After decades -- centuries, even -- of being considered vini da taglio -- big, tannic, alcoholic, color-laden wines to be blended into wines from other regions that needed a boost -- Puglia's wines are at last attracting positive critical attention. Much of this attention initially went to the wines of Southern Puglia, first the Negroamaro produced between Brindisi and Lecce, and then the Primitivo produced in the Salentino; that Primitivo is closely related to California's Zinfandel certainly helped.
However, more recently northern Puglian varietals have also begun to attract attention, in particular Nero di Troia, which is grown north of Bari, and is one of the more important components in Castel del Monte DOC. It's not the easiest grape to work with, says Rivera's Sebastiano De Corato. It was traditionally grown for volume, and therefore farmers preferred clones that produced large compact bunches, with fairly large grapes; because of the structure of the bunches ripening was uneven, and as a result almost every bunch had a few unripe grapes, which contributed harsh unripe tannins. Rivera has found vines that produce smaller, looser bunches of grapes that ripen more uniformly in their vineyards and is propagating them, though it's too soon to speak of clonal selections or anything along those lines -- the first certified Aglianico clone was only presented last year, and much more work needs to be done on the other southern varietals before they can be certified.
Unlike Negroamaro and Primitivo, both of which ripen early (Primitivo doesn't mean primitive in this context, but rather early ripening), and are harvested by the end of August, Nero di Troia is a late ripening varietal, and at Rivera they start to harvest it in the first or second week of October. Sebastiano de Corato says this influences the style of the wines, which tend to be fresher. He is using his selections of Nero di Troia to make two wines:
Puer Apulie and Violante. Puer Apulie, named in honor of Frederick II of Swabia, the 13th Century holy Roman Emperor who whose love of Puglia earned him the nickname Puer Apulie (Son of Puglia) is a big, concentrated wine that uses new wood to balance the grape tannins, and has the potential to age very well. Production is low, on the order of 8-10,000 bottles per year, and it's Rivera's most expensive wine. Violante, which is being introduced this year, is less charged and considerably more accessible.
At Vinitaly, I tasted through the producers who make wine with Uva di Troia.
Azienda Vinicola Rivera S.p.A.
S.S.98 Km. 19,800 - Contrada Rivera
70031 ANDRIA (BA)
Tel 088 356 9501
Rivera Nero di Troia Violante Castel del Monte DOC 2004
Deep cherry ruby with black reflections. The bouquet is quite elegant, with rich red berry fruit mingled with berry fruit jam -- currants and blackberries -- and supported by deft grilled bell pepper and some peppery acidity, while there are also floral -- violet -- accents that add grace. On the palate it's full, and quite round, with voluptuous forest berry fruit supported by clean grilled bell pepper notes and tannins that have a warm bitter greenish burr, and flow into a long clean slightly tart fruit laced finish. Great depth that's all the more impressive considering how young the wine is; it will drink beautifully with a platter of mixed grilled meats and veggies, or with a succulent stew. Well worth seeking out.
Note: I tasted a prerelease bottle of Violante in the fall of 2005 and found the wine significantly better this time around.
Rivera Puer Apuliae Castel Del Monte DOC 2003
Poured pyrope ink; the bouquet is quite intense, with jammy berry fruit supported by equally intense warm cedar -- a marvel of concentration -- that is still very young and gives an impression of being between here and there, in transit as it were. On the palate it's equally full and powerful, though there is more fruit, which does balance the oak, though it also gives an impression of vineyard immaturity -- one expects more depth than there is. It will in any case be interesting to follow the wine to its destination, which will be frankly international, and if you like the "gobs of fruit and concentration in spades" style that some of the wine press seems to favor, you will like it. I found myself feeling, on the one hand, that I was looking in on a toddler, and, on the other, that this isn't my style of wine. But I did find it interesting.
Agricola Conte Onofrio Spagnoletti Zeuli
C.da S. Domenico S.P. 231 Km. 60
70031 Montegrosso-Andria (Bari) - Italia
Tel 0883 569511 - Fax 0883 569560
Not imported to the US
Tenuta Zagaria Vigna Grande Uva di Troia Castel del Monte DOC Rosso 2004
Deep ruby with pale white rim. The bouquet is deft, with bright berry fruit laced with orange citrus and hints of marzipan, which may sound odd in a red, but works nicely. Pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's full, with bright cherry fruit with hints of plum supported by deft orange acidity and bright brambly tannins that flow into a long warm tannic finish with wonderful freshness. Pleasant, though you have to like aggressive wines to appreciate it. Drink it with succulent meats -- fried lamb chops, for example, would be quite nice.
