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)