Negroamaro is a black grape variety which is grown all over Puglia and especially in the southern part of the region, known as the Salento, which includes the provinces of Lecce, Brindisi, and - to a lesser extent - the province of Taranto.
At present Negroamaro is grown on about 12,000 hectares of land in Puglia.
There are several different theories about the origins of its name: some believe that «negro» (black) is a clear reference to its very dark colour, a peculiarity which has been particularly appreciated since the times of the Benedictine monks; «amaro» (bitter) could refer to its strong tannins, or to the fact that in the past the wine was left to ferment with the grape-skins for a long time, so that by the end of fermentation it was dark and very bitter. The most probable explanation is that the name Negroamaro derives from the fusion of the Greek word mavros and the Latin word niger, both meaning “black” and referring to the colour of the grapes, so that Negroamaro actually means black-black.
As is the case of other Italian vines, the origins of the Negroamaro plant itself are uncertain. It is most likely that it was brought to Italy by Greek colonists in about the 8th century B.C., and found its ideal habitat in this rocky arid region. What is certain about Negroamaro - one of Italy’s most ancient vines – is that it has an ancestral bond with Puglia, and as the symbol of the Salento is more than just a native vine.
Vine and wine characteristics
Negroamaro is a grape variety which guarantees regular but not particularly abundant output, and is adaptable to both the traditional alberello training and to low trellises. It is also adaptable to different soils, although it prefers a mixture of clay and limestone (for example those of the Dop Salice Salentino production area). It tolerates hot climates and drought very well and does not easily lose its acidity. The grape cluster is short with a truncated-conical shape and may be tight (most common clones) or loose; morphology varies considerably due to the great number of clones. The skins are particularly rich in polyphenols like resveratrol (studied as an anti-oxidant), phenolic acids and anthocyanins (of which 38% is the particularly stable malvidin). Harvesting starts after the first decade of September and ends at the beginning of October.
Negroamaro is used in vinification on its own or else blended, traditionally with Malvasia Nera or Susumaniello. In recent years, many producers have also “married” it to Primitivo. When young, it has a deep ruby-red colour, which over the years changes to a rich dark red.
In its first 2/3 years of life it has an elegantly fresh bouquet with the typical aromas of wild cherries, forest fruits, tobacco, Mediterranean vegetation, and liquorice root, as do the versions not aged in the wood. Subsequently, it develops a bouquet of prunes, black pepper, herbs and juniper.
Negroamaro also gives excellent results when vinified as rosé with Malvasia Nera using the traditional “alzata di cappello” method (brief fermentation with skins, removed when they rise to the surface), giving delicate aromas and an exceptionally drinkable wine.
At present Negroamaro is used in a total of 13 regional Dop labels (out of 28 in Puglia) produced in the provinces of Brindisi, Lecce and Taranto: Alezio, Brindisi, Copertino, Galatina, Leverano, Lizzano, Matino, Nardò, Negroamaro in Terra d'Otranto, Salice Salentino, Squinzano, and Terra d'Otranto. In addition, it is also used in the Dop Rosso Cerignola, whose production area includes a small part of the province of Foggia. Vines are mostly cultivated using alberello and cordon training systems.
Negroamaro is used to produce a variety of types of wine: from the red riserva to sparkling rosé (both Charmat and classical champagne method), from modern and sweet to unusual scented and well-balanced whites. Negroamaro rosé deserves a special mention, as the first rosé bottled in Italy (Five Roses, de Castris, 1943).
This wine has always been used to add alcohol and body to many of the rather anaemic wines of central and northern Italy, because Negroamaro has a high alcohol content but few distracting floral or fruity aromas; this makes it the ideal complementary variety, although sometimes its presence in a blend serves merely to reinforce the alcohol content. It is also said that Negroamaro is added to other famous Italian wines produced outside Puglia, although this is not officially allowed in Dop labels produced outside Puglia.