Nero di Troia ... for a change

After last year's autochtonous Negroamaro adventure in Apulia's southern Salento region – more about this journey HERE – I'd like to forward my tongue a bit more north to the region around the famous octagonal Castel del Monte. Probably the most significant grape variety of the region is Nero di Troia (aka Uva di Troia and many other names). The origins of Nero di Troia might be a bit tricky because there were (and are) different Troias in the eastern Mediterranean. According to Donato Antonacci’s Grape Vines of Apulia it “…possibly originated in Asia Minor (Troy) and was perhaps introduced in Apulia during the Greek colonization. Otherwise, its name might be derived from the Apulian town of Troia in the province of Foccia, or from the Albanian town of Cruja, then translated as Troia into the local dialect.” So, as it seems ... a bit difficult. Anyway, here actual wine should be in the centre of attention and not fundamental historical confusion. Today, there are only about 2500 hectares in cultivation left. Only a couple of decades ago it was still in its five-digits. However, in recent years it is having a cautious comback. Especially in the central-north and in the north of Apulia. Nero di Troia's ampelographic chracteristics could be summed up with: fairly vigorous, rather hairless (leafs), pyramid-shaped (bunch) and concerning its actual berries medium-sized, compact and thick, quite coriaceous and far more shiny light purple than black (aka nero). The last observational fact mentioned might explain quite a lot. Later, you will find out yourself! Oh, hang on ... not later, better now! I am thirsty after so little dry information ...

The first Nero di Troia I'd like to introduce is the Azienda Agricola Santa Lucia Nero di Troia Il Melograno Castel del Monte DOC from 2011. The grapes for this Cru originate from the approx. 4.5 ha large Il Melograno vineyard which is situated west of Corato not really far away from Castel del Monte. The predominant soil formations in the area around the castle are highly calcareous. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks followed by an 18 months ageing period in French oak barrels. In my glass I spotted a radiant and lush appearing hue of dark'ish rubys without flaws and inclusions. Its nose was rather complex and convincingly resolute. I got plenty of red currant, later some additional blueberries, blood, a hefty whiff of non-alcoholic vermouth, thyme, smoke, earth, some hay and solely cuddly as well as rather shy appearing almond blossoms. On the palate I got plenty of promising raunchy as well as solidly harsh tannins and very attention-grabbing playful acid. The aromas were dominated by thyme, dark chocolate, a trace of ethereal appearing herbs, vermouth (the herb, not the drink) and red currant. Its limey mineral punch was quite evident as well. Some hours later and on the second day its tartness and coolness eased a bit. Then flavours of cinnamon, cloves and even more vital and juicy appearing red currant & Co. evolved for even better. This Il Melograno Nero di Troia impressed me with it seriousness, profoundness, a bit of tamed roughness and to a long life focused structure. In my opinion a very decent***** fresh and promising Nero di Troia with prosperous years still to come.

My second Nero di Troia was produced by a big local player: Azienda Vinicola Rivera. Its given name Violante made an airy and flowery-beautiful first impression. The full name is: Nero di Troia Violante Castel del Monte DOC 2012. Its vinification was totally different compared to the Santa Lucia and the others still to come. Maceration in stainless steel took place for 9 to 10 days including pumpovers, elestage and micro-oxygenation. Its ageing in large glass-lined cement vats lasted for about 12 months. Its acutal origins are much more alike. The grapes were also cultivated on very calcareous soils. In this case in the area of Andria north of Castel del Monte on an elevation of 200 to 230 meters above sea-level. The Violante presented itself completely free of particles. Its well reduced saturation of transparent ruby red was also evident. My nasal impressions were limited to ripe fruit flavours of raspberry, red currant, half a plum and rose-hip in melange with some hay, short liquorice and mild herbs including a whiff of violets. On the palate pretty un'pert tannins (if any at all), very fruitful – slightly iced candy style, juicy, very lean and structurally'wise very delicate or even a bit flat-silky and simple. Rather pinot'ish … in a more modest-easy style. To me not the most favourable way to show the secondary and tertiary aroma-qualities of Nero the Troia. Anyway, as I have mentioned earlier: a very different vinification. Still a surely noticeable so la-la *** Nero di Troia .... more suitable for a softer approach, I assume …

