On a recent trip to Puglia, Italy, I was fortunate to taste through the wines of tens of producers. There was the usual range of styles -- modern to traditional, blockbuster to table wine -- as well as a full range of varieties.

I was familiar with some of the wines and most of the grape varieties but only one really surprised me. First, a little bit of background is probably in order.


Puglia, the heel of Italy, has long been a source of bulk wines; wines destined for local consumption, jug wines, or wines known as vino da taglio (“wines to cut”),  which ironically were used to improve many more famous, more expensive wines from northern Italy. As the Italian wine industry has come under stricter control, this sort of blending has been greatly diminished, and officially doesn’t occur at all. So, what is Puglia to do?

With an annual wine production that vies for first place each year with the regions of Sicily and the Veneto it is painfully obvious that Puglia must do something. Internationally regions such as Chile and Australia have stolen market share from Puglia as they have produced modern, clean wines at budget prices, the traditional market segment for most Puglian wines.

This has left Puglia with two options, though they seem to be gravitating to only one. The producers of Puglia can either move up-market, or produce wines that can compete with the best value wines in the world. Sadly from what I have seen, the tendency seems to be to try the first option, though it became painfully obvious during my tastings that they are better equipped to pursue the second!

But first I should temper my comments a bit. The truth of the matter is that by going up-market most of these producers seem to have gone down the route that has rewarded many other producers and regions with fame, money, and success; chiefly reducing yields and increasing the new oak their wines see. To what result one might ask? In my view, the results are plain to see: a loss of identity among many of the wines and a distinct shift in the character of the wines towards a rather anonymous, international style.

Yes, it can be argued that this path has proven to be successful, but I would argue that the marketplace is full of wines of this type today and we are at a turning point in this road. People are no longer gravitating toward the bigger is better mocha-choco-blueberry shake-style of wines. This is not to say that no-one is doing modern high-end Puglian wines well. Quite the contrary. A few of the producers I tried shocked me with the quality of their wines, but it was for a simple reason: they captured the essence of their most valuable asset.



One of the reasons many international wines are indistinguishable from one another -- besides the lockstep approach to the use of cultivated yeast, similar barrels, identical techniques, and must that resemble jam more than juice by winemakers world-wide -- is their reliance on a small group of grape varieties. Puglia is blessed with several distinctive grape varieties, each capable of producing compelling wines but more importantly, each ideally suited to their regions for producing wonderfully engaging table wines! This is the second path for Puglia, and from what I’ve tasted and seen, the path with the greater chance of success.

Ironically, during my tastings, which included journalists as well as wine buyers, many producers were reluctant to pour their base wines for the journalists. As is often the case, the producers wanted to wow the journalists with special cuvees of “super” wines. What most producers seem to forget or overlook or be blissfully unaware of is that many journalists get to try wines from many regions, if not all over the world, and producers are always trying to wow us. So, where does that leave us? What are many, if not most, journalists looking for?

Well, it’s not to be wowed by winemaking prowess, but rather to be wowed by the unexpected, the unusual, the distinctive quality and unique character of a region. In Italy, this is pretty easy to accomplish as the country is blessed with the greatest collection of indigenous grape varieties on the planet.

Forgive me if I veered off and spoke for many when I speak only for one, but what I want are wines that speak of place with balance, drinkability, style, and value. Will these be the wines I score most highly? Perhaps not, but they are the wines I would want to drink and that is ultimately the point for the 95.9% of wines out there that are not destined to be trophies.

So, what were the wines that stood out the most for my palate? Among all the fine Aglianico, Primitivo, and Negroamaro-based wines (which will all be reviewed in upcoming articles), the wines made with the Nero di Troia (aka Uva di Troia) grape were the most interesting and appealing wines for my palate.

Many of these wines are not yet available in the U.S. so there’s an opportunity there for a smart importer or retailer. Several Nero di Troia wines that are available in the U.S. were not included in this tasting and I certainly recommend that interested readers seek examples out. At their best these wines are full of wild berry fruit with aromatic floral, spice and herb tones. The wines are generally well balanced with tannins that can be aggressive but rarely seem to be extreme.

