A Special Italian Wine “Nero Di Troia”
Federico II serves as our protector and guide as we drive a vintage Lancia Zagato through northern Puglia. The primary aim of our visit was to explore the wine that Federico II favored, a special Italian wine, Nero di Troia. As an accomplished astronomer, agricultural manager, talented politician, exceptional architect, writer, as well as a falconer, Federico II was a remarkably diverse individual in his skill sets.
He was the King of both Sicily and Jerusalem, and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He was also the Duke of Sweden. His formal family consisted of 13 children from seven wives, as well as six more children from six other women. He would enjoy drinking the full-bodied wine from Troia.
Federico II and Puglia
Puglia, a region nestled in the “heel of Italy’s boot,” still carries the spirit of Federico II after almost 800 years. During our trip to Puglia, we noticed that everyone we met mentioned him as if he still lived around the corner. Currently, the ancient celeb has become an influencer in this arid land of water, wind, and sunlight.
It is a treat to drive our white 1971 Lancia Zagato rental through the country roads of the Alta Murgia just south of Barletta. We relished the warm breeze that blew across our hair during the summertime and filled our lungs with wild sage. Even the air of this area smelt of a deeply rooted Greek-Albanian history.
We started our trip in Montegrosso, a sleepy town in the Murgia countryside. At a restaurant called Antichi Sapori, we meet the chef and forager Pietro Zito. Zito is known as the ‘kilometer zero‘ chef. Visiting Puglia is like traveling to 100 different places with 100 unique realities. We were only 20 km from the sea in the Alta Murgia, an entirely different landscape with various foods.
During a meal, Zito told us a story that Federico II had two chefs who served him good food—a German and a Puglia. It is believed that Federico II had a penchant for Pugliese cuisine. Immediately prior to the Pugliese chef’s death, the German chef asked him, ‘What makes your dishes taste better than mine?’ His final response was ‘extra virgin olive oil.‘ In addition, he would always cook his food with the local olive oil. More importantly, he served Nero di Troia wine from his land, which we still consume today.
On a rocky peak close to the wild vegetable gardens of Pietro, lies the imposing Castel del Monte, in the center of the Murgia National Park. This fantastic work of Federico II has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. It harmonious blend of Oriental Islamic, classical, medieval, and north European Cistercian Gothic elements. A marvelous example of mathematical and astronomical rigor, its intricate design has long fascinated scholars.
The road took us back to the coastal town of Trani, where we met with a famous enologist, Cristoforo Pastore. Pastore works with a few different, nearby winemakers. He poured a glass of Nero di Troia for us as we sat at a bar overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
While sipping, he speculated that the wine’s name was derived from an ancient Greek city or that it was a deformed version of the name Croia (or Krujë), the former Albanian capital. Many historical documents show that in early Roman times, Puglia and Albania had very close ties. Through the exchange of goods, people and culture, Troia vines came to Albania.
Based on our experience, we concluded that the fragrance of the wild succulents and herbs in your glass of wine would evoke the breezes that you encounter while driving through the arid countryside. Moreover, you will likely taste a burst of red fruit balanced by just a touch of black pepper. In general, Puglia’s multisensory liquid will invariably stimulate your senses.
The Secret to Longevity
According to Cristoforo, Federico II cultivated wine near the town of Troia. It was a village with a Romanesque cathedral that featured a magnificent facade and rose windows. Subsequently, he discussed the health benefits of Nero di Troia, which contained enormous levels of resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant and anti-cancer substance. Many people still believe that Nero di Troia is a healthy elixir. The belief is that people who consume Nero di Troia will live for more than 100 years.
Based on most studies, the average life expectancy during the year 1200 was about 35. However, Frederick II survived until the age of 56. Hence, it implies that he lived 60% longer than most of his contemporaries. What is the secret behind Frederick II’s longevity?
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