amastuola grapes are harvested at night in the cool air to help preserve freshness. Malvasia also benefits from vacuum pressing which delicately separates the juice from the de-stemmed grapes. The must is then piped into stainless steel vats at lower temperatures. The juice sits on dead yeast cells (lees) which fall to the bottom of the vat during fermentation. Sportelli says the wine is stirred gently with long wooden sticks -- a process called battonage -- which mixes the particulates with the liquid. It's a patient process to create the "creamier, velvety taste" that is desired, says Sportelli. This interesting wine was by far my favorite.

* Amastuola Primitivo -- Americans know this varietal as Zinfandel -- a splendid barbecue companion -- and would certainly enjoy their Italian cousin, which is full of red berry fruit and plum flavors. There's good acidity and a hint of saltiness (the closeness to the sea is trait picked up in all Amastuola vines) and just the right touch of roundness from careful fermentation in oak barrels. This wine can be consumed now, or cellared for several years. Think of jammy marmalade, Italian herbs and the voice of Andrea Bocelli.

* Amastuola Merlot -- I've got to give credit to Amastuola for crafting an inexpensive, quality wine in one of Italy's hottest regions. If you covered the bottle's label and blind-tasted this Merlot, you'd swear it was from California: it's rich, tasty, and once again has that Amastuola wave of elegance and smoothness on the finish. A nice dinner match for steak, chops and thick meat-pasta dishes.

To learn more about Amastuola wines go to