Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Top 10 Negroamaro Wines from Puglia

From the "Holy Guacamole Batman, This Is Good" Department

Negroamaro is the most important red grape grown in Puglia, and I've heard enologists say that over 80% of Puglia's grapevines are Negroamaro. I believe that Negroamaro demonstrates the region's terroir better than any other because it is native to Puglia, it is has been celebrated in the region for thousands of years, and winemakers in the region have developed a particular style. As for flavor profile, wines made with Negroamaro are light to medium bodied, with sun-soaked fruit that can be dried, dark, and bright all at the same time, and the mouthfeel is striking: it feels, at times, like you're drinking silk. Other common flavors are smoke, plum, and herbs. These wines are intensly friendly and approachable. I highly recommend tasting rosés made with Negroamaro, too (click for my Top 5 Best Puglia Rosés List). (Below: Map of Puglia courtesy of Italian Flavor Consortium).

Luckily, Negroamaro is a good and unique wine as well as a cheap wine. I'd say that every winemaker in Puglia makes two mono-varietals with Negroamaro, one of which is aged in oak and one that is made to be drank young and fresh using stainless steel. It is also very common to blend the grape with Malvasia Nera, notably, in the Salice Salentino DOC. Salice Salentino is a town near the city of Lecce on the Salento Peninsula in the Puglia region of Italy. I've spent many hours bicycling its roads between wineries. The Salice Salentino DOC can be found throughout the U.S. at low prices, and the percentage of Negroamaro is at least 80%. I believe that mono-varietals made with Negroamaro showcase the region's terroir better than blends. However, the Salice Salentino is both too delicious and too popular to leave off of this list. A quick shout-out to the Copertino DOC (made in a town just south of Salice Salentino), which is difficult to find, but which also showcases Negroamaro (at least 70%). There are only 5 or so producers of the Copertino DOC, but these wines are of the highest quality.

To make wines with Negroamaro that are capable of aging, winemakers often blend it with grapes that have high levels of tannins. Negroamaro's tannins are commonly referred to as "soft" or "light." For example, Winemaker Massimiliano Apollonio of Apollonio Winery pairs Negroamaro with Montepulciano (with both grapes grown in Salento) because their tannins unite to create something greater than either could alone. Let's just say, yum. Agricole Vallone makes a mono-varietal wine that can be aged by using the process made famous by Amarone wines: they rest the freshly harvested Negroamaro grapes on racks for over a month before pressing them. This wine is prohibitively expensive however.

Before I get to the list I'd like to help dispell one myth about Negroamaro. The etymology of the name leads some folks to think that negro amaro means negro=black and amaro=bitter. In Italy, an amaro liquor is a liquor made with herbs, viz. a bitter. This misunderstanding has lead some wine reviewers to say that wines with Negroamaro have a slightly bitter finish. This is untrue 99% of the time. Further, the grape's origin goes so far back that you have to look at the Greek language. The Greeks inhabited Puglia for well over a thousand years. Northern Italians love to point out that the dialects spoken in Puglia are indecipherable because they are primarily Greek-based rather than Latin-based. Anyway, the root amaro, when you look at its Greek origin, actually means black, so Negroamaro means blackest of the black. Dr. Parzen at Do Biachi writes eloquently on the subject.

And here's what you've been waiting for: the 10 Best Negroamaro Wines Produced in Puglia

1) 2004 “Graticciaia” (100% Negroamaro) by Agricola Vallone
2) 2000 “Divoto” Rosso Riserva Copertino DOC (70% Negroamaro, 30% Montepulciano) by Apollonio
3) 2003 "Notarpanaro" (85% Negroamaro, 15% Malvasia Nera) by Taurino (my next post will focus on this wine and its availability. Available online $16)
4) 2005 “Cappello Di Prete” ( 100% Negroamaro) by Candido
5) 2004 “Suavitas” Le Riserva Salice Salentino DOC (Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera [amounts not specified]) by Ionis
6) 2003 “Piromáfo” Salento IGT (100% Negroamaro) by Valle dell'Asso
7) 2004 “Eloquenzia” (100% Negroamaro) by Azienda Monaci
8) 2006 "Capoposto" Negroamaro IGT (100% Negroamaro) by Alberto Longo (available online $22)
9) 2003 “Patriglione” (90% Negroamaro, 10% Malvasia Nera) by Taurino Winery
10) 2008 “Liante” Salice Salentino (80% Negroamaro, 20% Malvasia Nera di Lecce) by Castello Monaci (available online $16)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Introduction to Abruzzo Wine

A recent blog post by Tom Hyland lambasting Wine Spectator's Matt Kramer couldn't have been timed more perfectly. Kramer wrote a blog post bemoaning the fact that Italian wines are difficult to understand. I was just writing this post---inspired by a recent trip to Abruzzo that will be featured on EuropeUpClose.com---which focuses on the region that Kramer found difficult to understand, so here's what I was writing:

The Abruzzo wine scene is easy to understand, primarily because it only offers four important wines: Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, Trebbianno D'Abruzzo, Pecorino, and Cerasuolo D'Abruzzo. You might think Hey, what's up with the need to name wines after your region (e.g. D'Abruzzo)? I mean, isn't a Montepucliano a Montepulciano? It is true that Italians are generally very proud of their own towns (Graffiti slays every concrete wall [of which there are many], often saying Odio Roma, Odio Milano, Odio Amalfi. Odio means I hate) but the qualifying D'Abruzzo is actually useful.

