Negroamaro is one of the top three grape varieties grown in Puglia and a strong component of several DOCs. It’s found mainly in the southern, Salento, region of Puglia. Duccio Armenio of Slow Food said “Salento is the heart of negroamaro. It is a plain, level land with similar heat degree days to the Hunter Valley, around 2000 – one of the hottest areas in the world [where] we have quality in spite of the heat.”
Salento is the heel of Italy, with the Adriatic Sea on one side, and the Ionian on the other, where, said Armenio, “is the magic of these two seas. The exchange of winds between the two seas creates a unique terroir. Negroamaro has adapted and enjoys this climate.” Proximity to sea level maximises the cooling benefit of these winds, though Armenio also emphasised the modern importance of canopy management to shade fruit from the sun.
Negroamaro lends itself to many styles, from “rosé, to simple, in a good way, table wines. And dry wines made from late harvest that remind you of Amarone styles” said Armenio. While the grape readily accumulates colour and phenols, preserving acidity is more of a challenge.
As to its flavour, said Luigi Rubino, of his eponymous estate, and president of the Puglia Best Wine Consortium, “you can feel the true character of negroamaro – it’s rich in spicy notes, red fruits and blackberry.” Armenio added it also “has spicy notes, tobacco, coffee and dried prunes, and like all big wines, they need some years to come out.” The tannins of this variety, which ripens later than primitivo, are not to be trifled with.
Marco Sabellico editor of Gambero Rosso added that the heritage of old negroamaro vines was very important for the ageworthy character of the best examples. Vineyards of 50 to 90 years old are quite common.
While negroamaro does particularly well as a rosé wine, in reds, it is blended with a wealth of other grape varieties, including malvasia nera, montepulciano, and bombino nero, or susumaniello. More recently also with primitivo, Puglia’s top variety. For example, in Salice Salentino, Squinzano and Copertino, negroamaro is blended mainly with malvasia nera, while in Brindisi, a proportion of montepulciano is allowed.
As to the origins of the name, Rubino explained negroamaro as being twice black: negra from the Latin for black, and amaro, from mavro, the Greek for black. This view seems to be gaining popularity over the traditional view of negro for black and amaro for bitter.
Tasting, in situ, November 2011
Torrevento, Sine Nomine 2005, Salice Salentino Riserva DOC
Negroamaro, malvasia nera. Medium pale colour. Savoury steaks cooked fully, showing some age, not unbalanced for that. Very well developed, meaty and mature.
Torrevento, Matervitae Negroamaro 2010, IGT Puglia
Violet perfume, sweet texture, smooth, medium body, fragrant palate, some nice freshness. Good example.
Schola Sarmenti, Roccamora 2008, DOC Nardò
Negroamaro. Bit smoky, bit spicy, rich, sweet, fat and flavoursome. Some nice freshness and backbone structure. Graphite and dark berry fruits. This is really nice.
Paololeo, Orfeo 2009, IGT Puglia
Negroamaro. Smoky, dark floral notes, smooth tannin texture, nice definition and balance. Good.
Paololeo, Salice Salentino Riserva 2007
Negroamaro, malvasia nera. Charcoal darkness of flavour, in a good way, smooth with some attractive complexity, balanced and with very good depth of flavour. Dark berries, aromatic spices, cardamom, nutmeg, tamarind. Good.
Feudi di San Marzano, F 2008, IGP Salento
Negroamaro. Tarry oak, but this bottle a bit bitter, amid the fragrance.
Gianfranco Fino, Jo 2008, IGT Salento
Negroamaro. 16% alcohol. Big, savoury, black-fruited, huge and good for all that. Soft in a muscular sort of way. Deep rich, sweet flavours, spiced, almost mulled, berries. Good.
Candido, La Carta 2006, Salice Salentino Riserva
Negroamaro, malvasia nera, 13.5% Smoky, savoury, black tea and tar, serious, smooth, dark, savoury berries. Some backbone, sweetly textured tannins. Good.
Candido, I Satiri 2006, Salice Salentino Riserva
Negroamaro. 13.5%. Smoky, savoury overt oak still here. Silky smooth texture with rich, ripe smoked fruits. Long and deep flavours. Good.
Candido, Cassio Dione 2006, IGT Salento ~€30
50% negroamaro, 50% primitivo
Big dark berries on nose, sweet fruit (only a few g/l RS), smooth texture, full body, with smoky oak notes and liquorice. This is, for me, nicely balanced. Dense black fruit notes and aromatic spices – star anise, allspice. Soft, round supple wine.
Agricole Vallone, Vigna Castello 2008, Salento IGT,
Negroamoaro, susumaniello. Smoky, tarry nose, sweet/ripe fruit attack, graphite, smooth, tar-roses, black tea, nice complexity and length. Good.
Agricole Vallone, Graticciaia 2006, IGT Salento ~€40-50
100% negroamaro, 70-75 year old bush vines. Made “as it used to be in the past.” Grapes dried on straw mats for 10 to 12 days to give a sugar concentration. This is about 10g/l RS.
Some refer to this as an amarone of the southern Italy, but the active sweetness is a bit too much for me (and more than normally found in Amarone?). Has big concentration of red berry fruits and sugar in a soft, round, full body.
Cantine Due Palme, Selvarossa Riserva 2008, Salice Salentino Riserva DOP, ~€15
90% negroamaro, 10% malvasia nera. 50-70 year old vines.
Spicy, big new oak spices, quite dominant with sweet, sweet black fruit, high alcohol kick at the end. Has good freshness, but made slippery with sweetness (not in a bad way).
Conti Zecca, Nero Conti Zecca 2008, IGT Salento
70% negroamaro, 30% cabernet sauvignon.
Sweet notes on nose and grippy, slightly bitter tannins. Angular, with dry, savoury near-pucking tannins. I’m not sure this blend does well. Is it simply too young?
Cupertinum, Cantina Sociale Cooperativa di Copertino, Settantacinque 2004, Copertino Riserva DOP, ~ €8-12
Negroamaro, < 20% malvasia nera
Dark charcoal, mocca tar, savoury on nose, hints of VA. Dry, with grippy astringency. Fruit has been hidden, is now disappearing? Not aged hugely well, I feel.
Tenute Mater Domini, Casili 2008, Salice Salentino Riserva DOC ~€25
A field blend: 95% negroamaro, 5% malvasia nera, planted 3-4km from the sea.
Smoke, fresh leather, black tea, sweet violet perfume on the palate attack. Aromatic, black cherry core, sweet (ripe), silky texture finishes quite sweetly, in a gentle balance. Acid not so pronounced, but not flabby. Gentle, fine tannins, not to tannic; has nice elegance.
Tenute Rubino, Jaddico 2007, Brindisi DOC ~€15
70% negroamaro, 15% montepulciano, 15% malvasia nera, on sea level vineyards at Brindisi.
Cinnamon, star anise, cardamom aromatic spices, cardamom. Sweet red fruits in medium bodied wine of attractive freshness. Hint of liquorice stick, sweet, modest tannins, that have a certain degree of elegance and smoothness to them.
My trip to visit and judge wine in Puglia was sponsored by the Puglia Best Wine Consortium.