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The Negroamaro Grape

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About Negroamaro

(Synonyms: Abbruzzese, Abruzzese, Albese, Amaro Nero, Amaronero, Arbese, Arbise, Jonico, Lacrima, Lacrimo, Mangia Verde, Mangiaverde, Mangiaverme, Morese, Negra Della Lorena, Negramaro, Nero Amaro, Nero Leccese, Nicra Amaro, Niuri Maru, Niuru Maru, San Lorenzo, San Marzuno, Uva Cane)

Background

Negroamaro grapes Map showing the Puglia (Apulia) region of Italy

Negroamaro is a red-wine grape originating in the Puglia region of southern Italy, most notably in the Salento area. It may have been brought to the region as early as the 7th century B.C. from Illyria (a region, and people, then located in the western Balkans).

Nowadays, Negroamaro is an important grape of the region; it is sometimes bottled as a monovarietal, but is more often found as the dominant ingredient in regional red blends (such as Salice Salentino), along with Malvasia Nera and sometimes some Sangiovese or Montepulciano. It is also sometimes vinified as a "rosato" (rosé), and may be "frizzante" (slightly sparkling).

Negroamaro typically produces red wines of deep color with a richly perfumed nose and an earthy quality, sometimes said to have an ovetone of bitterness (though that is likely subjective, since in Italian amaro means "bitter", even though the name component is thought to be from Greek maru or mavro, meaning "black", and the wines are rarely if ever even slightly bitter). The tannins are usually light or "soft".

Factoid: Negroamaro may be loosely related to Sangiovese and the white type Verdicchio.


Some Descriptions of Negroamaro Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "The grape can produce wines very deep in color. Wines made from Negroamaro tend to be very rustic in character, combining perfume with an earthy bitterness. The grape produces some of the best red wines of Puglia, particularly when blended with the highly scented Malvasia Nera, as in the case of Salice Salentino."

  • Wine Searcher

    "Negroamaro is valued for its deep color, medium-full tannins and dark berryfruit flavors. The variety can also add earthen tones that can cross over into slightly medicinal flavors. It is mildly aromatic and can produce complex wines that show characteristics of ground brown spices such as clove, cinnamon and allspice."

  • Bill Zacharkiw, Montreal Gazette

    "The two words that immediately come to mind when I drink a bottle of negroamaro are power and rusticity. . . The [typically high] alcohol is a sign of grapes that get very ripe, and the fruit and aromatics are definitely those of a hot climate vine. I often find notes of jam, prunes and other dried fruits. But there is also a very earthy component with notes of black olive, tobacco and leather. And like most grapes that are quite tannic, they usually have to spend some time in oak barrels to soften them up, which adds an element of spice. But this range of aromas and flavours can mean that the wines, when made entirely with negroamaro, can be a bit sombre. This is why the grape is often blended with brighter, or fruitier grapes that can liven up the ensemble. One of the appellations that does this with great success is Salice Salentino, where negroamaro is blended with the aromatic malvasia nero. The end result is quite powerful wines."

  • Michael Apstein, Wine Review on Line

    "It’s a robust red that’s not tannic or astringent even when young, and has an appealing bitter black cherry finish. This makes it a complete contrast to the many over-ripe New World wines that finish sweet, and a great choice for the remainder of the “grilling season” or to pair with hearty wintery fare. . . Duccio Armenio, from Slow Food and an expert on Negroamaro, . . . describes the wines made from Negroamaro as 'harmonious and complete' because the color, alcohol, polyphenols and acidity always comes together. 'Its polyphenolic content is comparable to Barolo,' according to Armenio. 'But despite the high polyphenols, it’s a versatile grape that can make early drinking or ageable reds, a rosato, as well as an Amarone-like wine.'"