I'm going to talk about Montepulciano D'Abruzzo last, because it is by far the most important wine produced in Abruzzo, and requires the most explanation.

Trebbiano D'Abruzzo

Trebbiano D'Abruzzo shows why "D'Abruzzo" is important: the white wine isn't always made with the Trebbiano grape. Trebbiano D'Abruzzo, as opposed to Trebbiano wines made in Tuscany and the Veneto, is often made with Bombino Bianco (commonly produced in Puglia under its own name) as well as Trebbiano Toscano. Here are the exact rules for producing the Trebbiano D'Abruzzo D.O.C.

I personally do not like wines made with Bombino (recently tasted Illuminati's 2007 “Costalupo Bianco" [65%Trebbiano D'Abruzzo] and it was too rustic, too stemmy, which are two qualities that I find over and over again with Bombino wines). Try pairing a Trebbiano D'Abruzzo with seafood. Also, it wouldn't hurt to decant it.


This next grape is one that I've only recently come across, and man, do I love it. Wines made with Pecorino are strange and expressive, and absolutely fabulous when paired with seafood dishes. The white wine on its own is too bark-like, too sour. When put with seafood, this sourness turns into a citrus zest, and its fruit is drawn out, specifically cantaloupe. The main difference between Pecorino and Trebbiano D'Abruzzo that I've noticed is the ability of Pecorino to lighten-up and become crisp. When Pecorino becomes citrusy, Trebbiano D'Abruzzo remains dull. I recently tasted Saladini Pilastri's 2009 "Offida" D.O.C. paired with cozze con pangrattato (mussels with breadcrumbs) and it was superb.

Cerasuolo D'Abruzzo

A rosé (rosato in Italian), Cerasuolo is made using the Montepulciano grape. Again, the "D'Abruzzo" comes into play because this rosé should not confused with the D.O.C.G. growing region, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, which is located in Sicily and features primarily Nero D'Avola and Frappato grapes. I've never tasted this wine, so I'll leave it at that.

Montepulciano D'Abruzzo

Here's the big boy. One of the---if not THE---most popular red wines made in Italy, Montepulciano D'Abruzzo can be found in wine stores everywhere in America. The Montepulciano grape is capable of being aged, but I prefer it young and fresh. The wines are inexpensive, yet often of high quality. Do not expect fireworks; expect a fruity, dark red that's ideal for lunch.

The "D'Abruzzo" is especially important here, and I believe that Montepulciano is one of the main perpetrators of the confusion associated with Italian wine. There are two wildly popular yet completely unrelated wines with the name Montepulciano, 1) Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, and 2) Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This latter wine is made with the Sangiovese grape (the grape used to make Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino wines) and tastes nothing like wines made with Montepulciano.

I was lucky enough to visit Abruzzo and taste its wines alongside its food thanks to EuropeUpClose.com and Abruzzo Cibus Culinary Tours. To read more about my trip, click here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Punk in Drublic

From the Ranting Depot

My family and I went to buy groceries (in preparation for a vacation) at the local Hannaford. I wanted to chip in, so I said I’d cover the shop. The only alcohol was some cooking sherry, but the woman asked for my I.D. It’d expired on my birthday, July 6th. It was July 10th. Not only did the woman say that I couldn’t pay for it, she made a point of ordering me to stand away from the credit card machine. “An expired I.D. is the same as no I.D.,” she’d said.

I could say more than a few words on the logic being employed here, but a person has to do their job. I think this instance is telling of the culture shock that I'm experiencing having just returned from Italy. It made me feel like a criminal, and I have to wonder if we Americans, particularly those in New England, do not often do this to one another. In particular, I think it was the ordering away from the credit card machine that made me fell one-inch tall. It’d left me standing awkwardly away from the cash register while my dad and sister packed the groceries.

A couple weeks later, I was buying wine with my girlfriend and, because her I.D. is from California, a manager had to be retrieved to confirm its validity. The manager said that was everything was fine but that my girlfriend was lucky that she didn't make her sign something to compare signatures. Then, the cashier pointed out that the I.D. would expire in a month and that my girlfriend better go and get it renewed. All this for some wine for dinner.