Conti Spagnoletti Zeuli Il Rinzacco Uva di Troia in Purezza Castel Del Monte DOC 2003
This is fermented in wood -- upright conical vats -- and returns to them after racking. It's also cropped to lower yields, about 90 quintals/hectare. The bouquet is rich, with bright orange-laced berry fruit supported by berry fruit jam and hints of almond butter and bitter almonds. Quite a bit going on. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful berry fruit supported by berry fruit jam and deft orange acidity that flows into lasting warmth, while the tannins, which are ample and have been polished by the wood, provide smooth support. It's much more approachable than the Vigna Grande, and will drink well with grilled meats, roasts and other succulent meats. Expect it to age well for a number of years.
S.S. 16, km 755+510
70059 TRANI (Bari)
Tel 0883 491116 - Fax 0883 492203
Not Imported to the US
Botta Castel del Monte DOC Rosso 2003
This is a blend, actually, of Uva di Troia, Bombino Nero, and Sangiovese. It's dusky black cherry ruby with almandine rim, and has a fairly rich bouquet with red berry fruit laced with bitter almonds and lively peppery spice, and underlying underbrush, sea salt, and wood smoke. Fairly complex. On the palate it's ample and soft, with clean bright red berry fruit that gains direction from lively citric acidity and is supported by full, smooth tannins -- Uva di Troia's natural aggressiveness is tempered by the other varietals, and perhaps just a touch much, because there is a slight languid feel to it on subsequent sips. It is in any case pleasant, and will drink well with red meats.
Torre di Pilato Nero di Troia IGT Puglia 2004
This is 80% Uva di Troia and 20% Montepulciano; it spends 8 months in carrati, which are 750 liter Slavonian oak casks that provide some wood but don't overshadow. The bouquet is rich, with red berry fruit laced with savory crushed almonds and some slightly balsamic underbrush and sea salt. Quite fresh and a lot going on. On the palate it's full, with rich red berry fruit that gains definition from lively orange acidity, and is supported by ample sweet tannins that flow into a long clean berry fruit finish with tannic underpinning. Pleasant, and will drink well with grilled meats, stews, and similar dishes. There's considerable depth, and the wine also has the potential to age nicely for up to a decade.
Botta Turenum Rosso di Puglia IGT 2004
This spends 12 months in carratti, and is deep black lam with white rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with crushed almonds mingled with ripe berry fruit with alcohol and some berry fruit acidity that keep it on its toes. Pleasant to sniff, and with further sniffing dusky notes emerge as well. On the palate it's full, and rich, with powerful berry and plum fruit supported by deft citric acidity and by tightly woven tannins that still display youthful splinteriness, and flow into a long warm berry fruit finish that gradually fades into warmth. It's elegant, and quite promising though it will show much better in a year's time, and will continue to age nicely for up to a decade. In terms of accompaniments, I'd serve it with a hearty stew, and boar with bay leaf and black olives comes to mind.
A brief, but pleasant aside:
Botta Moscato di Trani Dolce DOC 2003
Deep gold with rich gold highlights and reflections; it looks inviting. The bouquet is powerful and nicely blaanced, with honeydew melon mingled with apricot acidity and yellow peaches with some underlying white pear. Quite a lot going on, harmoniously. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful peach and pear fruit mingled with apricot marmalade supported by moderate acidity and by sugars that carry the wine nicely, flowing into a long sweet peach finish that gains definition from some bitterness. Quite pleasant, and will work very well with flavorful, not too sharp cheeses or far from the meal.
Agrinatura Giancarlo Ceci
70031 ANDRIA (Bari)
Tel 0883 565220 - Fax 0883 565223
Ceci Parco Marano da Uve di Troia Castel del Monte Rosso DOC 2004
This is their first vintage of this wine; as he poured the wine maker told me that Uva di Troia is quite delicate during the final ripening, and an increase in local humidity can either round out the tannins or cause entire bunches to rot.
The wine is deep pigeon blood ruby with violet rim -- poured ink. The bouquet is fairly rich, with bright red berry fruit laced with cedar and peppery spice. It's recently bottled and still a bit unsettled, though cleaning up nicely in an international key. On the palate it's further along, with rich bright berry fruit supported by bright orange and lemon acidity and by tannins that lay an angry hot peppery wash over the tongue and gradually fade into a fairly persistent savory finish. It's woefully immature, but has a pleasing grace and deftness and promises quite well. It needs at least a year, and perhaps two to get its feet under it, at which point it will drink well with hearty stews or rich roasts. Impressive for a first vintage.
My Bottom line impression of Uva di Troia? It can be quite rustic, especially if the vineyard management isn't up to snuff and corners are cut in the cellar. However, when made with care it reveals considerable potential, and has the capacity to age quite nicely for many years. In short, it's a wine to keep an eye out for, and with time it will likely become a force to be reckoned with..