Nero di Troia is fairly easy to pair with food. It’s pleasantly aromatic but not overpoweringly flavorful, perfect for matching with lamb, goat and game. The lighter-bodied versions make a fine partner for pasta dishes that are assertively flavored with olives, sharp cheeses, or dried meats.

Read all the Nero di Troia reviews on page 3



Santa Lucia
2007 Vigna del Melograno
Castel del Monte Nero di Troia
$16
Earthy on the nose, with assertive herbal top notes over a rich core of juniper-tinged wild blueberry fruit with nuanced medicinal and meat extract tones. Fresh and crisp in the mouth, and while this is rather tannic and even a bit astringent today it really is very well balanced with a pure feeling and fine delivery of savory and fruity elements right through the long finish. 92pts
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Cantina Ferri
2008 Oblivio Nero di Troia
$Not Available in the U.S. ($NA), $20 in Italy
Very perfumed with layered notes of pipe tobacco, wet dog, wild berries, spices and a hint of wood. Nice high acid on entry is followed by a tightly focused core of wild berry, lightly grapy fruit. There is a lot of tannin here but the wine remains fairly elegant and has good length. 91pts
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Tarantini Petrignana
2008 Nero di Troia
$NA
Funky on the nose with notes of leather, hot rocks, perfumed floral notes and some seedy spices. Big and rich in the mouth yet a bit rustic with slightly puckering tannins that accent the black cherry fruit. Really lovely with a freshness to the fruit and aromatic, gently spicy grace notes. 91pts
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La Marchese
2009 Donna Cecilia Negroamaro
$NA
Rich and almost sweet-smelling with floral fruit accented by rose stems and smoky, smoldering herb notes. Smooth and rich in the mouth with great freshness and tense, pure black plum and berry fruit. The tannins here are lively, round and succulent, driving the energetic finish. 91pts
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Antiche Aziende Canosine
2007 Khanus Uva di Troia
$NA
Reticent at first then slowly revealing layered notes of carob, menthol, clay soil and dried cherry. Smooth in the mouth with refined tannins yet a muscular style. There’s a lot of depth and power here, giving this an inky feel, all dense and opaque. The tannins build on the finish. An impressive wine but one without much detail or finesse. 90pts
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Antica Enotria
2007 Nero di Troia
$20
This has a hint of Band-Aid on the nose but there is also deep, wild blueberry and blackberry fruit topped with sweet licorice tones and a nice tarry overtone. Light and lively on entry with very clear, brisk, wild berry fruit. The tannins here are small-scaled but firm, adding a light bitter underlay to the aromatic, fresh, precise finish. 90pts
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Cefalicchio
2005 Romanico Canosa Riserva Nero di Troia
$30
Really very aromatic on the nose with a deep base of aromatic roots over which are layered notes of oily herbs, pressed flowers, violets and red berry, with top notes of anise and toasted nuttiness. Spicy on entry but then quickly turning sweet and broad in the mouth with woodsy, wild berry fruit, accented with a touch of espresso crema sweetness. The finish is tense and full of sweet fruit that lies over a base of mineral and earthy savory elements. 90pts
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Guiliani Raffaele
2007 Gravis Rosso Uva di Trioia
$NA
Earthy and spicy on the nose with violet undertones to the dried fruits character. Dusty tannins on entry add a touch of tactile chewiness to the mid-palate. The fruit is nicely fresh with good length and lovely purity. 90pts
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Conte Spagnoletti Zeuli
2007 Rinzacco Castel del Monte Nero di Troia
$NA, $15 in Italy
Very floral on the nose and quite intensely aromatic with fine ripe red berry fruits on the nose. Also quite aromatic in the mouth with particularly clear and fresh red plum and raspberry fruit delivered in a sweet, round, easy-to-appreciate style. 89pts
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Terre Federiciane
2008 Dragonara Nero di Troia
$NA
Spicy on the nose with a touch of dried tomato and good backing spice notes supporting slightly astringent red fruit notes. Very suave in the mouth with lovely balance to the wild cherry and soil-toned fruit. The finish is moderately long with fine balance and complicating notes of tomato and leather. 89pts
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Conte Spagnoletti Zeuli
2007 Vignagrande Nero di Troia
$NA, $15 in Italy
