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.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Uva di Troia (Nero di Troia) - Castel del Monte, Puglia, Italy

You might be inclined, upon seeing the name of today's grape, to assume that it has something to do with the ancient city of Troy.  "Troia" is right there in the name, you might say, so there must be some connection between the two.  While you wouldn't be alone in thinking that, you also wouldn't be correct.  It seems to happen a lot in the wine world (and beyond) that someone takes a quick look at a word and uses their intuition to come up with an explanation for it rather than doing any research.  In actuality, the name of the grape most likely comes from a town named Troia in Puglia which is west of the town of Foggia in the northern part of the region, which isn't nearly as exciting as a reference to the ancient city of Troy, but sometimes facts can be pretty boring.

It is thought that Uva di Troia came to Puglia via Greece several thousand years ago.  The name of the game in Puglia has traditionally been high volume bulk wine production so over the years growers would select certain vines that had larger grapes with more clusters to replant in their vineyards in order to increase the amount of juice that each vine could produce.  This kind of clonal selection in the field has result in a handful of distinctive clonal variants that differ primarily in the size of the grape and the compactness of the bunches.  As you might expect, those clones with very large berries tends to produce inferior wine.  The obvious reason is that the juice is less concentrated on these vines and the wine is dilute and lacking in flavor.  The less obvious reason is that Uva di Troia has a tendency for its bunches to ripen unevenly and the larger berries of certain clones cause the bunches to be more compact, making it difficult for some of the grapes closer to the center of the bunch to ripen completely since they are shielded from the sun.  These underripe grapes are tossed into the fermentation vat along with everything else where they contribute harsh tannins and acid to the finished wine.  Clonal variants with looser clusters and smaller berries are generally preferred for quality production, as the juice is more concentrated and the berries ripen more evenly and completely, making for a less harsh wine.

The grape is somewhat noteworthy for just how average it is across the board when you look at its viticultural characteristics.  It's fairly resistant to a wide variety of diseases, it yields fairly abundantly (depending on which clone is planted) and it isn't prone to dropping clusters or berries during the growing season.  It tolerates the heat of Puglia fairly well and while it's a fairly late ripener, that's not a big problem in the warm, dry Puglian climate.  Increasingly, however, plantings of Uva di Troia are on the decline.  It seems that Uva di Troia isn't quite as user friendly as the other Puglian stand-bys, Negroamaro and Primitivo, either in the vineyard, the winery or the marketplace.  Further, the DOC regulations for the most important region for Uva di Troia, Castel del Monte, are set up in such a way that use of the grape in the DOC wine isn't necessary.  The regulations stipulate that the wine must contain Uva di Troia and/or Aglianico and/or Montepulciano with up to 35% of non-aromatic red grapes added.  What that means is that a red wine from Castel del Monte can be 100% Uva di Troia, 100% Aglianico, 100% Montepulciano or any blend of the three grapes with over 1/3 of the blend allowed to come from virtually any other red grape.  There are a handful of other DOC regions that have Uva di Troia as the primary grape, but Castel del Monte is by far the most important economically and since there is no incentive for growers or winemakers to use the grape, many are moving away from it to the more recognizable Aglianico and Montepulciano grapes.

Fortunately, there are still some wines made from the Uva di Troia grape.  The Rivera winery is one of them and I was able to pick up a bottle of their 2003 "Il Falcone" bottling for about $33.  The wine is 70% Uva di Troia (called Nero di Troia by them, and supposedly made up of three different clones) and 30% Montepulciano.  The wine is from the Castel del Monte DOC, which is named for an octagonal castle in the area that was built by Frederick II in the 12th Century.  Frederick was apparently a big fan of hunting with Falcons, which is how "Il Falcone" got its name. In the glass the wine was a very deep purple-ruby color that was  opaque nearly all the way out to the rim.  The nose on the wine was very reserved with purple fruit that had a blackcurrant character to it with a hint of smoke.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with medium acidity and medium tannins.  There were flavors of ripe black cherry and blackberry fruits with smoke, leather, tobacco, cocoa and cassis.  This is a dark and brooding wine with ripe fruit flavors that are held in check by the rich, earthy flavors.  This is very well balanced, very deep and very interesting.  It's hard to call a $30 bottle of wine a value, but if I had paid $50 for this wine, I still would have felt like I got my money's worth out of it.  It's a really fascinating, deep, complex wine that would be an ideal companion for game or grilled meats.  It's probably as good as Uva di Troia gets so if you happen to run across it, definitely give it a shot.

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