  • Cork Quiz

    "Single variety Negroamaro wines are a deep purple in color, characterized as bold, intense and “weighty”. The fruit flavors are typically plum, cherry, and blackberry. Occasionally the wine may exhibit earth notes or even medicinal flavors. Negroamaro may be at its best when blended with Malvasia Nera, Sangiovese, or Montepulciano. Blending with these varieties can add tannins, resulting in a wine with more structure and age worthiness. This is a big wine, and should be paired with food that can hold its own. Its biggest asset may be its price tag – delicious and affordable."

  • DiWine Taste

    "Negroamaro has a good content in coloring substances, quality which is evidently shown in its wines with intense and brilliant colors, as well as a medium-low transparency. Also the content in polyphenols is good, giving the wines a medium astringency which can sometimes be quite evident, in particular when the wine is fermented or aged in cask. The structure of Negroamaro wines is of good body and also the alcohol volume is not low, reaching a quantity that can sometimes be higher than 14%. "

  • The Ravenous Traveler

    "As for flavor profile, wines made with Negroamaro are light to medium bodied, with sun-soaked fruit that can be dried, dark, and bright all at the same time, and the mouthfeel is striking: it feels, at times, like you're drinking silk. Other common flavors are smoke, plum, and herbs. These wines are intensly friendly and approachable."

  • Sally Easton, MW, Wine Wisdom

    "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."

  • Zagat Wine

    "Negroamaro gives deeply colored, richly flavored wines, full of character. The finest examples have a dark, bitter chocolate quality (hence the name), but with abundant plum, prune and savory complexity to balance. Some of the best come from Salice Salentino and Squinzano, down in the 'heel' of Italy's boot. The grape is often blended with Malvesia Nera and Primitvo (southern Italy's other star reds), for a richer complexity and softness."

  • Eric Asimov, The New York Times

    "It’s fair to say we had mixed feelings about these wines. For me, the best were straightforward and uncomplicated, earthy and refreshingly bitter with smoky flavors that reminded me of licorice and dark fruit. . . The bigger question was why more of the wines weren’t better. We all thought that in too many of the bottles, the characteristic dusty bitterness of the negroamaro grape had been sanded away, leaving wines that seemed generic expressions of nowhere. Was this evidence of an effort to tailor wines for an international audience? Hard to say, but discerning wine lovers want distinctiveness and character, which too often was lacking."


Some Negroamaros to Try

(About this list.)

There are quite a few blends with Negroamaro at 80% or more, and many come quite well recommended; but we have here stuck to 100% monovarietal Negroamaro bottlings—though that has somewhat cramped our choices—on the theory that if you are not already familiar with the type, you will want to sample it in isolation. By and large, blends from the same makers will work out well also. In fact, most bottlings labelled "Salice Salentino" will satisfy. It also seems that because wines from Puglia are not yet well known, there is a perceptible scarcity of writeups on them, as a class or individually.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Castello Monaci "Maru" Negroamaro, $9 - $14.
    (Salento)
         ($13.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    This deep, dark negroamaro from the Puglia region in Italy is a handful, and demonstrates the stronger character of southern Italian red wines. Weighing in at 13% alcohol, this is on the stronger side. Color: Deep, deep red, like black cherry juice. Nose: Opened with a typical Italian attitude – a mix of earth, olive, leather, fruit, and dark berries; and sporting a pretty good kick from the higher alcohol content. Taste: Fresh out of the bottle was a bit harsh, without very distinct personality or character. After decanting, the alcohol mellowed and many flavors emerged: black cherry, vanilla, currant, slight oak. Feel: Starts tannic and a bit of acid, with decanting gets surprisingly smooth and velvety. Design: Standard bottle, tall and maybe a bit thinner than normal. The label is stylish. Summary: Overall a decent value wine, however allowed some time to breathe this wine mellows into a very nice sipper.

    Negroamaro Maru is characterized by simple, sweet-tasting fruit aromas of blackberry jelly and raspberry. Those pretty fruit flavors are backed by soft tannins and a chewy texture. 87 points.

    This is Italian wine in all its glory – cheap, quality stuff made with a grape (negroamaro) that most people have never heard of from a region (Salento) that is equally as unknown. It’s dark, earthy, and plummy, with low alcohol (13 percent), trademark Italian acid, and without many tannins to get in the way. This cries out for food — sausages, ragus, roast pork and the like. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2010 $10 Hall of Fame.

