THE GRAPE THAT BROKE THE DONKEY’S BACK
A red grape of tribal Greek antiquity, Susumaniello was sour and primal around the edges and is on the hunt today to shave off its rough edges by aspiring wine producers. As in the case of most Italian grapes, the name given to Susumaniello has a colorful meaning with no merit. The name comes from “Somarello” meaning donkey and derives presumably from when they were once used to transport loads of grapes; or the fact that the vine was like weeds, generating a shit load full of grapes. Whichever meaning romances you, presently it is Susumaniello that has caused a spike of interest of native Italian varieties. Wines are being made with cultured sophistication and are now a hot commodity in the global wine marketplace.
This grape’s native birthplace of Brindisi, Puglia on the Salento Peninsula has a bizarre quirk. In the past, Susumaniello’s wines were dull. The juice was mainly shipped to northern Italian producers to add to their lackluster wines. For whatever reason, over time, the vines began to generate fewer grapes. Less grapes means less profits, hence its slide into obscurity. In the past decade, progressive winemakers know very well that fewer yields is profitable; Vines with low yields ultimately make wines with complexity. Therefore, now a polished Susumaniello has become favorable again, like a starring role.
THE ITALIAN PHENOMENON
Puglia is known as the “Land Between Two Seas” is fitting since the heel is trapped with the Adriatic Sea on the right and the Ionian to the left. The peninsula surrounded by water with its flat fertile land established a long history of growing massive crops; that included lots of high yielding native grapes like Susumaniello. Since the 16th century, Puglia’s agriculture was dominated by extensive land grants from the ruling nobility known as latifundia. The CEO of these “plantations” were worked by peasant farmers. In order to protect their assets, many Masserie were constructed all across Puglia. They were sort of a cross between their castle and a structure to house the employees to keep business moving. Surprisingly this feudal type system wasn’t outlawed until the 20th century! By that time, most of the masserias were abandoned, including this masserie, Masseria Li Veli
The collapsing Masseria Li Veli was purchased in the late 19th century by Marchese Antonio de Viti de Marco. This jack of all trades was a professor, an economist, and add to that a deputy. Such an ambitious man was he when his vision was not only to restore the masseria, but to build it out as a wine cellar. This set the example for investors to recover other masserie for wine storage or even an agriturismo. In turn, this could potentially serve as a stepping stone for economic development for all southern Italy; not just in Puglia. Susumaniello and Massera Li Veli both revived, serving alongside together.
Conveniently located near the center of the Salento Peninsula in southern Puglia, this classic compound of Greek antiquity was purchased in 1999 by the Flavo family. With Puglian roots, they committed to embark on a mission to infuse a new chapter into de Viti de Marco’s project.
Set on 128 acres, they have been able to set the barometer high in the region with the Agriturismo Masseria Li Veli.
MASSERIA LI VELI SUSUMANIELLO 2018 SALENTO IGP
The winery practices sustainability. The grapes are harvested from old bush vines that result in wines deep flavors and aromas. The wines are an age minimum of 9 months and many much longer for depth and complexity. Both the traditional large Botti barrel is used as well as used French oak for refinement.
Medium+ ruby with violet reflections and a fading core
The pronounced intensity with baked red berries of wild raspberries, sour red cherries, juicy red and yellow plum, red currant compote, sweet red licorice, vanilla bean, and rawhide leather along with dusted soil with a sweet and spicy cacao bean.
Dry, medium forward acid, pronounced warming alcohol, soft medium drying tannins, medium body, fluid texture medium intensity with baked red-berried with more juicy black fruit of blueberries, perfumed fresh cut violets, savory smoked salami, black briny olives edge, dusty leather sweets vanilla, dusted bitter chocolate with a pleasant spicy black pepper long finish.
Susmaniello has come a long way from its peasant beginnings into a noble grape crafting wines for age with intricacy. This isn’t a dull wine, rather it has a vibrant balance of bold fruit to ease the alcohol. The core is full without overwhelming, it has a fine structure with subtle oak influence taming any sour acid that would come to the fore. On the finish the palate it awakened once again with a spicy hint of cracked black pepper.
Cellar this wine for another decade and you’ll rediscover the grape has once again transformed. This time more in the comparison of the highly regarded Amarone characteristics: black fruit, spicy prunes, dried fruit of figs, raisins, along with Christmas bread, orange marmelade hazelnuts, and a dry bitter finish.
Masseria Li Veli is redefining southern Italy and Susmaniello is making a strong contribution to leave behind the rustic reputation for bulk wines. The “Italian Phenomenon” turned into a business that will secure the future of the Italian peninsula for generations to come.
IF YOU SEE THIS ON THEIR LABEL
Askos “ is the name of our project dedicated to the research, selection, and enhancement of the heritage of the Apulian autochthonous vines in danger of extinction. The wines are produced exclusively with grapes from areas with a particular vocation where the grape is grown according to the canons of ancient memory. The symbol is an askos, Greek “decanter” of the first century BC” -Flavo Family-
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