Along with Primitivo and Nero di Troia, Negroamaro completes the triptych of Puglia’s best known and most exported native varieties. When exactly this grape was first cultivated in unknown. Concentrated primarily in the Salento, Negroamaro is one of Italy’s oldest varieties, since it is believed to be a Greek import connected with Hellenic colonisation between the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Its current name probably derives from the Latin niger (black) and the Greek mavros, likewise “black,” thus “black-black” because of the dark colour of it skin.
It develops a compact tronco-conical cluster, short and non-winged, with medium-sized berries that exhibit heavy bloom and a purplish-black appearance. Negroamaro ripens somewhat late.
With respect to that trait, mention must be made of a discovery, made in 1994 by researchers from the Istituto Sperimentale per la Viticoltura di Conegliano, of a Negroamaro vine whose veraison and ripeness occurred significantly earlier than the other vines. Analysis confirmed that the biotype in question had characteristics classic to Negroamaro but exhibited as well an early-development trait so marked--amounting to some 20 days--that it influenced the chemical composition of the berries as well. Such distinctive behaviour resulted in this vine’s entry in Italy’s National Grapevine Registry as an autonomous variety, with the name Negroamaro Precoce or Cannellino.
Apart from its various biotypes, Negroamaro possesses a natural resistance to the principal diseases, as well as a skin rich in polyphenols such as resveratrol and anthocyanins, the latter quite stable, in fact, with malvin alone accounting for 38% of the total. Another important characteristic of Negroamaro is that it tolerates heat extremely well and does not lose acid easily; as a result, wine producers in hot areas around the world are showing increased interest in its cultivation. Included in almost half of the production codes of Puglia’s DOPs, Negroamaro yields great red wines, both youthful in style and intended for lengthy cellaring, but it has always been utilised as well for a distinctive style of rosé, decisive in character and extremely versatile with food. It bears noting that the first rosé bottled in Italy, in 1943, was made precisely from Negroamaro.
Nero di Troia is the Region’s third-ranked variety, after Primitivo and Negroamaro, in terms of vineyard total and commercial importance. Known also as Uva di Troia or Vitigno di Canosa, it is widespread mainly in central and northern Puglia. There are four different hypotheses regarding its origins. The Greek-origin theory links it to the legend of Diomedes, hero of the Trojan War and Ulysses’ best friend, who arrived in Puglia bringing with him cuttings from Asia Minor, and specifically from the legendary city of Troy (Troia). Some experts support a second hypothesis, which should warn against undervaluing the degree of civilisation achieved by the indigenous population of the Daunians and Peucetians even before Hellenic colonisation; they already in fact cultivated the grapevine, and so this hypothesis would see the variety as an ancient local grape.
According to a third hypothesis, Nero di Troia came from the city of Troia, in the province of Foggia, which was founded by the Greeks, although there are descriptions of this area already in the 18th century that cite the cultivation of Montepulciano, but no other varieties are mentioned. The last hypothesis would have it arriving from the nearby Albanian coast, and specifically from the small village of Cruja, which in the local language is called Troia. Whatever its origin, the first time that the term Uva di Troia (Grape of Troy) appears in official documents is in Prof. Giuseppe Frojo’s 1875 ampelographic studies; Director of the Cantina Sperimentale di Barletta (Experimental Cellars of Barletta) and steeped in neo-classical culture, Frojo re-proposed the Diomedes legend and re-baptised the then-named Vitigno di Canosa as Uva di Troia. Although today there are many clones available of Uva di Troia, two biotypes very different from each other are usually identified today, the Barletta or Ruvo version and the Canosa version.
The first exhibits large-sized clusters and berries, somewhat loose, while the second develops smaller, cylindrical clusters and berries. The Canosa biotype is quite difficult to find, although experimentation currently underway seems to promise excellent results; nor is it easy to cultivate, inasmuch as it is one of the latest grapes to reach optimal ripeness--on average, in late October--, thus running the risk of exposure to negative weather conditions. In the past, in the absence of modern vinification technology, the variety’s abundant tannin content in the skin was offset by blending it with other varieties, mainly Montepulciano. Over the last two decades, as a consequence of the re-discovery by international markets of the values represented by native grape varieties, considerable amounts have been invested to produce high-quality, elegant Nero di Troia monovarietals. The uncontested king of the Castel del Monte DOP and of many DOPs in central-northern Puglia, Nero di Troia became in 2011 the exclusive focus of two DOCGs, Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva and Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva.
Along with Negroamaro and Nero di Troia, Primitivo is one of Puglia’s most famous native grapes and one of the ten most-plated grapes in Italy, almost exclusively in Puglia. The variety owes its name to Francesco Filippo Indelicati, a priest in Gioia del Colle, in the province of Bari, who studied this grape in depth in the late 18th century.
Experimenting in the vineyard with selections of various varieties of the same general type, he identified one whose trait of early-ripening caused it to stand out from the others; he baptised it Primativo, or Primaticcio, with the Latin name Primativus. Later, cuttings of Primitivo reached Manduria, in the province of Taranto, between 1700 and 1800, brought there by migrant workers from Gioia del Colle. In 1967, Austin Goheen, plant pathologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Professor at the University of California at Davis, was the first academic to realize that Primitivo and Zinfandel could be identical varieties. After many studies and fruitful collaboration between UC Davis and the Istituto Sperimentale per la Viticoltura di Conegliano (Experimental Viticultural Institute of Conegliano), 1994 brought definitive proof that the two varieties were genetically identical. This discovery led to numerous studies to determine the origins of Primitivo-Zinfandel, which began with the first documentation of the presence of Zinfandel in the USA, published in an 1830 catalogue of Prince’s nursery on Long Island, NY. It listed the grape as the Black Zinfandel of Hungary, and since there was no trace of such a grape in either Hungary or in Austria, the hunt for the origins of Primitivo focused on the Dalmatian coast. In 2001, proof came that it was identical with a native Croat grape, Crljenak Kastelansky, which in turn was genetically identical with Pribidrag, a Croat variety already known in the 15th century. Apart from its genetic identity, Primitivo is well-known for its tendency to substantially alter its morphology depending on the terroir in which it is grown. It is a challenging grape, since it shows little resistance to either drought or spring freezes, and it is prone to shatter in particularly rainy or wet seasons; in addition, its fairly compact cluster can favour attacks of mould. Such problems, however, are all but non-existent in Puglia, where soils and weather are particularly favourable to this cultivar. Another characteristic of Primitivo is that its berries quite easily accumulate substantial quantities of sugar and therefore produce high-alcohol wines. Further, the skin is very rich in anthocyanins; this quality, when combined with those high sugar levels, explains why Primitivo has always served as the perfect wine for blending with “thinner” central European wines. Puglia has two DOPs exclusively dedicated to this variety, Primitivo di Manduria and Primitivo di Gioia del Colle, each specifically involving the communes that historically have proved most suited to Primitivo. Since these two denominations differ in their weather and soils, even quite significantly, their wines too can be quite different in style. Numerous other Puglia denominations, of course, utilise this grape as well. Primitivo is so early-ripening that it is generally harvested two or three weeks before the native whites, such as Bombino Bianco.