A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nero Buono - Lazio, Italy

I always know that I'm in for a fun post when The Oxford Companion to Wine doesn't have an entry on the grape that I'm trying to write about.  It doesn't happen often, but it does happen and I end up scrambling, trying to piece together various internet sources to come up with some interesting to say.

Today's grape is Nero Buono which, as hinted at above, is completely left out of the OCW.  Bastianich and Lynch's Vino Italiano has a very brief mention of the grape in their glossary at the end of the book, but the entire entry reads: "Used as a blending variety in DOCs such as Castelli Romani and Cori," which doesn't really give me a lot to work with.  To compound matters, most of the sources online that have any information about the grape at all are in Italian, a language that I have no talent in.  Thankfully, we live in a modern age and Google Translate is able to at least make some of the text coherent, so here we go.

Nero Buono's exact origins are unknown, but it is thought that the grape is native to the Lazio region of Italy.  The grape has something to do with a fifth Century Roman politician named Cincinnatus whose home was around the city of Cori, where most of the plantings of this grape can be found today.  It looks like there's a possibility that Cincinnatus is the one who may be responsible for bringing the grape to this region and cultivating it in this area, but it sounds like this may just be a legend with no historical record to back it up.  Whatever the truth actually is, a local co-op from the region called Cantina Cincinnato thought enough of the legend to use the politican's name in naming their group, and they are one of the largest wineries dedicated to this particular grape in the world.

The grape itself is known mostly for having good color and for adding structure to blends but until recently, it's suitability for creating varietal wines was questionable.  The only DOC that allows more than 50% Nero Buono in the blend is the Castelli Romani DOC just south of Rome where Nero Buono is permitted up to 100%.  Most bottlings you are likely to find, though, are going to be labeled as IGT wines since the town of Cori where most Nero Buono is grown falls outside of the Castelli Romani DOC zone.  In Cori, where the grape does best in the hills outside of the town at altitudes between 200 and 500 meters, the DOC regulations only permit 40% Nero Buono.

A few producers are finding that the grape has very good potential in making varietal wines so long as the grape is treated properly in the vineyard and in the winery.  The grape is somewhat surprisingly susceptible to rot and downy mildew given the thickness of its skins, so care must be taken in rainy vintages.  As is the case with so many grapes, keeping yields low is crucial to bringing out the best that Nero Buono has to offer.  Experiments with oak-aging are proving very successful as the flavors of the wine seem to have a natural affinity for the flavors of oak.  Since the wine isn't well known enough to command the kind of premium that 100% new-oak barrique aging would impose, many producers are making do with second-pass barrels that still have some oak flavoring to give.

Cantina Cincinnato has two bottlings of Nero Buono.  They have a wine simply called "Nero Buono" which is their higher end offering that seems to go for around $20 retail in markets where it is available.  The only bottling I was able to find was their 2008 "Pollùce" which I was able to pick up for about $11.  The wine is named for the divinely fathered Pollux of the Gemini twins who has a temple near the town of Cori.  In the glass, the wine had a medium purple-ruby color with aromas of stewed raspberry, red cherry and tart plums.  As the wine opens up, the aromas get a little cleaner and pick up a kind of waxy fruit character.  On the palate, the wine is on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity and low tannins.  Right out of the bottle, the flavors were predominantly of stewed red berries with a little plumminess and leathery earth.  As with the nose, as the wine opened up the flavor shifted to waxy black cherry fruit.  This is a wine that needs a little air to show its best so don't give up on it right away.  It's not a profoundly complex wine, but it's well made and the price is right on it at $11 a bottle.  It's one of those grapes where if you don't grab it when you see it, you may never see it again so give Nero Buono a shot if you get the chance.

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