By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 15 September 2018

Super-charged lush ripe fruit with damson, sour cherries, liquorice and dried herb flavours.  This is a common descriptor of Puglia’s little known but impressive Nero di Troia grape – which has consistently stolen the show at our tastings.

Think of Puglia and better known Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes come to mind, which thrive in Brindisi, Lecce and Taranto areas of the Salento peninsula in the south.  Up in the northern part of Bari and in northerly Foggia, it is Nero di Troia that dominates.

It is a grape steeped in legend.  Some say that after defeating the city of Troy in ancient Greece with his Trojan horse, Diomedes travelled to northern Apulia in southern Italy where he sailed up the Ofanto river and founded Troia in Foggia province.  He apparently planted vine cuttings brought with him from Greece, just outside the city walls, where it still thrives today.

Grape geneticist Jose Vouillamoz discounts the Diomedes theory, but suggests Nero di Troia was introduced by the Greeks from Asia Minor instead.  Professor Attilio Scienza of Milan University believes it could have come just across the Adriatic from the city of Cruja in Albania, whose name would have been Italianised as Troia.  Analysis has shown it to be genetically similar to a group of Albanian cultivars.

What is certain is that it was known as Uva di Troia, but recently changed its name due to the popularity of Sicily’s similarily-named Nero d’Avola – which incidentally is a very different grape.  Today Puglia has 1,800 hectares of Nero di Troia spread from Bari, Andria, Barletta to Cerignola, with a tiny amount found outside the region in Benevento in Campania where it is called Summariello. 

I have never encountered this black grape outside Italy, but with Nero di Troia’s recent fame, it is highly likely to attract prospective New World growers in South Australia or Argentina looking for a high quality flavourful grapes which can retain acidity well in hot dry conditions.

One of the down sides to Nero di Troia is its hefty tannins with its high skin to juice ratio.  Wines can be firmer, more structured and more powerful than the sweeter tasting early ripening Primitivo or Negroamaro.  Being such a late ripening grape, often picked in October, some growers are now leaving their Nero di Troia grapes to partially dry on the vines.  This adds a raisiny glycerol quality, not dissimilar to Amarone, which adds a silky velvety luscious mouthfeel.

In more traditional blends like Puglia’s Castel del Monte, growers add Montepulciano to soften the grippy tannins of Nero di Troia.  It is often blended alongside Primitivo or Negroamaro, with Nero adding a freshness with black pepper and tobacco notes particularly if it has been grown on higher altitude vineyards.  Nero also plays a dominant role in Rosso Canosa, Rosso Barletta and Rosso di Cerignola blends.

Professor Luigi Moio of Naples University, who has been studying Nero di Troia, believes that Puglia’s growers are now reducing yields to get smaller berries and better quality fruit.  Nero’s less attractive herbaceous greener flavours have also disappeared as grapes are now picked little by little as they ripen, rather than all being picked at the same time as they were in the past.

Single varietal Nero di Troia is on the rise again, but there are still barely a dozen examples in the UK.  With Puglia now such a popular tourist destination, it is more likely that travellers will encounter them in situ.  Other local producers to look for known for high quality Nero di Troia are Alberto Lungo, Rivera, Zagaria, Rasciatano and Santa Lucia.


Maree d’Ione Nero di Troia 2016  (13.5%)   ***STAR BUY***
(£8.79 Waitrose)
Very plummy aroma with soft lush generously fruity palate with hints of cinnamon, spice and tobacco, very soft tannins and rounded finish.  The most approachable example in our tasting.  Organic too.  Easy to drink on its own, but better served with grilled steak or spicy barbequed sausages.

Corsiero Nero di Troia 2016  (13%)
Starts well with interesting violet, mulled spice and damson aromas.  Initially complex palate, but finish is quite tannic.  A more structured leathery example of the grape – would suit serving with mature parmigiano cheese or game casserole.

Purosangue Corsiero Nero di Troia 2016  (13.5%)
A step up from the standard Corsiero wine.  This has super-charged fruit, smoky, rich cherry flavours, dense spice, dark bitter chocolate – as exotic and powerful as a Lebanese.  Not for the faint hearted, suit those who really like really hefty reds, tasting heavier than its alcohol level.

Canace Nero di Troia 2014 Cantina Diomede  (13.5%)   ***STAR BUY***
(£19.99-£23.99 Luvians, St Andrews; Valvona & Crolla, Edinburgh; Fine Wine Co Musselburgh)
With dried grapes added to the blend here, the result is delicious rich raisiny with a glycerol feel.  Black fruited dense sweet powerful red with coffee, liquorice notes and a luscious mouthfeel  – just a gorgeous wine which is always a winner at tastings.  Made from 85% Nero di Troia with 15% Aglianico grown on calcareous soils near Canosa in north central Puglia and matured for 12 months in French oak. 

Join Rose’s Tuscany v Puglia wine & charcuterie tastings on Friday 12 October in The Scores Hotel, St Andrews and on Friday 9 November at Abode Hotel, Glasgow from £40

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