In terms of vineyard area (approx. 1,800 hectares) Nero di Troia, also called Uva di Troia, is the third most important of Puglia’s native black grape vines after Negroamaro and Primitivo.
If Negroamaro, grown in the provinces of Brindisi and Lecce, is the most important of all the denominations of origin in the Salento and Primitivo identifies the labels produced in the province of Taranto, Nero di Troia has its ideal terroir in the province of Foggia and in the northern part of the province of Bari. This trio of black grape varieties express all the rich diversity of Puglia’s wine-growing sector.
The origins of Nero di Troia are uncertain, a mixture of sparse scientific data and plenty of legends. Its name provides the first clue, because it links to the legend of how fugitives from the destruction of Homer’s mythical city of Troy, led by the Greek hero Diomedes, landed on the banks of the River Ofanto on the Tavoliere plain.
Alfonso Germinario, agricultural historian, tells how “the exiled hero sailed across the Adriatic and up the Ofanto. Here he found an ideal place, and anchored his ship using blocks of stone from the walls of Troy which he had brought with him. He also used the same blocks to mark the boundaries of the Diomedean fields. One of these is still to be seen between Barletta and Canosa, and is known as the Menhir of Canne. The Greek hero probably brought with him as a reminder… those vine shoots which, planted on the Ofanto, lie at the origins of Uva di Troia”.
This is the legend and like all legends it contains some elements of truth. It now seems certain, as ascertained by wine researchers like Prof. Attilio Scienza of Milan University, that the vine originated in the Adriatic area. Analysis of “haplotype” frequency has revealed that Nero di Troia is genetically close to a group of varieties belonging to the Adriatic cultural area. Even its name may have originated from the Albanian city of Cruja, locally translated as “Troy”.
Vine and wine characteristics
Due to incorrect propagation methods, aimed above all at obtaining high yields per hectare, there is a great deal of variability in Nero di Troia’s ampelographic features. In the vineyards two main expressions of this variety exist, which cannot be defined as clones because of the absence of research: the more widespread “ruvese” with large berries and a tighter fruit cluster was preferred in the past for its high yields per hectare, whereas “canosina” with smaller berries and looser clusters is probably the older version of the variety, less productive and nowadays less common. However, it is “canosina” which receives more attention from research aimed at producing wines of a higher quality.
In terms of development (growth process) the variety can be defined as late, especially in relation to the ripening of the grapes (from mid- to late October). This differentiates Nero di Troia from Puglia’s two other black grape varieties - Negroamaro and especially Primitivo - which ripen decidedly earlier (Primitivo at the end of August and Negroamaro in mid-September).
Nero di Troia wine has a lively colour and an elegantly fresh bouquet with typical hints of violets; it is not particularly acidic on the palate, but is rich in polyphenols and especially tannins, which may become overpowering if the wine comes from grapes which are not perfectly ripe. The small-berry variety has a high ratio of skin to flesh and the grapes themselves are fleshier. This allows a later harvest and a more complete ripening process for the grapes, with the consequence that its wines have a more intense colour and softer tannins.
Optimum conditions are difficult to find in a normal vineyard, and this is why Nero di Troia’s typical astringency has traditionally been attenuated by blending it with other varieties. This is reflected in all the Dop regulations from the central northern area of Puglia which use Nero di Troia. The traditional Castel del Monte Dop wines use Montepulciano to soften the rough edges of Nero di Troia, and in old vineyards it was common to plant a row of Montepulciano after every three rows of Nero di Troia. The ratio of Nero di Troia to Montepulciano is traditionally weighted in favour of the latter if the aim is to produce smoother wines which are ready to drink earlier.
Other Dop labels which use Nero di Troia blended with local and other varieties are Rosso Barletta, Rosso Cerignola and Rosso Canosa, Cacc'e Mitte di Lucera, and Orta Nova. Nero di Troia is also used in the Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva Docg and Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva Docg.
In the last 12-14 years there has been a move towards producing wines from unblended Nero di Troia, without any support from Montepulciano and well able to give full expression to its own varietal characteristics.
Besides the mono-varietal wines, the most recent developments in vinification include other versions of Nero di Troia as rosé or even white wines. In addition, this variety also confers considerable fineness and freshness on wines containing Primitivo and Negroamaro, a further confirmation of its incredible qualities as a blending grape.
Nero di Troia has an elegant bouquet of cherry, blackcurrant, black pepper, tobacco, and greenery, and a strikingly silky feel on the palate, containing plenty of well-balanced acidity and noticeable but refined tannins.
The recuperation of the smaller variety of Nero di Troia and use of wine-making methods aimed at exalting fruitiness and softening tannins seem to point in the right direction for a rediscovery of this variety.
Today, its elegance makes Nero di Troia an outstanding variety, whether as a young wine, a blended wine or a wine which is suitable for aging.
Nero di Troia has given an important contribution to development of the Castel del Monte area of Puglia. In addition, the rediscovery of Nero di Troia and its territory has also drawn attention to other lesser known native varieties like Bombino Bianco and Bombino Nero, both long underrated although they produce delightful wines.