In this show, we cover Aglianico – the best red grape you may have never heard of. Widely considered one of Italy’s top three red grapes with Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, many consider the wines of Aglianico some of the world’s top bottles too. That said, because Aglianico is a grape of the more obscure regions in southern Italy (Campania and Basilicata, mainly), the wine hasn’t gotten its due. It is much less expensive than top Barolos and Barbarescos or Chiantis and Brunellos – although it is slowly catching up. It is a grape well-suited to warm Mediterranean climates, and for the changing climates of once cooler growing areas like regions of California and Australia. Aglianico is historic, yet modern and there has never been a better time to get acquainted with the wines of this beautiful grape.
Source: Taub Family Selections, Mastroberardino Page
Here are the show notes:
We cover the history of the grape and discuss possible origins.
- Aglianico is considered to be one of Italy’s oldest grapes and it was always thought to be an import from the Greeks who colonized Campania and other parts of southern Italy. Today, Attilio Scienza, the foremost Italian grape scientist, has changed that theory. He believes the grape is native to southern Italy and the name is related to the Spanish word for plains “llano” (ll=gli, both sounds like y sound in canyon). The grape may have been domesticated from grapes growing on the plains
- We discuss how the grape was nearly extinct after phylloxera, and how Antonio Mastroberardino – preserved and propagated Aglianico to make one of the best red wines in Italian history – the 1968 Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva.
- The D’Angelo family revived Aglianico around Monte Vulture in Basilicata around the same time.
- The success of these two families on the world stage, encouraged others to start making wines from Aglianico, and today there are many great examples of wines from the grape
Photo: 1968 Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva, widely considered one of Italy’s best wines
- Aglianico produces medium to small, compact bunches. The individual berries are small, round, and dark blue-black with quite thick skins.
- The grape requires a long, warm growing season with a warm fall to fully develop flavors and calm tannins and acidity. It is early budding and late ripening. Overly cool or overly hot conditions don’t do good things for the grape. Aglianico is one of the latest harvests in Italy, with Vulture often starting harvest in mid to late November
- According to Ian d’Agata, the top English-speaking writer on Italian wine, Aglianico has three biotypes (variations of the same grape, but not different enough to be clones):
- Taurasi, with small berries, less vigorous, and sensitivity to spring weather that may reduce the harvest
- Taburno (also called Aglianico Amaro — but not because it’s amaro /bitter, rather because it’s higher in acidity) is less fertile with big bunches. It is earlier ripening, with higher alcohol and higher acidity
- del Vulture is most intensely flavored biotype, with strong fruit aromas and flavors, and it seems to have fewer viticultural issues
- The grape also has clones, the most popular of which are used to create bolder, darker wines
- Aglianico prefers volcanic soils. The Campania DOCGs are on extinct volcanoes or have influence from nearby Vesuvius. The volcanic activity makes these soils rich in nutrients, well-drained, and very complex.
- The grape loves elevation and it thrives in spots where other grapes can’t ripen. Although Aglianico needs dry climates with abundant sun, it must have diurnal temperature swings at night so it can retain its acidity and build flavor slowly
Photo: Mastroberardino’s Aglianico vineyards
Source: Taub Family Selections, Mastroberardino Page
- Generally, Aglianico has the following characteristics:
- Very high acidity and tannin. Floral (red roses), red fruit (sour cherries), plum (esp. from Vulture), leather and herbs (esp. from Taburno), smoke, and mineral notes. The wines are always savory. It is capable of long aging. Regardless of where the grape grows, these characteristics seem to be present.
- Some styles are lighter and more floral with higher acidity, while others are deep, earthy, fuller, and complex with tobacco, licorice, iron ore, and coffee notes.
- Aglianico needs age. It can be tough in its youth, with harsh tannin and acidity, since the grape has naturally high tartaric acid
- IGT wines – blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot or other native grapes
- Passito: Similar to Amarone from Veneto, these wines are made from partially dehydrated grapes. This style is very rare
- Sparkling: Made in the IGP classification. These wines often display red cherry, strawberries, and spice flavors and aromas
- The grape is almost exclusively in southern Italy, mostly in Campania in the provinces of Avellino, Benevento, Sannio, and Caserta. In Basilicata, wines are mainly made around Potenza and Matera. All these areas are in cool, dry, sunny spots in the mountains
The three main areas for high quality Aglianico in Italy are:
Taurasi (1993 DOCG), which is near Avellino, is mountainous and therefore at altitude, has volcanic soils and has an ideal climate — hot, sunny days, and cool nights to slow ripening and build flavor.
- Up to 15% other red grapes are permitted in the blend to soften Aglianico (often Piedirosso, the native aromatic grape, which is lighter than Aglianico, is used)
- Flavor profile: Black cherry, raspberry, cigar, coffee, earth, leather. High acidity, high tannin, high alcohol, medium bodied.
- Riserva: has higher alcohol levels is aged longer
- Producers: Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio, Ponte, Terre degli Svevi, Re Manfredi, Quintodecimo, Donnachiara, Antionio Caggiano, Salvatore Molettieri, Perillo, Luigi Tecce, Terrdora, Urciolo
Aglianico del Taburno (2011 DOCG) is near Benevento. These wines are less famed than Taurasi because the region was used for bulk wine until the 1980s. The region consists of 14 towns on the eastern side of the Taburno mountain.
- Rather than pure volcanic or a volcanic mix, soils are clay -limestone.
- Taburno has bigger diurnals than Taurasi, and is generally cooler than Taurasi leading to higher acidity.
- Flavor profile: Pepper, black fruit, figs, leather, and herbs. High acidity, high tannin, high alcohol, medium body
- Producers: Cantina del Taburno, Cantine Tora, La Rivolta
Other Campania DOCS include: Cilento, Sannio, Gallucio, Irpinia, Falerno del Massico
Aglianico Del Vulture (we did a whole podcast on this) is located in Basilicata, just around the province of Potenza in the north. The wine region borders Campania and Puglia. The wine is required to be 100% Aglianico.
- Aglianico del Vulture DOC and Aglianico del Vulture Superiore DOCGs are on volcanic, mineral rich, well-drained soils around the extinct volcano. The elevation of Monte Vulture and the rain shadow it creates make perfect conditions for Aglianico – it gets its long, cool growing season, where it can develop flavors and aromas over time
- Flavor profile: black plum, coffee, dried herbs, smoke, dark chocolate. These wines have lower acidity than the wines of Campania. They still have high tannin, and high alcohol
- Producers: Cantine del Notaio, Elena Fucci, Pasternoster, Macarico, Basilisco, Cantina di Venosa, Bisceglia, D’Angelo
Aglianico can also be found in:
- Abruzzo & Molise, where it is blended with Montepulciano
- Lazio, Calabria, Puglia, where it is sometimes blended with Primitivo
New World Regions
- Australia: Adelaide Hills, Barossa, Langhorne Creek, Mudgee, McLaren Vale, Riverina, Northern Tasmania– cool and warmer regions! The wines are apparently less acidic and tannic, and quite high quality
California: Many regions grow the grape but Caparone in Paso Robles was the first in 1992. It shows promise as the climate warms.
Other US: Texas, New Mexico
- Argentina and Mexico are also having some success
We end with a discussion of food pairings and encouragement to go out and try this gem!
Main resource: “Native Wine Grapes of Italy” by Ian D’Agata
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