Puglia is one of the most important wine producing regions in Italy, and you may be familiar with the wines without knowing it: Though Puglian wines long had a reputation among connoisseurs of being powerful and rustic, and therefore not something one would necessarily want to drink, winemakers from more esteemed Italian and French appellations considered them to be just the thing with which to bolster more renowned wines if they need a little push. And, alas, tank trucks (and ships) still quietly depart Puglia directed to points north.
However, things are changing, and a steadily growing number of producers are turning their attention to quality rather than quantity, and putting their names on their bottles with pride.
Rivera, a winery north of Bari that was founded in the early 1950s, has been one of the leaders of this Renaissance, and from a frankly surprising direction.
Their first truly successful wine was a Rosé, and it continued to be their top seller until the 1980s, when it was eclipsed first by the whites then in vogue, and then by the reds of the 90s that continue to be the most popular wines today. To make a rosé one must of course have red grapes, and Rivera thus also made a number of Reds in addition to their popular rosé: It was custom in the 50s, says Sebastiano De Corato, to make a basic red wine, and a selection of the same name, labeled Stravecchio or Riserva Speciale or some such, and that's what they initially did, using the word Stravecchio.
When the Castel del Monte DOC was established in 1971, Sebastiano's father and grandfather decided to rename their Stravecchio Il Falcone in honor of Frederick II Barbarossa, who, in addition to building the nearby Castel Del Monte pleasure palace the Appellation is named after, was an ardent falconer who even wrote a treatise on the subject. The vineyards used to make the Stravecchio were initially planted with a traditional mix of Nero di Troia and Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, the ratio being three rows of Nero di Troia, which provides power and force, per row of Montepulciano, which provides softness and elegance. The first vineyards were trained in the Alberello style, as shrubs, and the first three wines poured in the course of this vertical were made from vines trained this way. Subsequently, Rivera replanted their vineyards to a density of 4000 vines per hectare using the cordon spur pruning system, and divided the varietals by vineyard. In terms of yields, though the Castel del Monte DOC allows up to 140 quintals per hectare (and some producers interested in quantity obtain considerably more), Rivera limits yields to 110 quintals per hectare; though this might strike someone used to more northern Appellations as high, it is actually quite acceptable considering the intensity of the Puglian summer.
Their winery notes have allowed them to trace the evolution of the wine from a technical standpoint, seeing exactly which vineyards went into the wine, and seeing how the cellar technique, which was initially primitive, has evolved.