    [Google-translated from Italian:] Wow, I want one of this red case! Transparent in color, it has aromas of the Mediterranean, red fruit, and then, in the long run, eucalyptus, more in relief. The mouth is smooth, speziatissima, earthy, very long. The cleanliness is exemplary, finesse captivates me. The drink is absolute. I like it so much, so much. Rated three "Happy Faces".

    Aromas of plum, black cherries, tobacco and vanilla made this wine extremely straightforward. It didn’t help that its juiciness and overall smooth feel didn’t leave anything to the imagination. Not a poor wine, but just very California in style. I expected much more earthy notes and some rusticity on the palate. It feels like this wine is trying to be something other than what it wants to be, but I do think this would be a great stepping stone wine for your Zin or Cab drinkers. Ultimately though someone looking for an Italian wine that wants for those raw and lusty reds from southern Italy might be disappointed with this particular bottle.

    Tannic but pure with inviting aromas of dark fruit.

    For better or worse, the Castello Monaci Maru Negroamaro would probably make a great "ringer" in a tasting of California wines. It's richer and more fruit-forward than most Italian offerings, at times almost fig-like. But it provides great depth and structure for the price, and would pair well with anything off the grill.

    Maru (Salento IGT) highlights Negroamaro (100%) in its dark guise – black cherry and tobacco in the aroma and the mouth, with good structure. The 2008 tasted [in 2009] very young – drinkable, but sure to improve with a little age.


  • Masseria Li Veli "Passamante" Salice Salentino, $11 - $15.
    (Salice Salentino)
         ($13.54 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The Li Veli Passamante Salice Salentino DOC contains 100% negroamaro that exudes dark and red fruits: raisin, dried cherry, and dried black currant. Haunted with breezes of shrub, rosemary and black olive, the wine gains complexity and balance with oak spice and tannic grip. The one deciding taste component in blind tastes that determines Old World or New World wine styles has to do with the amount of acidity in the wine reacting in the mouth. That salivation in the the back of the mouth you feel, that zip near the molars that almost makes your jaw clench is acid. Which is a good, vital part of wine. This is why and how wines are paired with food–the acidity cuts through fats to freshen the palate and help digest food. You will more often find higher, more evident acid levels in Old World wines–those wines from Europe. In this wine, the acidity and tannins share a structured composition with mid-range alcohol levels (13.5%), so that everything becomes softly focused. Nothing overwhelms the other components. Give this wine a few hours to decant. Maybe even open the morning of, or night before you serve it. This will help to reveal even more complexity and depth. Plan on serving grilled meats, slow-cooked meats or roasted meats. Did I mention meat? Chocolate, dark fruit sauces and dressings, pasta and even some fish–after all this is a sea coast region–can go with this wine.

    Dark red-violet in colour with aromas of ripe cherry, raspberry and toasted oak. Big flavours of cherry and blackberry joined traces of caramel and earthy woods in the medium body. Spicy black peppercorn and dense raisin notes comprised the moderate finish. Velvety and rustic, this is a well-composed glass fantastic with a wide variety of dishes.

    It has a dark and brooding quality and shows blackberry fruit with pine resin, dried herbs, spice, and a wonderfully balanced freshness at the back of the palate. This is really a fantastic wine for the price. Would do well with meat, fowl, and all hearty Italian fare.

    Smooth, lush and dense with fleshy plum and black currant fruit; rich, earthy and complex; long and balanced with velvety texture.

    [D]deep red color, aromas and flavors of black cherries and spice, big acids and tannins.

    The wine tasted of bright red fruit and had a smooth finish.

    Deep ruby hue, aromas and flavors of ripe red plums and spice, smooth and rich.

    Passamante 2009 uses the same oak treatment for Negroamaro, showing more black fruit, rounder, with good acidity.

