It has always been considered a blending vine, a B series wine. A grape that is only good for giving musts rich in polyphilic and alcohol. A rustic, anonymous wine, without label and without connotations, for cutting, cisterns, demijohns, jugs and taverns. Here is the Negroamaro in the eyes of those who have not had the good fortune to know it very closely.
Brief history of Salento’s Negroamaro
To corroborate this opinion was – starting from the end of the 19th century – the greatest enological catastrophe in France: the phylloxera. An insect that destroyed almost 100% of French vines and, later, those of all of Europe. Apulia and Salento were saved and became the “vineyard of Europe” and the main exporters of Italian wines.
Precisely to facilitate these exports, after the mid-nineteenth century in Salento modern plants were built for the pressing of grapes and winemaking near the railway. Commercial exchanges focused in particular on the Negroamaro vine with a view to massive productions and omitting quality. This trend continued and intensified after the unification of Italy with a massive shipment of wines also to northern Italy.
Unfortunately, this piece of history does not give due credit to Negroamaro which is a vine with noble, ancient origins, already known by the Phoenicians and the Greeks. One of the vines that already at the time of the ancient Romans was described as a quality wine together with the other Salento vine the Primitivo.
Negroamaro and the wine-growing areas
Since 1970 Negroamaro has been registered in the National Catalog of Vine Varieties with code n. 163 and its cultivation is authorized in the provinces of Bari, Brindisi, Foggia, Lecce and Taranto. Negroamaro is currently the most cultivated black berried grape in Puglia and the eighth most widespread variety in Italy.
But even today there is no lack of prejudices despite the fact that in the last 4o years great strides have been made and, especially in the last 20 years, Salento winemaking has begun to enhance the best characteristics of Negroamaro, obtaining awards all over the world. Yet, there is still that something that can give credit and reputation to the oenological Salento.
Characterizations that, on the other hand, give value to some regions such as those of Médoc in Bordeaux, Ribera di Duero between Castile and León, of the Langhe in Piedmont and Montalcino in Tuscany.
The grape varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese evoke and immediately bring to mind epic tales of romantic drinking of centuries-old, eternally young, and immortal wines.
The characteristics of Negroamaro
Having said that, what is missing in Salento and a vine like Negroamaro to enter the elite of world wine? Of course it is a versatile, regal vine, capable of giving – under expert hands – some of the best expressions of rosé wine in the world. Furthermore, Negroamaro knows how to express itself in young reds like few other vines in the world, giving sapid, acidic, harmonious wines of great drinkability capable of offering balanced aromas of red fruit, together with many Mediterranean spices and herbs. With its tannins so tenacious and difficult to tame but which know how to give a length and a salivation that leads to ask to taste more. Finally, the eclectic nature of Negroamaro has made it possible with good results even the vinification using the classic method with the production of excellent white and rosé bubbles.
What prospects for Negroamaro wine?
But is longevity one of the characteristics of Negroamaro? Where are the vintage wines? How long can a Negroamaro age in the bottle? Unfortunately the Salento tradition is not based on the creation and maintenance of private cellars capable of defying time, just as it is difficult to find vintage bottles even in the same producing cellars. Here, in Salento, wine has always been rosé and red wines have always been drunk with pleasure, but always as young wines.
Aging of the Negroamaro in the bottle
Now I can’t tell you how many Negroamaro-based verticals have been made in the world in the last 20 years. How many bottles with more than 20 years on their shoulders have been the subject of study and tasting by experts, professionals in the sector or even by simple enthusiasts. However, I believe that few have broken down the frontier of the 2000s and certainly few, if any, have come to touch the quarter of a century in the bottle, not even with noble Salento labels belonging to the high-end Salento wine production.
In the wake of these reflections, the idea of carrying out an experiment was born: to demonstrate how with Negroamaro – even in a wine apparently insignificant, inexpensive, semi-unknown and certainly unexpected – it was possible to certify an evolution in a bottle worthy only of true sacred monsters of world enology. You will probably think it is crazy and impossible. Well, sometimes luck and circumstances come to the rescue of the bold.
The experiment thus came to life in Guagnano, in the Cantine Leuci company (which I particularly love) guests of one of the most authentic and passionate Salento wine producers I know. Right here we were able to test a bottle of Terre Guaniani wine, a wine that at the time of its harvest, that is 1997, cost 5 thousand lire and which today – being still in production – reaches the record figure of 6 €.
Terra Guaniani 1997 and its 24 years in the bottle.
The short story that follows – summary of this adventure – is the work of one of the protagonists present: Alfredo Polito (alfredopolito) profound connoisseur of Salento wines, journalist of La Repubblica, contributor to the Espresso guides and author of the book La Guerra del Vino .
“This is the story of two bottles of Negroamaro from 1997 found by chance in a flea market and bought for 1 euro. The wine is from Cantine Leuci, today the only producer of Kosher wines in Puglia and that Stefano knows well. He sends me The photos and he invites me to open them with him With the producer In his cellar in Guagnano Could I not accept?
Francesco welcomes me, great sober courtesy, almost modest. And he immediately reveals to me that the 1997 vintage is the one in which he had decided to produce wine with his own label, somewhat against the will of his father who made, like so many in those years, an excellent blending wine. A mild-mannered and 23-year-old scholar still not even graduated who decides to take the plunge. “But in reality my father made this wine”, says Francesco, describing the eternal father-son dynamic. It is the wine of his heart. It is our lucky day. The wine has kept very well. It is incredibly alive, beautifully toned and charming. Kind of a Bruce Springsteen not drunk.
We opened it less than an hour earlier. Too little. The nose is stuffy. I stick my nose into the glass 20 hours later (yes, I had the honor of taking the rest of the bottle home) and I feel the essence of Negroamaro, the soul of him. An ancestral, irrational reference to my land, to the whole peasant world in which my generation was ultimately lucky enough to grow up. The Mediterranean scrub is that of the Salento countryside, but also that of the dunes of Porto Cesareo. The fruit is made from grapes, cherries and sour cherries, just like the ones that Salento grandmothers once did, keeping them in the boccaccio. And then the leather of the trouser belts and saddles, and the freshly ground coffee with the grinder, and that unmistakable scent of green almond, just picked, that is released when you break the peel.
Christ, I feel like I’ve lived eighty years. But there is no doubt. Negroamaro is a great wine for aging. Even when, like this one by Lucio Leuci, he only made concrete in tanks, not even vitrified. Or maybe thanks to this, who knows. “_ Alfredo Polito_