My research into the origins of the enonym Negroamaro delivered a small miracle this morning: Notizie e studi intorno ai vini ed alle uve d’Italia (Wines and Grapes of Italy: News and Studies), a census of Italian wines and grape varieties commissioned by the Italian government (then a monarchy) in 1896, when Italy was in its fourth decade of unification.
According to the report, which spanned the five years previous in its scope, Negroamaro was the most widely planted grape in Lecce province at the turn of the century.
- The principal grape varieties most widely cultivated are the following: Negro amaro, which is also called Nero amaro or Nigro amaro in Lecce… In order of importance, the following red grapes are also grown there: Zuzumaniello or Cucciumanniello, Malvasia nera, Nero dolce, Primativo di Gioia, Uva di Troia, Zagarese, and Aleatico…
- In terms of production, the province of Lecce ranks third in the Kingdom, close behind Bari, with Alessandria [Piedmont] the biggest producer.
This is the earliest contingent mention of Negroamaro and “Negro dolce” (sweet black) in Italian that I have been able to find.
And it would seem to align with my theory that Negroamaro was so named because it was perceived as a grape that produced a bitter black [red] wine, in other words, a non-sweet wine, at a time when wines were predominantly made in a sweet style.
With two instances of the grapes listed together, both published within a span of six years on either side of the Atlantic, I am more confident than ever that my theory is correct.