Very perfumed with floral and herb stem top notes over slightly wild berry and plum fruits. Juicy in the mouth with wild dark red fruits framed by gentle soil tones finishing with moderate length, revealing a touch of mouthgrabbing tannin. 88pts
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La Marchese
2008 Il Nerone
$NA
This is very spicy on the nose with tones of cigarbox, cedar, and wood toast. Remarkably light on the palate with fresh plum skin fruit and only modest wood tannins. A rather elegant wine with good length that lacks a little detail but is admirably fresh. 88pts
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Antiche Aziende Canosine
2007 Phatos
85% Uva di Troia, 15% Montepulciano
$NA, $15 in Italy
A touch green with a menthol top note over the beefy, toasty accented small berry fruits. Lots of tannin in the mouth but also rich with black cherry fruits that has a noticeable sweetness. Definitely a fruit bomb, though with nice muscular underpinnings. 87pts
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Marmo Maria
2007 Rosso Cocevola Nero di Troia
$NA, $15 in Italy
A subtle, refined nose with a base of cedary oak and soft black fruit notes. A bit of a sweet/sour battle happening on the palate, with woody tannins giving this a dry, structured feel. Certainly not fruit-driven and somewhat anonymous, though with nice black fruit emerging on the medium-length finish. 87pts
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Marmo Maria
2007 Vandalo Nero di Troia
$40
Big, sweet, spicy oak notes on the nose are joined by cigarbox notes. Nice, bright black fruits are framed in spicy oak that dominates the backend and leads to a short, drying finish. Well made but you have to love oak to like this wine. 87pts
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Terra Maiorum
2007 Quercus Nero di Troia
$NA
Aromatic with tea leaves accenting the candied, vanilla-sugar sweetened blueberry aromas. Quite refined in the mouth and full of dark fruits but a bit anonymous with a slightly sticky finish rich with sweet, toasty oak accents. 87pts
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Terra Maiorum
2007 Maiestatis Nero di Troia
$NA
Pretty aromas of dried herbs and grasses accent lovely, crisp, fresh, sweet black fruits with a nice creeping edge of barnyard. A bit acid-driven in the mouth lending nice nervous tension and while this is nicely aromatic it’s a bit ordinary. 86pts
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Marmo Maria
2005 Vandalo Nero di Troia
$40
Heavily marked by oak on the nose with cigarbox, smoke and wood spice aromas. Very refined in the mouth with wood tannins and a dry, short, vanilla-tinged finish. Not particularly flavorful, but stylish in a modern way. 86pts
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Botromagno
2007 Nero di Troia
$20
Very herbal on the nose with a medicinal quinine overtone. Quite polished in the mouth with sweet, deep fruit, and rather seamlessly structured but lacking a bit of complexity and detail. Comes off as rather workmanlike, getting the job done. 86pts
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Santa Lucia
2007 Le More Riserva Nero di Troia
$35
Toasty and spicy top notes on the nose cover gentle blackberry and blueberry tones.  Very refined in the mouth with some wood sweetness coming through early on. The mid-palate shows drying, woody tannins, which control the modest finish as well.  86pts
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Alberto Longo
2007 Citerna Nero di Troia
$15
Perfumed with gently stemmy olive and tomato leaf tones on the nose. Bright acids on entry support sweet dark red fruits. This is simple and yet offers up lovely perfumed fruit. Simple though honest and enjoyable. 86pts
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Villa Schinosa
2007 Nero di Troia
$15
Pretty aromatics feature lightly herbaceous, candied, herbal wild cherry fruit. Soft and easy in the mouth yet with enough acidity to remain juicy. A bit ordinary. 84pts
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Cantina Albea
2007 Lui Nero di Troia
$40
Not particularly aromatic with simple leathery aromas. Good acidity and soft tannins make this easy to drink, though the tannins turn a bit drying on the finish. The fruit is rather anonymous if easy. 83pts
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Alberto Longo
2007 Le Cruste Nero Di Troia
$25
Spicy, peppery and herbal on the nose with a certain similarity to Right Bank Bordeaux. Bright acids on entry are quickly subsumed in a sweetly spicy, rather chocolaty mid-palate. This is packed with drying wood tannin. There is some fruit here, but it’s struggling and losing the battle. 80pts
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