Susumaniello by A. Mano – the Donkey of Puglia
Susumaniello is a red grape native to Puglia, grown mainly around the major southern port of Brindisi, in the heel of Italy’s boot. Like some other Italian native grapes, Susumaniello became rediscovered in the late 1990s. Modern wine-growing has enabled it to make a significant comeback in this area, and it’s now become fashionable, with around 50 hectares currently planted.
The Donkey of Puglia
Previously, some thought that Susumaniello had come to Italy by crossing the Adriatic from Croatia, similar to that now-famous Puglian red grape, Primitivo. However, subsequent DNA tests on Susumaniello have disproved this. Instead, DNA shows that its parents are Garganega (the famous white grape of Soave, found in many guises throughout Italy) and a humble red table grape called Uva Sogra.
Meanwhile, the name of Susumaniello is said to come from the dialect word for Donkey, Somarello. These vines are vigorous, especially young, so they carry a heavy load like a Donkey does. Perhaps it also relates to stubbornness because old-fashioned Susumaniello wines contained massive tannins. Whatever the explanation, there is a Donkey on the label of the Susumaniello wine made by the A. Mano winery. This wine represents the modern style of this grape variety exceptionally well. It’s one of their “Imprint of Mark Shannon” wines and is exceptionally well-made.
Mark Shannon and A. Mano
Back in the late 1990s, the A.Mano winery introduced many wine lovers to the joys of old-vine Primitivo, and it continues to do so today. From there, too, it’s an easy and enjoyable step to discover other Puglian wines. At that time, DNA testing showed Primitivo in Puglia was the same grape as the hugely successful Zinfandel in California. Latterly, it was also proven to be the Tribidrag of Croatia. Suddenly, Primitivo wines from Puglia started getting international acclaim. A bit of a shock for a region then known for huge old-fashioned cooperatives, bulk winemaking and overproduction!
Hence many winegrowers descended on Puglia, especially Zinfandel makers from California. One of them was Canadian-born Mark Shannon, with his partner and future wife, Elvezia Sbalchiero. As they will tell you, their visit was supposed to be only a short vacation, but they never left. Instead, in 1997, they launched their winery, named A. Mano, meaning “by hand”.
There were relatively few independent wineries in Puglia, while bottled wines were unusual. Hence A.Mano adopted a different strategy, uncommon at the time. They concentrated on buying the best native grapes, paying growers a higher price for quality rather than rewarding quantity. They then made, bottled and branded high-quality Puglian varietal wines like Primitivo, exporting them to ready markets in the UK and USA. Market success followed quickly, and Puglia now has a more positive wine industry based on quality.
Susumaniello, A. Mano, Imprint of Mark Shannon, Puglia IGP Salento, 2019, 14%
This example from A. Mano is 100% Susumaniello, the grapes from 30-40-year-old organic vines grown near Brindisi. Those grapes then ferment in stainless steel tanks. Temperature control ensures a long, cool fermentation, where the cap of fermenting grape skins breaks gently by pumping the wine over it. These techniques restrict the extraction of aggressive tannins in the wine from the skins and pips. The wine then matures in stainless steel tanks, as wood ageing adds unnecessary tannin. Many Susumaniello varietal wines are now using this style, as it allows the wine to express the varietal character and be ready to drink in a few months rather than taking years.
This example of Susumaniello is classic in colour, being an inky purple-black in the glass. There are then aromas of blackberry and blueberry, then violets too. At 14%, the wine is broad in body and yet well-balanced. There are enough smooth tannins, plenty of cassis-like fruit, remarkable fresh acidity and a silken texture. Mediterranean herbs and a slight smokiness appear on a long finish. There’s nothing heavy or tiring here.
Consequently, while this is a wine that’s enjoyable on its own, it’s at its best with food. Lamb Henry or Pork spare ribs are an ideal match. Or Vegetarian Haggis is terrific! However, if you’d like something more authentically Puglian, try Bracciole (beef rolled like a roulade and braised in a simple tomato sauce) or Tiella di patate e funghi (potato and mushroom casserole).
This A. Mano example of Susumaniello shows that this Puglian grape variety is up there with those other red grapes of Puglia, be they Primitivo, Negroamaro, or Uva di Troia. It comes highly recommended!
Via S. Giovanni, 41