Salice Salentino is a DOC of the Puglia wine region in south-eastern Italy. Created in 1976, its original incarnation exclusively covered red wines, but the rules were modified first in 1990 and then again in 2010, and now permit white and rose wines too. The catchment area for the wines centers on the small town of Salice on the Salento peninsula, and spreads out to the north and west. The area gained its DOC status in the same year as its neighbor Squinzano, and just a few years before Leverano (1979).
Wine-bearing vines have been planted here since at least the 6th century BC, and have earned praise from poets and historians alike. Often the robust red wines were praised for their 'sweetness', suggesting they may have been similar to the sweet reds made around Manduria, just to the west (these were awarded the honor of Puglia's first DOCG in November 2010). This is somewhat at odds with the nature of Negroamaro, the grape variety from which the wines are made, which is, as its name suggests, dark (negro) and bitter (amaro). The other variety permitted in the reds, the softer, fruiter Malvasia Nera, may well have played a more pivotal role in the wines in those days.
Salice Salentino wines are mostly red, with a small quantity of rose to complement it. The white variant is now increasing in popularity, in line with the demand of global markets for high-quality white wines. Perhaps predictably, given the influence of consumer trends here, the whites are made mostly from Chardonnay, the grape variety which has swept its way through New World and Old World wine regions in the past few decades. Aleatico Dolce and Pinot Bianco are also sanctioned for use in the DOC wines.
Puglia produces almost 50% of Italy's olive oil and has long been known as a prolific wine generator, and until the turn of the 20th century the area around Salice did little to diminish this reputation. Historically, high yields and the flat, baked-tasting wines they produce gained the region's viticulture little respect. There are undeniable signs of change, however, as the region as a whole is seeing a growing number of winemakers favoring quality over quantity. As the world market demands well-crafted, origin-specific wines, the mass-produced blending wines previously made here are gradually reducing their grip on local vineyards and ledger books.
Despite being wedged between the Adriatic Sea and the Gulf of Taranto (at the northern edge of the Ionian Sea), the climate here is hot and dry. Puglia's name derives from the Latin phrase a pluvia, meaning 'without rain'. Southern Italy has been nicknamed Il Mezzogiorno, meaning 'the midday', due to its long, hot summers (le Midi in southern France has the same meaning and origin). With 300 sunny days each year and mid-summer afternoon temperatures regularly surpassing 40C, the grapes which grow here develop high levels of sugar over the growing season. The wines made from these grapes are subsequently high in potential alcohol, and it is one of the key challenges for Lizzano winemakers to harness this and craft balanced, attractive wines.