In the last month I've been in New York City, Boston, Rhone Island, and Maine---moving constantly (today I'm in Portland, Oregon). Three days ago, I went to Whole Foods in Boston, where it is state law that beer, wine, and spirits cannot be purchased at grocery stores. In Europe, having a glass of wine or beer with dinner is natural, and I have to think that many Americans feel this way. But the state law forces these Americans to make two trips for every meal, 1) to the grocery store, and 2) to the "package store." There's got to be a better way.

Like all blue-blooded Americans, I don’t like being told what to do. Traveling abroad for so long---unchained, homeless, a Nomad, a Wanderer---I gained a new respect for the word “liberty.” What is liberty? What does it mean to you? To discover real American Freedom, I think you have to identify what limits you. Everyone has limits to overcome, as unique as their fingerprints.

Being self-sufficient, for me, is the clearest method for attaining ultimate freedom; the Scott and Helen Nearing Freedom; the Emerson and Thoreau Freedom; The Pilgrim Freedom; the George Washington Freedom; the Hessian Freedom. It is not the Easy Rider Freedom, or the Hunter S. Thompson Freedom, or the Kerouac Freedom. This latter freedom works within society, whereas the former freedom works outside of society. My freedom will disappear when the forests disappear; when advertising campaigns saturate even the smallest towns; when everyone’s one the grid, in the box closed tight.

Society is its own animal. How does the individual remain independent within society? I don’t think it’s possible. Liberty means doing what you want. Shay's Rebellion in 1786 serves as a good example of Americans being Americans. Those good ol’ boys were making whiskey in the woods and when the government said “Pay taxes” they’d loaded their rifles and rebelled. They knew that something pure and simple was being threatened.

I am not really into politics. I don’t like standing on soap boxes and I dislike it even more when someone else does (---sorry, by the way). But today, I think that we see society as our way toward freedom--big cities symbolize the Dream and technology symbolizes the ability to do anything---but what we sacrifice by living among ourselves is our voices:

I am a 28-year-old guy from Maine who wants to cook lobster Newberg. Sell me some damn cooking sherry.

Post Script: Would this have ever happened in Italy? No. Do young people abuse alcohol in Italy the same way that they abuse alcohol in the United States? For the most part, No (in the more wealthy and globally influenced cities in Northern Italy binge drinking is on the rise).

Italians do not view alcohol as a negative thing. As far as I know, Prohibition never took place in all of Italy’s past. Water makes you ill, wine makes you sing! It is to raise spirits and celebrate life. Why is it a crime to celebrate life in America? When did the doling out of the Right to Liberty fall into the hands of cashiers?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wine Bottlin'

One of the coolest things that my girlfriend and I got to do on our last trip to Italy was bottle wine for a farmer named Giuseppe Siragusa. Kristin and I volunteered on his farm (as part of my travelogue written for EuropeUpClose.com) located in the foothills of the Abruzzo National Park.

First, we rinsed the bottles with water. Giuseppe makes Chardonnay for home consumption only. I expected a more complex system of sterilization, but he said it wasn't necessary, and that water is the best cleaner around. On the really tough bottles, we used a mixture of water and sand.

Next, we pulled out two 54-liter demijohns of Chardonnay. Again, we used the rustic method to tackle the job. We elevated the huge glass jugs and siphoned the vino using a plastic tube. Sucking on the hose until a rush of Chardonnay came spilling out was an epic moment. Then Kristin and I set to work filling over a hundred bottles of wine.

We had to cap the bottles quickly, because, as Giuseppe said, air is the enemy of wine. The longer the wine came into contact with the air, the better the chances were that bacteria would grow, making the wine turn. We stamped on the Pepsi-brand bottle caps, then hauled case after case of wine across the farm to the storage location: an ancient hay shed.

Giuseppe loves to work with the land. He was born in Sicily, near Palermo, and later worked as a soldier and school teacher alternatively. In the mid-70s, he decided that he wanted to own and work his own land, and he moved to the Lazio region, near the border of Abruzzo.

You can visit Giuseppe at Italy Farm Stay, a B&B and volunteer program. The farm always has a great community. He grows all manner of fruit and vegetable, all organically. Yellow and black plums were in season when I was there. Giuseppe grows Chardonnay and black Malvasia grapes. His philosophy, when it comes to wine making, is simple: grown the grapes, crush the grapes, macerate the grapes, bottle the juice. No frills. No problems. The dolce (sweet) version of his Chardonnay tastes something like cider. It's unlike anything I've found in the United States. It's farmer wine, pure and simple. It tastes like the grapes on his vines.

Giuseppe (above right) declares that he never drinks less that 1.5 liters of his vino dolce a day. Kristin and I always started our workday with a glass. To read the full story of my time with Giuseppe, as well as the extremely rustic (extremely roughin' it) living quarters, check out my travelogue, Italy From Bottom to Top, on Europeupclose.com.

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