Through constant occupation by Byzantines, Goths, Normans and Bourbons, Puglia remained Italy’s most bountiful source of wine and olive oil. Abundance was hard to resist on easy working plains where grapes generated greater profits than in any other region. In recent years, however, an emphasis has been placed on premium wines and Puglia is forging a reputation based on excellent bottlings of dry balanced reds, whites and roses rather than staggering exports of bulk juice. Although Puglia makes 1/6 as much classified wine as Tuscany, Puglia rates the same number of DOCs.
Puglia, with five hundred miles of Ionian and Adriatic coastline, limestone plateaus, austere mountains, and arid but surprisingly fertile farmland, can most easily be pinpointed on a map as Italy's heel—or perhaps more accurately its stiletto, the closest point to Turkey, Greece, and North Africa. Waves of invasion by those neighbors, and by foreigners from farther afield, have created a unique and layered history. Its architectural diversity is a visual record of the mix: Whitewashed towns straight out of Greece lie within miles of Bourbon Baroque cities; Norman castles and Moorish-influenced buildings rise a short distance from traditional Pugliese houses with characteristic conical shapes. Pugliese dishes have begun to appear on Italian menus in London and New York, and wine producers from Tuscany and Piedmont have invested enormous amounts of money in taming the robust vintages from the Salentine Peninsula into more subtle, but still faithfully local, blends—making epicures dub the region the country's next big thing.