The massive, with regard to the voluminous bottle, Ottagono Nero di Troia Riserva 2011 Castel del Monte DOCG produced by Vini Torrevento originates from the 480 meters elevated – which is quite high in Apulia - Piana di Giuseppe vineyard (again, very calcareous soils) north- north-west of Castel del Monte in the highlands of Murgia. Maceration took place in stainless steel and subsequent ageing took in cement tanks (8 months) as well as oak barrels (12 months). The Ottagono's colour appeared rather lush, radiant, mostly transparent in light garnet style and showed fluid viscosity. So, absolutely no heavy weight like the bottle weight constantly tried to convey (to me ... for some reason). Its nose showed a fair impression of cow staples, fresh red berries (mostly red currant), some cardamom, thyme, a few shy violets, maybe a bit of liver (?), surely some rubber'ish liquorice, mild (however tense) smoke, a hint of almond paste and quite a heavy punch of low grade coffee-powder. The taste showed lively and crisp qualities thanks to a respectable infusion of acid - still a bit nervous - but good anyway. Plenty of complementary flavours of red currant fruit, winter'ly spices plus a distinct dose of thyme, a slice of bloody meat (or liver), liquorice and a few dark olives provided an almost octagonalic round flavour pattern. Hardly any trace of the mentioned nasal crude coffee. Very respectable and unexpected tension on my mid palate, too. Overall a (as well unexpected) lean structure with a whiff of finesse. Just a whiff. Tannins showed absolutely not harsh anymore (if ever harsh at all). Respectable lasting finish …. I liked it! Not very refined or even sublime, more solid and down-to-earth. By far not as monstrous as I've expected it to be. Downright decent **** and in the future perhaps even a bit more.

The vines for The Classic wine made by Vini Torrevento, which is called Vigna Pedale Nero di Troia Castel del Monte DOC, were also cultivated on high elevated and very calcareous vineyards just north of Castel del Monte. Unlike its Riserva brother the Vigna Pedale from 2010 was only aged in used French oak barrels for about 12 months. Again, very vital and radiant visual impressions. In case of the Pedale a bit more ruby and surely transparent. To me a very attractive and sensual colour indeed! Its nose seemed aromatical and lean'ish precise. I got plenty of earthed fruit of red currant, some rubber, something which reminded me of steely fresh blood, fine delicate smoke, thyme, fennel and after a few hours more and more cranberries with a slight glaze of dark chocolate. On the palate it showed plenty of ripe – not over-ripe – fruit which appeared very juicy and fresh (great acid). Like the nose predicted mostly red currant and later additional darker berries. Besides that: blood, fennel, thyme, traces of fresh pork and some chalk (?, not the mouthfeel) - or maybe chalky limestone … Anyway, I assume this Nero di Troia wasn't the most complex or powerful I've tasted, but it might have been the most elegant and at the moment the most balanced one. Altogether more refined and sophisticated than the Ottagono. No real trace of crudeness or rural life. For me a  decent **** to very decent ***** wine with a pleasing amount of character and class for very little money.

My final Nero di Troia came from a different area. Its vines were cultivated on mixed and mostly rich soils in the hilly national park on Gargano peninsula in the very north of Apulia. This Nero di Troia is the only one I've tasted which was created following organic and bio-dynamical principles. The producer: Cantine Valentina Passalaqua in Apricena. The grapes for her Nero di Troia 2013 IGP were fermented for 20 to 25 days in stainless steel tanks and afterwards aged in large oak barrels for about six months. Valentina Passalaqua's Nero di Troia showed a rather dark scarlet'ish hue. Like most of the others it was pretty lush and vital radiant. In addition to the mentioned visual aspects I spotted quite a lot of depot - despite its light filtration. On the first day the nose performed rather plentyful – plentyful in respect to its fruitful character- as well as playful. It presented itself very fruit-driven (mostly red currant, after a few hours some additional juicy plums) alongside with minor traces of cinnamon, rootbeet and relatively harsh thyme. For some reason, better don't take it too seriously, I got a slight impression which reminded me of granite'ish mineral fragrances. Besides that it appeared very young, not really reserved or shut, more like very fruitful and not very mulit-layered. Anyway, on the second day it performed very differently! Then it showed much less playful and simple-minded. Quite the contrary: much more serious and exciting, I should say! Then I got a fine portion of subtle smoke, some dark earthiness and a more refined touch of thyme. Even the red currant smelled much darker and was kind of enriched with hints of Japanese soy sauce. Doubtlessly much more convincing, complex and by far less fruit-superficial on the second day! On the palate it seemed even more fruit-driven and lush during day one. I got plenty of sweet fruit flavours (mostly of red currant and rootbeet, again some hours later a bit plum'ish). Again, overall very juicy and rather easy to access. The more timid additional flavours were cinnamon, a hint of mint and a distinct taste of rock candy – which I did not enjoy so much. Its mineral touch showed characteristics which reminded me of iron and again granite (for some reason which I still cannot explain). Its tannins appeared already very soft. My summary on day one in short: playful, mostly fruit-driven, easy to access, a bit infantile and obviously very wet behind its ears. On day two pretty much same development like the one in my nose. Then much drier and less fruitful-sugary-sweet, more earthy and much more subtle. Still very accessible and not reluctant to perform on the tongue, however with a much broader pattern of flavours (red currant - not really getting too dark, a lot of juciy plums, soy sauce, thyme, mild whiff of iodine etc.). Even its density seemed a bit more convincing. It totally profited from a proper infusion of air. Let's make it short: for me in-between decent **** and very decent***** with a lot of likeable traits!

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