Southern Italy starts with Puglia on the Adriatic coast, and cuts through to Campania on the Tyrhennian coast.
Southern Italy is generally hot and dry, with a low rainfall of 22 inches (550mm) per year. The coastal areas are tempered by winds, while inland areas can be surprisingly cold at night or in the winter. There is less annual variation than the north, and less restrictions from the DOC. Southern Italy has been slow to plant international varieties, choosing to focus on native, but lesser known varieties. Perhaps this is why they have struggled more. Montepulciano, Aglianico, Negroamaro and Nero d'Avola are indigenous varieties that make the best quality wines. They all have a dark color, high alcohol and neutral base which is good for blending. All of these things are due to the hot and dry climate. For whites, Fiano is high quality but not planted much, while Greco is planted more and used for sweet wines. There are also Falanghina and Biancolella from Campania, Inzolia and Grecanico Dorato from Sicily, and Vermentino from Sardinia.
Apulia has many unknown firms that have exploded overnight, making huge amounts of heavy wines to suit modern tastes. There are a few success stories, but most of southern Italy suffers from extreme poverty. Wineries and Co-operatives produce a glut of almost unsellable wines, and this has held Southern Italy back from being seen as a quality producer. Producing cleaner, finer, more expressive wines will enable it to establish an identity in an ever more sophisticated market. The best sites are on northern slopes, higher altitudes, or anything to lessen the sun's intense rays. Growers must take the initiative to reduce yields, this will lead to a better product and the market might turn in their favor. The quality revolution is more recent in the South, and while prices have risen, they are still very good compared to other regions. There has been less winery modernization in Calabria, Basilicata and Sardinia.
Campania (around Naples) has a relatively healthy wine industry, producing several wines that have the potential to be the next big thing. The best red wines are made from the Aglianico grape, which is known for floral and blackberry flavors. Taurasi DOCG is the highest quality red to come from Campania. It must be aged for at least three years, and has been called the Barolo of the South. For white wines of great character, there are Fiano d'Avellino DOCG and Greco di Tufa DOCG. Lacryma Christi (Tears of Christ) has had some success in the past, partially relying on a healthy tourist trade to sell some of their wines. To reach full potential, growers must seize the initiative to produce lower yields of higher quality wines.
Puglia (the heel) produces huge amounts of wine in one of Italy’s only flat areas. Most of it is shipped abroad in bulk on tankers, or made into vermouth. Known as a source of basic table wine, it has also found a market for IGT wines. The great majority of production is red, with the most planted being Primitivo (related to Zinfandel) and Uva di Troia (from Troy). Wineries have been making major advances to help their image since the 1970’s. Small and medium-sized companies that led the way to quality, and unknown firms have become successful overnight here. To reach full potential here, wineries need to replant with lower-yielding varieties, and change over from bush vines to more modern wire trained systems.
Basilicata (in-sole) , is a very hilly and poor area in southern Italy. It offers one superb variety, Aglianico, which loves the extended and hot growing season. Young wines are vibrant, but tend to become dull by bottling time. To retain freshness has become a particular problem to all but the most talented winemakers. Aglianico del Vulture is the only DOC, but even it has not been able to achieve much. 2 of every 3 inhabitants that reside in Basilicata are unemployed, so almost all wineries lack capital. Basilicata has also suffered from bad, or lack or marketing.
Calabria (the toe) is the poorest state in Italy. Output has been in decline since the 1960's, luckily quality has improved. Ciro DOCG is the most famous region, making Rosso from the Gaglioppo grape. It currently doesn't have much to offer in terms of quality wine. There are 10 DOC's in the hills, and these may prove to be a source of quality in the future. Improvement in wine technology is slow.