    Dark ruby-purple color; black and red cherries and raspberries with a wild note of mulberry, hints of cloves and sandalwood; quenching acidity keeps you coming back for another sip, while barely perceivable tannins keep the wine upright; dry but delicious with deep black and red fruit flavors, fleshed out with spice and a hint of briers and graphite. A terrific pizza quaffer, now through 2015. Very Good+. About $12, a Can’t Miss bargain.

    Masseria Li Veli Salice Salentino Passamante is one of the best reds I have enjoyed under $20.


  • Leone de Castris "Elo Veni" Negroamaro, $12 - $13.
    (Salento)
         ($13.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    This offers ripe cherry and blackberry notes, followed by bright acidity and a palate that bears medium density. It’s a great food wine to pair with breaded veal, sausage or meatloaf. 88 points.

    This wine shows an intense ruby red color and nuances of ruby red, little transparency. The nose denotes intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas which start with hints of black cherry, plum and violet followed by aromas of blueberry, raspberry, blackberry and carob. The mouth has good correspondence to the nose, a tannic attack and however balanced by alcohol, good body, intense flavors. The finish is persistent with flavors of black cherry and plum.

    [C]harming southern Italian red with bright fruit and a hint of vanilla. Soft yet full. Brilliant companion to zesty fare, sausages, hard cheeses.

    100% varietal wine made from grapes of 30 year old vines, with the wine being aged in stainless steel for six months and a further three months in bottles. The nose leads with lots of fruit notes, plums and preserved plums, very fresh almost crunchy palate, moderate tannins and a good finish.

    Intense ruby colour. Fruity bouquet with subtle aromas of vanilla. Harmonious richness on the palate with a light note of herbs. Lasting unctuous finish.

    I much preferred a less expensive wine from the same producer, the 2010 Salento Elo Veni, a 100 percent negroamaro, which seemed direct, simple and joyous in comparison with the more labored Donna Lisa. . . Straightforward with flavors of dark red fruit; honest and direct.

    The most masculine rendition of the group. Full bodied with an intensely dry, rough texture. It shows old purple, pruney fruits with an aged, woody, earthiness. These [Negroamaro-based] wines are drinking fantastic at tremendous value, too bad they're so under-known. Most certainly a grape worth keeping an eye out for.

    It has a dark red color and prolific cherry and red fruit aromas. The wine is medium to full-bodied and is more polished and elegant and less tannic than many other sun-splashed, earthy Negroamaro wines. It is smoothly textured with delectable dark fruit flavors, bright acidity and discrete tannins.


  • Perrini Negroamaro, $12 - $15.
    (Puglia)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Our No. 1 [Negroamaro] wine, the 2011 Perrini Salento Rosso, was light and inviting, with the signature spicy bitterness that we sought in the wines. It was also our best value . . . Spicy and refreshing, with a light, inviting texture, a touch of oak and a pleasant bitterness.

    The light to medium strength nose was lifted with lovely aromas. In the mouth there were moderately ripe, powdery red and black fruit. The flavors show some concentration with black fruit, acidity, and an expansive perfumed finish. The aftertaste becomes a touch firm as a little tannic structure comes out. ***

    Wines from the region can sometimes be very heavy and alcoholic but the Perrini was not. Coming in at a very balanced 13.5% alcohol, it featured very bright cherryish fruit, a touch of spiciness and good acidity giving it shape. It is made from 100% organic grapes and fermented with wild yeasts in stainless steel tanks. The Perrini paired nicely with the baked mussels with breadcrumbs we had for an appetizer.

    The nose is deep, pure and impressively focused in its mélange of dark berries, a bit of tree bark, cherry skin, gentle notes of woodsmoke, complex soil tones and a lovely spread of exotic botanicals in the upper register. On the palate the wine is deep, well- balanced and full-bodied, with a lovely core of fruit, modest tannins and fine length and grip on its pure, focused and slightly bitter finish (one of the characteristics of this grape). This is really a lovely, idiosyncratic wine of poise and impeccable balance. 90 Points.

