SALENTO. NEGROAMARO’S REIGN.
By Francesco Falcone
A VAST AND FLAT REGION. A LOT OF APPELLATIONS, UNFORTUNATELY SOME OF THEM ARE UNUSED, AND A GRAPE VARIETY – THE NEGROAMARO – AS MASTER.
IT’S VERY DIFFICULT TO INTERPRET IT, BUT IT IS MATCHLESS WHEN IT CAN EXPRESS ITS EVOLUTIVE TALENT.
It has been incubated in Salento’s burning womb for many centuries. It is able to survive many sunny seasons that are typical of a flat region getting in touch three seas: Adriatic Sea, Ionian Sea and that wide and green scrub made up by vines and olive trees covering its clays and its rocks.
It is a grape variety that becomes ripe between the sirocco and the North wind. A grape variety smelling of salt and sun baked ground. It is not a fashionable wine/grape variety. Not at all.
It is good, very good, only when it can express its evolutive talent, when its alcoholic content starts to serve its very ripe fruit and its tasty tannic/sapid texture. Without these features, the result is only a common red wine.
Gawky and predictable. Here’s the Negroamaro.
Taurino’s, Candido’s and Vallone’s Negroamaro. Severino Garofano’s heart grape variety: by now a retired oenoligist but a symbol of Apulian wine anyway. Thanks to him, to his wines and to that group of inspired wine-makers, today all those young wine-makers know in a better way this grape variety’s good qualities and faults.
In comparison with Primitivo, Negroamaro – when it is saved from strained oenological processes – seems wan and poor, only dressed with a worn and ragged shirt. However, it has strong wrists and big hands; and a snatching look.
A red wine with a creased abdominal muscles, but with a steel temper.
1) Salento is Negroamaro. Or vice versa. In fact, this grape variety has its main vine basin in the districts of Brindisi e Lecce, where it represents more than 80% of the 14,000 hectares planted with vines. The geographical heart of the area is made up by about forty little or very little villages with an agricultural propensity towards vines and olive trees.
2) The vineyards are between two seas and are all but flat (the height of 80 metres is never reached). It is mostly cultivated along the Ionian side. In fact, with the exception concerning those lands planted with vines in the North of Lecce, the intensive vine-growing doesn’t exist hardly along the Adriatic side.
3) As far as the vine-growing is concerned, Salento has three kinds of soil. North Salento’s inland soil is deep and argillaceous-calcareous; it is argillaceous and sandy near the coast and in some areas near Copertino and Leverano; it is often more superficial and reddish in South Salento, with outcrops of calcareous rock, in particular way between Galatina and Matino.
4) Negroamaro is the leading character of nine D.O.C.s, we have to add to the most famous and widespread Igt Salento (I will describe briefly the most famous ones at the end of this article). About twenty million are the bottles of red wine obtained by Negroamaro that every year are sold (90% of them is sold abroad).
5) Only during the most classic and sunniest years, this grape variety becomes ripe around the middle of September, while in the coolest years or when the harvest is voluntarily deferred, the grape-picking is done at the end of the month. So, it is done two or three weeks after picking the Primitivo, another grape variety from Salento I have already written about in the past.
6) Unlike the Primitivo, the Negroamaro is hardly ever bottled alone. Not only because of its lack in colour (it tends to garnet red easily), but also because of an aromatic “essentiality”, that, above all in younger wine, make it not too expressive.
7) If in the past it was accompanied by Black Malvasia from Brindisi or Lecce, today its most popular partners are Montepulciano (because of its colour and acidity), Primitivo (due to its fleshiness), and the usual international grape varieties. Following these new tendencies, it is sure that some rules and regulations about the production will be changed.
8) After saying that, the best possible Negroamaro (with or without other grape varieties) is a red wine with an excellent temper. Its strength, in comparison with Primitivo - always to use an immediate example – express itself in chase, with some well-drawn manners, without any visible rushes of enthusiasm. So it is an extraordinary red wine in the mouth, because it is able to avoid, as much as a few other grape varieties in Southern Italy, the “caloric” excesses due to the hottest climates.
9) The most famous pruning method is the cordon spur: today this training system represents the three quarters of the “fruitful” area planted with vines in comparison with the whole land. The new, easier and less expensive – in comparison with the traditional head training or “alberello”, as far as the growing during the whole year is concerned – training methods are also suitable for the mechanized harvesting, a new picking system used more and more by a lot of farms.
10) Because of the considerable vineyards fragmentation, cooperative wineries are very important in Salento. However, they have been suffering a structural crisis for many years. There are only few exceptions. Most of them aren’t able to enter the market by a successful business strategy. They bottle less and less and aren’t able to pay their members punctually. That’s why a lot vineyards with head training, that are the most precious and the most ancient in this land, are abandoned.
11) Unlike many regions in the South of Italy, where the farms are very small, for example in Campania, in Basilicata, and in some areas of Sicily, here there are a lot of large business wineries (they have as a model those “nègociant” from Alto Adige), that own many vineyards but also purchase grapes from some external grape-grower/suppliers.
12) Save for a good few exceptions, reviewed wines’ prices waver between 4 and 8 euros for a bottle (ex cellars, exclusive of VAT, only for dealers). But not only: it is possible that here in Salento basic wines are better and more firm than the most ambitious selections, that are often fanciful and rough as far as their blend is concerned. So that is the reason why the best red wines in the area are very cheap.