Negro Amaro, or Negroamaro | Red wine grape native to Italy. With Primitivo it is a key grape in its stronghold of Puglia (‘Apulia’). There are also small plantings of Negro Amaro in Basilicata and Campania. Although ‘amaro’ is Italian for ‘bitter’ (eg. tannins), in this case the word ‘amaro’ derives from ‘mavros’, a Greek term meaning ‘black’, referring to the dark colour of the actual berries. Although Greek settlers did once inhabit what is now Puglia (in the 8th to 7th centuries B.C.), which is where the majority of contemporary Negro Amaro is planted today, it appears Negro Amaro is unrelated to most Greek varieties (Italian Wine Unplugged, p.119). Nigra in Latin also means ‘black’.

Negro Amaro Precoce | Negro Amaro Precoce–also called Negro Amaro Cannellino–is genetically the same as Negro Amaro and is probably a biotype, but despite this it still has its own listing in Italy’s national grape vine registry. One incorrect synonym of Negro Amaro is Lacrima.

Vineyard area in Italy | 1990 31,000 ha/76,500 acres (Oxford Companion to Wine: 2015, p.496). | 2000 16,760ha (Oxford Companion to Wine: 2006, p.472). | 2010 11,460 ha/28,318 acres by 2010 (Oxford Companion to Wine: 2015, p.496).

Where grown | Basilicata. | Campania. | Puglia: Copertino DOC. | Leverano DOC. | Lizzano DOC. | Salice Salentino DOC. | Squinzano DOC.

Wine styles | Ole Udsen told me (14th June 2015, Radici del Sud): ‘Negroamaro is the grape of the Salento peninsula in Puglia, along the coastal areas in Brindisi and Lecce provinces [Brindisi DOC, Copertino DOC, Leverano DOC, Salice Salentino DOC, Squinzano DOC]. It has undergone something of an identity crisis involving many different interpretations. Wines from old vines show real goodness. But it can have astringency too. Negroamaro wines used to be sent north for blending, so grower-sellers would look to make wines with generous levels of alcohol. Now, as growers increasingly estate bottle their Negroamaro the focus has changed, with lower levels of alcohol and colour on the one hand, and far more fruit on the other. The research station in Barletta is working on clones for lighter wines. In Brindisi in north-eastern Puglia Negroamaro is fairly rounded, with soft tannins. So ripe plums but not dried fruit. The spiciness goes towards graphite, bakelite. Lead pencil, not so much the wood of the pencil but the stuff inside it, which of course is not lead. The area around Salice Salentino and Copertino in the centre of the Salentino peninsula is where 90% of Negroamro production in Puglia originates from. The wines have more tannins, structure here. The notes are still of plum but edging to the dried fruit spectrum. Some wines even show exotic notes of darker arabian spices, and a touch of macchia (garrigue), but with an aniseed sweetness. In the south arund Alezzio and Galipoli Negroamaro shows more distinct dried fruit notes, such as prunes, as well as drier macchia notes in the dried wild herb spectrum, thyme or rosemary for example. So one can say that overall there is no common style to Negroamaro. It is not a very fruity grape. It is also susceptible to brett (sub-strate).’

Growing Negro Amaro | Negro Amaro yields reliably. It can maintain acidity levels, even in hot conditions. Ole Udsen told me (14th June 2015, Radici del Sud) that Negroamaro has large leaves. These give good shade to bush vines. But large leaves also catch more of the hot winds blowing across the Salento, which has a drying effect.’

Wine colour | Negroamaro lacks three of the five anthocynanins, so it can lose colour quickly.

Wine style | Negroamaro ‘is later ripening than Primitivo, with chunkier tannins. It is also used to produce some lively rosé. The name means ‘dark, bitter’ but the wines are sometimes a bit soft,’ (Oxford Companion to Wine: 2015, p.496).

‘Negro Amaro wines typically show dark fruit notes (blackberry, dark plum, licorice). Negroamaro can show fairly harsh tannin and bitterness, so it often has something blended in for aroma and softness, Malvasia Nera usually or very occasionally Susumaniello which adds a balsamic cherry note. Negro Amaro is often blended with Malvasia Nera which is somewhat but not fully aromatic, bringing soft, round, plummy-floral dark berry fruit, and is low in acid and tannin. In Salento the Malvasia Nera can develop a crushed granite minerality too. The Montepulciano grape variety also helps out, providing dark cherry notes whilst giving body to Negroamaro,’ Ole Udsen told me (14th June 2015).

Bibliography

Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p119-120.

The Oxford Companion to Wine 3rd edition ed. Jancis Robinson MW (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Oxford Companion to Wine 4th edition ed. Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW (Oxford University Press, 2015), p.496

Oz Clarke, Oz Clarke Wine A-Z (Pavilion, 2015).