When it comes to understanding Italian wines, we sometimes get lost because there are thousands of native grape varietals in Italy. The best way to understand them better is to study Italian geography a little bit.
Puglia is one of Italy’s 20 regions. It’s one of the easiest to remember because it constitutes “the heel” of the “Italian boot.” Within Puglia, there are 13 native grape varietals that originate from the region. There are more than that, but these 13 are produced in commercial quantities.
Negroamaro is one of the 13 native grape varietals of Puglia.
We don’t know precisely when Negroamaro first appeared in Puglia. It is most likely that the ancient Greeks brought the grape to Puglia as early as the 7th century B.C.E. We’re talking about a history of about 2700 years.
What Does Negroamaro mean?
There is a misconception about the meaning of the name, “Negroamaro.” When you separate the two words, “Negro,” and “Amaro,” the literal translation in Italian means “Black” and “Bitter” which is an inaccurate description of the grape and the wine.
The grape name more likely comes from the intersection of ancient Latin and Greek. “Niger” means “black” in Latin and “Mavros” also means “black” in ancient Greek. Through hundreds of years of Greek and Latin tribes intermingling, the languages did as well.
The Italians historically have a tendency to name their grapes after the appearance of the berry. We would naturally assume that the grape would be named after the taste of the wine but this is almost never the case.
The color of the Negroamaro grape
Looking at the photograph of a bunch of negroamaro grapes, you can see that the grapes are black. The wine however is not black in color. Instead, negroamaro is typically a deep ruby red with violet overtones.
When is best time to drink Negroamaro?
Negroamaro typically stays well in bottle for up to 10 years. However, negroamaro is at its best between 3 and 7 years. The wine is usually medium to full bodied with dark fruits.
Speaking with wine producers in Puglia, I’ve learned that it is a neutral grape. This means that it can be blended very easily with other grapes. It could be blended in a Bordeaux and you wouldn’t even know it. The reason is because it has a tendency to adapt to the stronger qualities of the dominant grape in a blend.
What does it taste like?
Well-made Negroamaro wines have aromas of black fruit and tobacco. The texture is rich, full-bodied and dry. In the summer, slightly chilling it creates a refreshing wine. Lush dark fruits in the mouth with soft round tannins and usually medium length finales. If you’ve ever tasted a mature blackberry in Italy, you’ll understand what mature dark fruit tastes like. Most of the blackberries in the United States tend to take on sour qualities. This is not the case in Italy.
As a monovarietal wine, Negroamaro is singular but drinkable and enjoyable. Industrial producers make a big mistake by over-oaking this grape. The motivation behind this is usually two-fold: they are trying to cover up unripe fruit and/or they are trying to create a Cabernet-style wine to appease a segment of consumers abroad.
I’ve had table wine versions that are absolutely fantastic. The small producers that cultivate this grape tend to make a wine that highlights its unique qualities instead of trying to copy the “Cabernet-Bomb” style of California wine. The secret to making a great version is picking a later harvest. Not at the point where the grapes dry but also not too early when the grapes are not ripe. When the fruit in the Negroamaro is mature, it is a very pleasing wine. A little oak will go a long way just to round out the texture and give a little complexity to complement the fruit.
Another common and ancient practice is to blend a little Malvasia Nera or Primitivo which adds more complexity and marries well with it.
Negroamaro is also considered one of the top Rosè in Italy. On the same level of quality as Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. Even though there is a tradition of making a Negroamaro Rosè, this has been more of new discovery in Italy overall and I suspect more producers will be releasing quality versions in the future.
Where is the best Negroamaro found?
While Negroamaro is grown all over Puglia, the best terroir for Negroamaro is in the Salento section. The southern third section of Puglia. Again, geography is very important in understanding Italian wines.
Which food to pair with Negroamaro?
This really depends on how the producer made it. If it’s fruit-forward, you can pair many foods because the wine’s personality is not overly dominant. You could pair spicy foods, fatty meats like Lamb, red sauce dishes, and hard and soft cheeses.
An excellent fruit-forward expression of Negroamaro is in the Gladiator portfolio. Cantine Attanasio produces a late-harvest version that is seductively aromatic and full of mature dark fruits. It’s an easy-drinking medium bodied wine that pairs easily with many foods. Click to read more about the winery.