Posts Tagged ‘Taurasi’

Aglianico: Volcano in a Bottle

November 6, 2009

For the average wine consumer, Italy, with its twenty wine regions and scores of commercially grown grapes –mostvulture-blog little known and with hard to remember names- can be plain down befuddling. Even for those who have tasted Chianti, Valpolicella or Sangiovese, these are seldom first picks when they go wine shopping. Like in every other sphere of thought and culture, wine is full of stereotypes and myths, and –unfortunately- Italian wine is plagued with them. “They are too acidic”, say some. “I can’t stand the strong tannins”, complain others. “Only good with food”, is what most say.

The reality is that, even myself, used to be in one of the groups above, or in all of them. It takes tasting more than a few Italian wines to realize that the myths above are not only false; they come from perceptions born out of tasting one or two wines from one or two regions only. Many people never go beyond Chianti and Valpolicella, usually low quality versions served as house wines in restaurants. More adventurous consumers go for ITP blends. These, the Indicazione Geografica Tipica wines, are made from international varieties (Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah) sometimes blended with Italian ones, and can be just delicious, full bodied, powerful wines on their own right.

ITP wines have gained international recognition, but the heart of Italian wines resides in the indigenous varieties. Most of the well-known ones are grown in the north: Nebbiolo, found in Barolo and Barbaresco. Chianti’s Sangiovese or Valpolicella’s Corvina. But there is one variety that stands tall in the south: Aglianico. “The Nebbiolo of the south” as they call it, is like the true Nebbiolo, a grape that yields wines that can be big, sometimes massive.

The variety was taken to Southern Italy by the Greeks, although DNA analysis shows that its lineage cannot be traced to anything that is cultivated today in Greece. The name is believed to be a distortion of the word “Ellenico”, Italian word for Greek. Most Aglianico is cultivated in Basilicata (the region between the tip and heel of the Italian boot) and in Campania (the front side of the boot’s ankle). Some vineyards can be found in Molise and Puglia and, to a lesser extent, in Australia and California. In Basilicata the grape enjoys DOC (Denominazione d’Origine Controlatta) status, with the most prestigious wines coming from the volcanic soils around Mount Vulture. In Campania the grape has its own DOCG (Denominazione d’Origine Controlatta e Garantitta) based on the Taurasi appellation.

In the vineyard, Aglianico prefers volcanic soils, as mentioned above, and seems to benefit from relatively high altitude (400-500m). The dark skinned berries ripen incredibly late, a fact that has limited the quality of wines made from early harvesting. Aglianico wines, when well made, can deliver a powerful sensorial experience that rivals or bests that of most other big reds. An intense nose of tectonic force is a hallmark of good Aglianico. Chocolate, plum and spice are common. In the palate the combination of these flavours with the indomitable character of its tannins makes a lasting impression. Due to its high acidity and “ferocious tannins” (as described by Jancis Robinson) , Aglianico wines benefit from cellaring and will make the absolutely perfect match for grilled meats, roasted lamb and game.

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