Rome is eternal. Tuscany's terrific. But there's lots more to Italy. And every region has its own trademark wines.
Picture yourself in the Puglia region, a long peninsula at the southeast tip of Italy, between the Adriatic and Ionian seas. Mapmakers say that, if Italy is shaped like a boot, then Puglia is its heel.
Imagine an outdoor cafe in a small town of sunblasted, whitewashed buildings, with sandy beaches stretching down to the sea. Lunch arrives antipasto platters of boiled octopus, raw calamari, tomato bruschetta, then a "second plate" of pasta with tomato-rabbit sauce, finally the main course of skewered lamb, sausage and veal.
Taste the potent, inky red wines they serve with them. These wines, from the Salento province in southernmost Puglia, are from native Italian varietals including negroamaro, primitivo and aleatico.
If you visit, you might help pick those grapes. Puglia is deeply into the "agriturismo" system in which big farms, including wineries, host visitors in fancy rooms, feed them local foods and let them help with the farm work.
An important local farm and winery is Masseria Li Veli, founded in 1999 by the Falvo Family. Here are some of its wines:
2010 Li Veli Primonero (50 percent primitivo, 50 percent negroamaro), Salento IGT: deep purple hue, aromas of roses, flavors of black cherries and spice, soft and rich; $10.
2010 Li Veli Passamante (100 percent negroamaro), Salice Salentino DOC: Deep ruby hue, aromas and flavors of ripe red plums and spice, smooth and rich; $12.
2008 Le Veli Pezzo Morgana Reserva (100 percent negromaro), Salice Salentino DOC: deep ruby hue, aromas and flavors of dried red fruits and brown sugar, long finish; $20.
2011 Li Veli Askos Verdeca (90 percent verdeca, 10 percent fiano minutolo) Valle d'Itria IGT: A white with floral aromas, flavors of ripe apricots and mangos, hint of minerals, fruity and crisp; $18.
Next day, picture yourself in a bustling trattoria near the cathedral in the ancient city of Assisi, home of St. Francis. The waiter brings you a 2-pound T-bone steak from the region's famous white cattle, Chianini. With it she proudly pours the locally famous red wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco, with all the tannin and heft to handle the well-marbled beef.
2005 Arnaldo-Caprai Collepiano Sagrantino di Montefalco, DOCG Umbria (100 percent sagrantino): ruby hue, aromas and flavors of raspberries and cinnamon, full-bodied and rich, firm tannins, long, smooth finish; $50.