NV Prima Materia Negroamaro, Red Hills, Lake County, California (750 ml)

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One of the real joys of our role as purveyors of fine wines is the hunt for distinctive and compelling selections from producers flying well under the radar. Pietro Buttita and his artisan label Prima Materia are a fine example of where this search can lead. Prima Materia draws on a 12-acre assortment of interesting grape varieties – mostly Italian – planted by Pietro’s father Nick in 2001 on red volcanic soils on the Kelsey Bench, an AVA (American Viticultural Area) 1500 feet above Clear Lake and the small town of Kelseyville in Lake County. The vineyard also supplies grapes for Nick’s label, Rosa d’Oro. This AVA is actually at the far northern end of the Mayacamas Range that separates Napa and Sonoma counties further south. Pietro’s own background includes “two decades spent in vineyards, wineries, and cooking in restaurant kitchens that ranged from Michelin-starred to hamburger consulting.” There are, according to Pietro, less than 20 acres of Negroamaro in all of California. The variety is most widely planted in southern Italy, particularly in the Salento peninsula of Puglia. It is sometimes blended there with Primitivo (aka Zinfandel). Prima Materia’s Negroamaro is a blend of the 2016-2017 vintages. Pietro’s approach to winemaking is, in a word, minimalist. The grapes were hand-harvested, fermented gently in small tank and basket pressed. Aging was in older French and Hungarian oak barrels. No sulphur was added until bottling, and the wine was neither fined nor filtered. A mere 192 cases were made. The finished wine is rich and satisfying, with deep berry and dark cherry fruit, slightly dusty tannins and a trace of mocha on the finish. Southern Italian Negroamaro often has a sunbaked earth character that some would describe as overripe. The Buttita’s avoid this by encouraging “California Sprawl” in the vineyard, a technique that encourages a large leaf canopy over the vines thus shading the fruit from the intensity of the sun during the hottest part of the day. Pietro recently opened a tasting room in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland; it is a great visit if you are in the area and worth a trip if you are not.

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