The Salento, known also as the Salento Peninsula, since it is surrounded on three sides by the sea, is the southernmost tip of Puglia, a tongue of land extending out between the Adriatic and Ionian seas. The land is predominantly flat, particularly around Lecce and Brindisi, but very low reliefs, known as the Serre Salentine, descend to the very southern tip.
This is an area of abundant sun, whose Mediterranean climate is known for its long, hot summers, but also for its consistent sea breezes, which waft through the vineyards and help the vines by keeping harmful insects at bay.
The soils are predominantly clay, but there are also finer calcareous soils, less thick and better drained; reddish terre rosse; and rocky, mineral-rich soils, so the peninsula offers an ideal habitat for a diversity of grape varieties and contributes subtle nuances to the personalities of its various wines.
It is the red grape that is principally at home in the Salento, and the Negroamaro is the local king, a native grape rich in pulp and with a tight, compact cluster; the wine exudes spicy Mediterranean scrub and liquorice root. The Negroamaro vine is best pruned short, and can be trained to either the traditional alberello, or low bush, style or to a low vertically-trellised style. Salento vineyards are also widely planted to Malvasia Nera, which is traditionally blended with Negroamaro and is allowed in all the area’s DOP production codes, and to Primitivo, which performs splendidly in this area too. Susumaniello deserves mention; this red grape, originating in Dalmatia, has in recent years been the focus of recovery and development; the resulting wines, even monovarietals, have yielded excellent results. White-wine grapes do make an appearance in the Salento, such as Malvasia Bianca and, to a lesser degree, Verdeca and Fiano.
Salento has a surprising total of 11 DOPs: Alezio, Brindisi, Copertino, Galatina, Leverano, Matino, Nardò, Negroamaro di Terra d'Otranto, Salice Salentino, Squinzano, and Terra d'Otranto, while the Salento IGP includes the entire area.
The landscape is composed of vast expanses of vineyards and olive groves, but in some of the internal areas, patches of native holm-oak (leccio) survive (which gave Lecce, Salento’s capital, its name), as well as eucalyptus and centenarian oaks, vestiges of a past that boasted a remarkably flourishing vegetation. The classic Mediterranean scrubland, pungently aromatic, is still abundant, carpeting the Ionian’s sandy dunes and the Adriatic’s rocky coast.