Above: Negroamaro grapes being harvested in Puglia.
In a post published earlier this week entitled “Negroamaro, a king often with no clothes,” Tuscan wine critic Carlo Macchi recounts his experience at a recent tasting of Negroamaro-based wines and quotes his colleague Paolo Costantini:
“The interpretations of Negroamaro-based wines… do not follow any guiding tenet. The hand of the producer undeniably counts more than the appellation or the grape variety. Absurdly, the best expressions of the appellation are the most technical, impeccably and perfectly dressed wines. But they are also distant and a bit cold. Handsome wines with little heart and little Salento. And many of them are glazed over with wood. The so-called ‘modern’ style.”
Macchi laments that the majority of wines he tasted were overly dense and that they lacked freshness. Heavy-handed use of new oak aging, high levels of alcohol and residual sugar, he writes, trump food-friendliness in many cases.
“Dear producers,” he exhorts, “the years when Cosimo Taurino took the American market to the cleaners are over. Today, we need wines that you can drink. Aromatic, elegant, delicious wines that taste like the south and not like wood.”
Winemaker Gianni Cantele’s response, posted in the comment thread to the post, follows.
Translations from the Italian by blogmaster Jeremy Parzen.
After reading your article, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you and your readers.
Without a doubt, Negroamaro is the most surly and difficult grape variety that we have here in Salento.
It’s not very generous: it never gives you anything for free and what it does give you, first in the vineyards and then in the cellar, is the fruit of hard work and tireless effort.
That’s not to say that life is easier with other grape varieties. But, beyond the current vintage, a late August harvest, naturally, allows you to secure the desired results thirty days before the Negroamaro harvest.
I can guarantee you that you’ll hear growers curse a lot less when they harvest at the end of August.
Having said that, I find that the criticism you quote from Constantini is spot on. The lack of consistency in the enological interpretation of Negroamaro cannot be explained solely with the word terroir.
The same thing happened for the Salice Salentino DOC (where Negroamaro is the main grape) before the advent of the over-arching monitoring of the appellation. On one hand, winemakers loathe the regulation because of its complexity and bureaucracy. But on the other hand, it’s also helped to “guide” everyone toward a more ethical application of the appellation’s rules.
The IGTs allow producers to exercise “free thought.” When tastemakers reward only wine with the same homogenous traits, the lack of consistency in varietal expression is screwed.
All of us winemakers should take greater responsibility in this. We’re always ready to come together and talk about how we can achieve “greatness.” But when it comes to taking action, our altruism goes out the window.
The “syrupy style” criticism is also and even more spot on. It’s been spoon-fed to consumers who have all but given up on elegance and drinkability in the wines they like.
But this isn’t just Negroamaro’s problem. Many of the highly rated wines from Puglia suffer from this, some of them with more than 7-8 grams per liter of residual sugar.
Ok, so the appellations regulations tell us that in such cases, we need to… What a pain in the ass!
In any case, your article takes a narrow view in an extremely diverse and rich panorama of winemakers. And you seem to overlook the fact that some producers are committed to making the wines from our appellation better.
I’m one of those producers. For me, Negroamaro represents a challenge with each vintage. Every year, I must sharpen the winemaking tools in my shed (even though, technically, I’m a “food science technician” by training, the term winemaker fits my job description). And I do so passionately and with a deep and unremitting sense of critical self-awareness.
I’m my own harshest critic. When I read about “impeccably and perfectly dressed” wines made with technology that makes them overly polished, I am reminded of conversations that I had at least ten years ago with American and European wine writers who found my wines to be lacking in the “classic rustic character” of Negroamaro.
Even back then, I was already monitoring the presence of volatile phenolics in every bottle I had in the cellar. I was pissed off and I would have people taste the wines that had the highest amounts. But then I would see a smile return to the tasters’ faces.
You can’t accuse me of being a producer who aims for the praise of wine magazines and guides. If that were the case, you’d also have to accuse me of being an idiot since I haven’t received any of these wonderful accolades in recent years.
I reluctantly send my wines to tastings. And it’s annoying: I wish that they were conducted blind using bottles purchased on the market and not sent ad hoc. Dignity in tasting is another question…
Carlo, when you’re ready to talk about what Negroamaro is in Salento and about what a not-so-young producer, with non-indigenous origins but with deep-seated roots in this magnificent land, thinks about it, I’ll be happy to welcome you here.
Luckily, I don’t have many casks with unbridled phenolics. Hot water, steam, and maniacal attention during aging have allowed me to make wines that taste less of “wet wool” or “wet duck,” as your American colleagues like to say, and more of Negroamaro.
But I’m afraid that for you and a few other Italian commentators, our wines will always be the “children of a lesser Brett.”