Ep 399: Basilicata, Italy and the Wines of Aglianico del Vulture - Wine For Normal People
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Ep 399: Basilicata, Italy and the Wines of Aglianico del Vulture

Ep 399: Basilicata, Italy and the Wines of Aglianico del Vulture

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Basilicata is a tiny region that represents the arch of the Italy’s boot -the small area that borders Calabria in the west, Puglia in the east, Campania in the north and the Gulf of Taranto in the south.

In this, Italy’s 3rd least populous region, wine has been made for thousands of years but today, what remains is just 2,006 ha/5,000 acres of vineyards, which is 0.15% of Italy’s total wine production. Of the 2% that is DOC wine, there is a shining star – a wine that can rival the best of the best in all of Italy – Aglianico del Vulture (ahl-LYAh-nee-koh del VOOL-too-ray). In this show we discuss the background of this southern Italian region and discuss the jewel in its crown.

 

 

Here are the show notes…

We first discuss the location and land of Basilicata

In the southern Apennines, Basilicata is the most mountainous region in the south of Italy. 47% is covered by mountains, 45% is hilly, and only 8% is plains. The west is the hillier area, the east runs into flatter land into Puglia. There is a small stretch of coastline between Campania and Calabria and a longer one along the Gulf of Taranto, between Puglia and Calabria.

Photo: Getty Images

We do a good look at the history of Basilicata, but the highlights are:

  • People (or really ancestors of modern people) have inhabited the area since Paleolithic times. Matera is considered one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world. Its Sassi district, which has now become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has caves on a rocky hillside that were inhabited by people as far back as the Paleolithic times.
  • Greeks settled in Basilicata from at least the 8th c BCE and likely brought Aglianico with them.
  • Basilicata has been conquered by nearly everyone who paraded through southern Italy over the centuries.
  • In the 1970s and 80s there was a renaissance in wine in Basilicata but it didn’t last. Today, there is renewed hope and investments, as a new generation of winemakers takes over their family domaines, establishes new properties and combines traditional and modern winemaking to make excellent wines.

 

We mention several DOCs of Basilicata:

Photo of Matera: Getty Images

Matera DOC was granted in 2005

  • It is 50 ha / 124 acres, and produces about 11,200 cases per year
  • REDS: Matera Primitivo (90%+ Primitivo/Zinfandel grape), Matera Rosso (at least 60% Sangiovese and 30% Primitivo), and Matera Moro, (a minimum of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Primitivo and 10% Merlot). There are basic and Riserva levels
  • Whites: Matera Greco (85%+ Greco), Matera Bianco (minimum of 85% Malvasia Bianca di Basilicata)
  • There is also spumante (sparkling) made in the Champagne method

 

Grottino di Roccanova DOC was granted in 2009

  • 8 ha / 20 acres, and producers about 3,000 cases per year
  • White/Bianco (Minimum of 80% Malvasia Bianca di Basilicata)
  • Red/Rosso: Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignino, Malvasia Nera di Basilicata, Montepulciano

 

Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri DOC was granted in 2003.

  • At 11 ha / 27 acres, the area makes a mere 3,840 cases a year. Vineyards can be no higher than 800 m/ 2,625 ft
  • Red/Rosato: Rosso (Minimum 50% Merlot; minimum 30% Cabernet Sauvignon; maximum 20% other red grapes). Riserva and regular versions

Photo: Getty Images, Val d’Agri

 

We spend the rest of the show discussing  Aglianico del Vulture DOC/DOCG, which is 25% of Basilicata’s total production

Vulture’s land…

Vulture is an extinct volcano that was last active about 130,000 years ago. It is 56 km/35 miles north of Potenza at an altitude of 1,326m/4,350 ft, close to borders with Puglia and Campania. Woods surround the area and the top of the slope has more volcanic soils and lower lying vineyards have more mixed, colluvial, and clay soils. The elevations are specified by the DOC – too low or too high and you won’t get great flavor development or quality wine, so the range is 200-700 m/660 -2300 ft. The variety of soils, elevations and exposures mean that there are different styles of Aglianico del Vulture.


Photo: Getty Images

Vulture’s climate…

Vulture is continental in climate and it has lower average daily temperatures than Sicily or Tuscany. There are cool breezes that sweep in from the Adriatic, cooling the area and preventing humidity. Elevation also keeps things cooler, especially at night, which means the grapes experience a long growing season, building flavor in the hot sun during the day, and cooling at night to hoard acidity.  The rain shadow of Mount Vulture also keeps the weather cool and dry.  That said, in some years the drought is fierce, grapes can get sunburned, the tannins can be tough, and the wine can be overly alcoholic.

 

 

Characteristics of Aglianico del Vulture

Aglianico is a thick-skinned grape that needs mineral-rich soils with clay and limestone (like what is on Vulture). It can be overcropped, so careful tending to the grapes leads to better results (this is kind of a dumb thing to say, since that’s the case with all grapes, but I’m putting it out there anyway!).

 

Flavors range in Aglianico del Vulture. Younger wines are high in tannins and acidity, with black cherry, chocolate, flowers, minerals, dark-fruit, and shrubby, forest notes. With a few years (5 or more), you may get nuances of Earl gray tea, black tea, licorice, earth, tar, spice, and violets. The tannins calm with age, but the acidity remains – with age (7-10 years) these wines are pretty impressive. We discuss the fact that there are some lighter styles and some savory, complex ones, but most are minerally with tannin in some form.

Photo of Aglianico: Getty Images 

Aglianico del Vulture was made a DOC in 1971

  • It is 520/1,284 acres, and it’s average production is 235,000 cases
  • The wine is red or spumante – all is 100% Aglianico (the sparkling must be made in the Champagne method). Reds are required to be aged for 9-10 months in a vessel of the producer’s choice before release (oak isn’t required). Spumante must rest for 9 months on the lees.

Photo: Monte Vulture, Getty Images

Aglianico del Vulture Superiore DOCG/ Riserva Superiore DOCG was created in 2010.

  • It is within the Aglianico del Vulture DOC but is only 89 ha/220 acres
  • Production is much smaller, at 6,670 cases.
  • The wine is 100% Aglianico.
  • Superiore is required to spend 12 months in oak, 12 months in a bottle, cannot be sold until at least three years after harvest.
  • Superiore Riserva spends 24 months in oak, 12 in bottle, and cannot be released until at least 5 years after harvest.
  • Both categories must reach a minimum of 13.5% ABV (basically a guarantee that the grapes are ripe!)

 

 

In the show we discuss the food of Basilicata and mention a few specialties:

M.C. Ice was surprised that in this area, bread crumbs were a cheese substitute, sprinkled over pasta, meat, and vegetables. Horseradish is common here, along with Italian hot peppers, beans, pork sausage, and the famed bread of Matera, which is a Protected Georgraphical Indication and uses wheat grown locally and a yeast infused with fruit.

 

 

Producers are vital to getting a quality wine. This is my list…

  • D’Angelo (Split into D’Angelo and Donato D’Angelo recently, and each is good)
  • Paternoster (recently sold to Veneto’s Tommasi family)
  • Cantine del Notaio
  • Elena Fucci
  • Terre degli Svevi /Re Manfredi
  • Grifalco
  • Eubea and Basilisco (both small-production bottlings)
  • Bisceglia (we were drinking the 2018 Terre di Vulcano, which was about $18)

DOC wines are around US$20/GBP£15, DOCG wines are more like US$45/GBP£43.

 

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Some interesting sources I used for this show:

Check out this episode!

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