Italian Grapes 101: Negroamaro
Let’s take a little trip to Puglia, Italy, shall we? This stunning region makes up Italy’s heel. Apart from it being one of the most dreamy summer vacation destinations (who could resist such shimmering turquoise Mediterranean waters?) Puglia is also home to some of Italy’s oldest grape varietals. Negroamaro is one of them. We aren’t kidding around – Negroamaro dates back as far as ancient Greek times. That’s just one of the reasons why this grape is one of the top-produced grapes in all of Puglia.
Let’s dive into all facts about Negroamaro and why this should be the next Italian grape on your radar.
The Meaning of Negroamaro
What misleads many about Negroamaro is its direct translation in Italian. It translates to ‘bitter dark’ or ‘bitter black.’ But, these two descriptors do not reflect the character of this grape at all. So, how did Negroamaro get such a name?
One thought by grape historians is that it has to do solely with how these grapes look. If you look at Negroamaro grapes, you’ll instantly recognize how much darker this grape is than many other grapes. The bunches are almost blue-black in color.
But, where did the bitter or amaro element come from? Some etymologists have a pretty solid idea that has to do with Puglia’s history. Remember, Italians weren’t the ones that always occupied Puglia. The region, like all regions in Italy, has a long and complex history that involved different kinds of people. The ancient Greeks and various Latin tribes all called Puglia home at one point. This could mean that Negroamaro’s name evolved through a fusion of various languages. For example, “mavros” translates to “black” in Greek, which could explain the amaro in Negroamaro.
A Grape as Old as the Greeks
By now, you’ve probably gotten the idea that Negroamaro is a pretty ancient grape varietal. But, how old is Negroamaro? Well, its origins date back nearly 3000 years, to the time when the Greeks arrived in Puglia. We aren’t talking just all of Puglia. The Greeks first landed in present-day Salento, in the South of Puglia. They named the area Messapia.
The Greeks were some of the earliest grape growers, winemakers, and, obviously, wine drinkers. Many believe that it was the Greeks who brought Negroamaro to Salento. Now, here’s a question for you – does this make Negroamaro a Greek or Italian grape?
Now, that’s 100 percent a trick question. Negroamaro is a Pugliese grape. It found its home in Salento and that is where it evolved to be the esteemed Italian grape we know today. We can only imagine what Negroamaro was like 3000 years ago.
The Character of Negroamaro
If you haven’t tried Negroamaro before, you must be wondering – what does this wine look or taste like?
Negroamaro produces full-bodied wines with tons of character. Traditionally, this grape is made into a dry red wine. You can also find it made as a rosé, which is delightfully refreshing during Puglia’s insanely hot summer months.
The aromas and flavors of Negroamaro come down to where it’s grown and the winemaker’s goals. Negroamaro’s home is in Salento, the Southernmost part of Puglia. This area can be extremely hot. This causes grapes to ripen faster. Since Negroamaro has dealt with the heat for thousands of years, its thick-skins know how to keep up. Yet, that’s not all that will protect the grape. Winemakers train Negroamaro’s vines to shelter them from the blazing Salentino sun. Either way, the heat does cause this grape to produce more sugar, often creating larger-bodied wines.
In Salento, the most esteemed wine is Salice Salentino D.O.C. It is made with all or mostly Negroamaro. This wine really showcases the beauty of this indigenous grape variety. Salice Salentino wines boast the elegant side of Negroamaro, showcasing the wine’s fascinating tobacco, spice, and earthy aromas, not to mention its luscious berry flavor. And, this wine only gets better with time. Many people love to age good vintages of these wines for 5 to 10 years.
In modern-day times, Negroamaro is making appearances beyond Puglia. Winemakers in the U.S. and Australia have taken interest in bringing this grape to life in a new place. More specifically, California has become a new home for Negroamaro. There are many places in California that have arid Mediterranean climates that are nearly identical to Puglia’s. What better grape to thrive there than Negroamaro!
If you’re ever curious to try the flavors of a California Negroamaro, Domenico Winery and Osteria have an alluring 2015 vintage from their Tracy Hills vineyards. With 20% Primitivo in it as well, this wine is a true homage to the Puglia region.
Negroamaro Wine Pairings
We can’t talk about Italian land and wines without talking about food, and that’s a fact. What is funny about Negroamaro is that it isn’t necessarily the kind of wine you’d pick on a hot summer day in Puglia. But, there’s more to Puglia than its idyllic coastline. Just inland, you’ll find farmers tending to vines, olive trees, and livestock. Their cuisine is what pairs best with this ancient grape varietal.
A Negroamaro rosé will taste magical with any soft cheeses, like Puglia’s famous burrata cheese. For a dry red, you can’t go wrong with hard sheep’s milk cheeses or fattier meats, especially lamb and pork. Negroamaro wines that are less dry and have more jammy flavors, you can easily pair this wine with your favorite spicy dishes.
Do you love Negroamaro? Or curious to try it? We sure hope so after exploring all that this grape has to offer. We’d love to hear all your thoughts on this brilliant Pugliese grape. Don’t be shy to leave a comment or visit Domenico Winery and Osteria to start up a conversation about all things Italian wine with us!