    I’ve never had a Negroamaro with such pure fruit flavors; usually they are a bit unbalanced, rustic and somewhat reflective of their name. This one is fruit focused with blueberry and a variety of other dark fruits allied to a spiciness reminiscent of sprigs of rosemary. The tannin and acidity are both low and the finish is fruity. The acidity may be a little low for it to be the most versatile red wine but it will be flexible and I think it would be great with pasta and sausages or a puttanesca sauce.

    This was pretty good - juicy, nicely balanced, briary (in a good way), definitely a little brooding and rustic, and crying out for some kind of rich stew that we didn't have on hand.

    Vito Francesco and his sister Mila Perrini converted their family’s 50 hectares to organic viticulture in 1993, long before many in the area had even considered it. They built an underground cellar, definitely not the norm or tradition in this region and, more importantly, at huge, but necessary expense to make truly subtle wines, as opposed to the often too-heavy-handed fermentations of the native red grapes. Their vines are 20-25 years of age and are spread over a number of zones in the hills and shoreline around Castellaneta, near Taranto. The vineyards are plowed in spring months and the yields are kept to around 55hl/ha. The grapes are picked by hand and immediately brought to the cellar in small baskets. The wines are vinified in stainless at controlled temperatures for 12-14 days of maceration. The wine is then aged in stainless and glass-lined tanks. A pure example of how great modern winemaking and tradition can combine to make fantastic Puglian wine.


  • Masseria Li Veli Pezzo Morgana Salice Salentino Riserva, $17 - $23.
    (Salice Salentino)
         ($20.24 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Pure and clean. Delectable black cherry bitterness. Slightly tarry, firm tannins, long suave finish. Lots of complexity here. Needs time, but terrific young wine. Very polished. You feel the oak instead of tasting it. A refined wine, reflecting Falvo’s refined Tuscan heritage. 92 points.

    At first there is a light+ warm nose of plums. On the second day the nose reveals tart, red fruits. In the mouth there are soft flavors of dark red and blue fruit. There are fine+ wood tannins that coat the mouth. The enjoyable aftertaste has dark, gamey flavors. This is an unabashedly modern wine.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (28 February 2013), 87 points.

    The top wine made from a local grape is called Pezzo Morgana Salice Salentino DOC Riserva 2008. Selected Negroamaro grapes, from a mixture of new and old vines grown in a vineyard next to the masseria, the wine is matured for twelve months in French barriques and a further six months in the bottle before release. Our example had only been in the bottle for two weeks (ie bottled for Vinitaly in April) but still showed a beautiful tobacco and balsam nose with rich fruit, great depth on the palate, surprisingly elegant and drinkable at this tender age but with a decade of development in it.

    [Google-translated from Italian:] a fine wine, soft, rich fruit and of considerable length; very good indeed. The Falvo family was launched with great enthusiasm in this new adventure. Proof of this is the result obtained with this piece Morgana Salice Salentino Riserva '08, of great complexity on the nose, where they emerge hints of Mediterranean fruit blacks, china and sweet spice, and the palate a little more 'veiled from wood but very well-crafted, full-flavored and fruit crisp and crunchy, just to wait.

    Smooth and dense with flesh, ripe boysenberries and plum; rich, vivid and intense with good balance and depth; long and stylish.

    [A]romas and flavors of black plums and brown sugar, soft and round.

    Salice Salentino made from the Negroamaro grape is Puglia's claim to red wine quality, and this distinctive varietal is ripe and ready to drink right now with red meats. I found some sediment in the bottle, which suggests it won't be this delicious forever. [2008 vintage in 2014]

    This southern Italian red delivers interesting dimension and personality in the form of spice, blackberry, mature plum, raspberry and tobacco. It’s succulent, thick and dense. A slightly sweet sensation is reinforced by the wine’s mature berry flavors. 88 points.


For a Splurge

Agricole Vallone Graticciaia Rosso Passito (Salento IGT), $89 to $110 at retail; this is a "ripasso" rendition (hence the price).

     ($88.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).



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