But first, a quick correction to a typo in the last column on central Italy. The region of Marches (pronounced "MAHR-kay"), lies just a few miles east of the more famous province of Tuscany. Not west. That would have put that lovely province smack dab in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea, which is a bit too damp for grapevines to grow. Thanks to all the readers who alerted me to that boo-boo.
Now, on to southern Italy. This part of the country supplies the grapes with a long, sunny growing season complete with a lovely view of the Mediterranean.
Puglia. Also referred to as Apulia (in English), this is the heel of the Italian boot. Although it produces more wine than any other province, it is not as highly touted as the northern regions. For that reason, this is the place to find some superb quality wines at very reasonable prices.
One of the indigenous red grapes of Puglia is negroamaro. Named for its dark color and bitter character, this grape produces a wine that is dense with wild berry flavors and rustic earth tones (yes, that means soil, but in a good way). Look for La Corte Solyss Negroamaro ($11) or Castello Monaci Maru Negroamaro ($12), and enjoy with a bowl of garlicky hummus and some fresh vegetables.
You'll also find the negroamaro grape in many of the red blends from Puglia. Cantele Salice Salento ($10), Taurino Salice Salentino ($13) and Tormaresca Neprica ($14) are all considerable values that deliver flavors of dark cherry and wild plum with an occasional splash of licorice and leather.
The primitivo grape of Puglia has been linked genetically to the red zin-fandel grape of California. A-Mano Primitivo ($10), Natale Verga Primitivo ($10) and Layer Cake Primitivo ($15) may not all sound Italian, but they sure do taste Italian. Rich fruit balanced with just the right amount of acidity is the key to this wine's prowess at the dinner table. And of all of the wines that claim to be perfect with pizza, these truly are.