A Marriage of Tradition and Innovation at Azienda Vinicola Rivera
Marriage is not always easy. Yet, Azienda Vinicola Rivera handles it with ease, as demonstrated in their production of Nero di Troia. I had the pleasure of visiting their winery and learning about their flagship grape when I was invited to serve as a judge for the 17th annual southern Italian wine competition, Radici del Sud, in Puglia. Radici del Sud underscores the food, wine and viticulture in southern Italy visible. Since 2005, Radici has given prominence to the indigenous wines and olive oils from Puglia, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Sicily, Molise, Sardinia and Abruzzo.
Azienda Vinicola Rivera
Azienda Vinicola Rivera S.p.A is located in the city and commune of Andria, in Puglia, which is also the home of the famous 13th-century Castello del Monte. Azienda Vinicola Rivera was founded by Sebastiano de Corato in the late 1940s. Vinicola Rivera is a name that is associated with quality wine-making, tradition and innovation. The name Rivera comes from the Abruzzese family who used to own the land. Of note is the fact that there were Abruzzese in the area, as this likely accounts for the presence of the Montepulciano grape in the region. Azienda Vinicola Rivera was founded by Sebastiano de Corato in the late 1940s, who appreciated the enormous viticultural potential of the Castel del Monte area.
Since the 1980’s, Sebastiano’s son Carlo has been a driving force for innovation both in the vineyard and in wine production. Today, the third generation of the family, represented by Carlo’s sons Sebastiano and Marco, continue the production of top quality wines that express the elegant character of their land and its native grape varieties.
In this area of central Puglia, the soils are typically limestone and calcareous from the Murge plateau. Although the soils tend to have poor structure, they yield wines that have good acidity and freshness. For this reason, Rivera tends to produce more white and rose wines, as opposed to reds. In terms of red wine, Nero di Troia is their flagship wine grape.
Nero di Troia
Nero di Troia is unequivocally connected with Puglia. In fact, it is the third most widely planted indigenous red grape in Puglia. Nero di Troia, which is planted mostly around the appellation of Castel del Monte, is a late-ripening grape, sometimes as late as October. It has thick skin, moderate acidity and is full of tannins. The grape is often used as a blending agent, although more and more wineries, like Rivera, are making single varietals. Nero di Troia is quite refined and elegant, and it has very good aging potential.
“A bridge, in the midst of the Mediterranean, between the east and the West. A land trod, over the centuries, by a vast range of peoples and cultures, whose heritage remains there in the testimony of art, language, and popular customs. Here is where the vine arrived, from nearby Greece. And from here spread the culture of wine, to all of Europe. And here, with the harvesting of each cluster, the fruits are gathered in of a many-centuried tradition of quality.”
Azienda Vinicola Rivera has maintained the wine-making tradition that was introduced by the Greeks and passed down generation after generation. Their winemaking philosophy involved in every step, along with their deep respect for natural processes, environmental and economic sustainability and continuous improvement in quality.
Azienda Vinicola Rivera is the first in the Castel del Monte DOC/G to produce single varietal Nero di Troia (in 2020). Since then, other wineries have followed suit.
When visiting, Marco explained, “We try to innovate the tradition.” Azienda Vinicola Rivera endeavors to maintain the tradition, while also incorporating new, innovative techniques. Their Puer Apuliae wine is a good example.
Puer Apuliae Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva DOCG definitely represents Rivera’s innovation. According to Rivera, “Puer Apuliae is the result of a viticultural and oenological project carried out by Rivera in the 90’s with the aim of re-defining the true value of Nero di Troia.” Puer Apuliae, which is Latin for Son of Puglia, is a single vineyard wine made from an almost forgotten small-berried clone of Nero di Troia. Rivera reselected and replanted in their poor calcareous soils and then followed-up with modern style winemaking and aging techniques. One such technique is delestage, which involves draining the skins in the vat and refilling with a delated pump-over during maceration and microoxygenation or slow inoculation of doses of oxygen to enhance the elegance of the wine and smooth out the tannins.
Rivera prefers elegant-style wines and wines that are drinkable, as opposed to wines that are overbearing. ‘Gastronomic wines’ are their philosophy.
The Wining Hour: Vertical Tasting of Rivera Il Falcone Rosso
The highlight of my visit was a vertical tasting of Rivera Il Falcone Rosso, their single varietal Nero di Troia. The guidelines for the Castel Del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG require a minimum of 65% Nero di Troia and other grapes, usually Montepulciano and Aglianico. The wines must also be aged for a minimum of two years with at least one year in wood. The name, Il Falcone, was chosen by Rivera to pay homage to Emperor Frederick II of Swabia who built Castel del Monte to indulge his passion for falconry. Il Falcone is Rivera’s signature wine. Each bottle of Rivera’s Il Falcone consists of a traditional blend of 70% Nero di Troia and 30% Montepulciano. After harvesting, the wine undergoes maceration in stainless steel for 15 days and is then aged for 14 months in only new French casks and barriques. The wine ages for another year in the bottle before being released, which enhances its elegance and complexity. Here’s what I tasted:
Il Falcone Castel Del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG 2016 This wine is powerful and intense, yet elegant with soft tannins. A multi-layered bouquet of red berry fruit, leather, tobacco and spice. 13.5% ABV
Il Falcone Castel Del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG 2011 Similar notes as the 2016. Elegant and firm, thick, refined tannins. Floral notes, aromas of red berries, herbs and spices. This wine is very much alive, rich and well balanced. 13.5% ABV
Il Falcone Castel Del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG 2005 Structured , firm tannins. The change in color demonstrates the wine’s evolution. 13.5% ABV
*Il Falcone Castel Del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG 1999 Ok….THIS was my favorite vintage! Absolutely delightful! While the nose is less pronounced, the palate is beautiful. Bramble fruit, stewed prunes, vanilla, black cherry. The Nero di Troia gives the wine character, while the Montepulciano contributes roundness. 13.5% ABV
Il Falcone Castel Del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG 1994 This vintage maintains its fruitiness and is yet another demonstration of Nero di Troia’s aging capability. 13.5% ABV
As noted, Il Falcone is Rivera’s signature or flagship wine and it has 40+ vintages–clearly a wine that stands the test of time. My vertical tasting of Il Falcone Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva was fantastic, and the bountiful spread that followed was lovely too!!
In addition to the vertical Nero di Troia, I was also able to taste a few of Rivera’s other wines, such as:
Marese Bombino Bianco Castel Del Monte DOC 2021
Pungirosa Castel Del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG 2021 (Rivera’s best seller)
Violante Nero di Troia Castel Del Monte DOC 2019
Puer Apuliae Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva DOCG (example of Rivera’s innovation).
It was truly a pleasure to become more acquainted with Puglia’s Nero di Troia via Rivera wines. Moreover, it was impressive to see how Azienda Vinicola Rivera seamlessly unites tradition and innovation.
Learn more about the Radici del Sud event and roots of the south https://discover.thewininghour.com/?s=radici+del+sud