They are not household names like their Piedmont or Tuscan cousins, but the wines of Southern Italy are bold, full-bodied, and satisfying. Southern Italy has been producing wine for over 4000 years. The wine business here was already booming in 2000 B.C. when the Phoenicians arrived. The Greeks dubbed southern Italy "The Land of Wine".
In recent years, after languishing somewhat in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, wine production in the south of Italy is experiencing something of a revival and is starting to become rather exciting. Campania, the region surrounding the city of Naples, is at the centre of southern Italy's wine renaissance. This is home to the Amalfi Coast, the isle of Capri, Mount Vesuvius, and of course pizza. The rich soil and temperate climate here are ideal for growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables and grapes are no exception.
Campania's top three wines come from the Irpinia hills area just outside of Naples: a red called Taurasi made from the Aglianico grape requires ageing to soften the bold tannins, and two whites; Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo - made from local grape varieties called Fiano and Greco respectively. Both are aromatic, delicate and delicious if you want to try something different.
Another wine famous to the region is Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio (literally: the tears of Christ at Vesuvius) which is grown on the terraced slopes of Vesuvius whose rich volcanic soil produces very good red, white, and rose wines. All three are designated "Lacryma Christi” and there is even a sparkling (spumante) version.
The region of Puglia, centered along the Adriatic Sea, is famous for its reds made from the rich, robust varietals, Negroamaro, Primitivo, and Malvasia Nera. It is also worth mentioning the sweet, high-alcohol dessert wine, made with Aleatico grapes, called Aleatico di Puglia which is drunk locally with the rich desserts typical in the region. Other wines from Puglia include Salento wines which are dark, rustic and full-bodied with ripe fruit flavors and high alcohol content.
When it comes to food Puglia, being one of Italy’s poorest regions, has its traditions based in the basic ingredients that were readily available. What this means is pasta made without eggs, bread made from the hard-grain durum wheat flour that flourishes locally, and a diet based on vegetables, including many wild vegetables like cicorielle, wild chicory, and lampascioni - the bulb of a wild tassel hyacinth - foods that were often foraged from stony fields and abandoned terraces.
Apulian olive oil is very important, not just because it is one of the great products of the region. In fact, Puglia is responsible for producing as much as two-thirds of all the olive oil in Italy, and while much of it is shipped north, more of it stays in the region to be used in Puglian kitchens.
Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, also has a rich wine history and has been making wine for almost 4000 years. Today they produce about a sixth of Italy's wine, the majority being white wine. This is a perfect accompaniment to the fresh seafood and fish found on the island as you might imagine but there is also a very famous sweet, fortified wine, called Marsala, and some delightful dessert wines, made from the Moscato grape.
Catarratto Bianco is the island's most-planted white wine grape and Nero d'Avola is the main red grape. In general, Sicilian wines are light-bodied and dry which go well with the cuisine whose principle ingredients are pasta, veal, and seafood.
Sicilians eat much more dried pasta than fresh pasta or macaroni. Their sauces are simple, using tomatoes, basil, herbs and nuts. Sicilian vegetable dishes are usually elaborate preparations, often with many ingredients added to the main vegetable to create complex flavours. Among the vegetables most commonly used are eggplant, zucchini, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli and artichoke. And after Tuscany, Sicily offers the greatest variety of dishes using beans, especially the ancient Mediterranean ones - favas, chickpeas and lentils.Sicilian cooking is olive oil-based and its sauces are crammed with vegetables and seafood. Sardines and anchovies are prominent. Eel, shellfish, and other Mediterranean frutti di mare are cooked in wine, grilled over a fire, deep-fried, or tossed onto steaming pasta.
Cheeses are made from the milks of all types of livestock, pigs excluded. Pecorino and ricotta, mozzarella, caciocavallo, and countless other cheeses are produced in Calabria and the other southern provinces.
Sicilian bread is generally of very high quality because of the wonderful nutty flavor of the famous Sicilian wheat. Generally the bread is dusted with sesame or fennel seeds. The island has a wide variety of stuffed pizzas and focacce, called scacciate or panate.
The Arabs introduced the art of making confections, combining nuts and fruits with sugar and honey. Today the production of desserts has passed from the convents and monasteries to the commercial pastry shops. The ingredients in traditional Sicilian desserts include candied lemons, oranges and other fruits, almonds, walnuts and pistachios, marzipan, ricotta, jasmine and orange essence, homemade bread crumbs, eggs and Marsala wine. The cakes often include ground nuts in the flour, and are often heavier in texture than normal cakes.