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Aglianico: Southern Italy’s Wine Gem

When I think of the great grapes from Italy, it’s a natural to turn to names such as Nebbiolo, Barbera and Sangiovese.  But to the south of Rome, in the Campania and Basilicata region, is a grape that produces impressively robust reds that in the best cases are truly age worthy.  The grape’s name is Aglianico.

Without competition, the Aglianico is the most complex and hearty grape of southern Italy.  The grape, sometimes referred to as the “Barolo of the south,” is characterized by inky dark, even black cherry fruit, intensely huge tannins and laser sharp acidity.  The wine boasts robust and bold black cherry, plum and blackberry flavors, grilled herbs, chocolate and expresso coffee, smoke, spice, tar, and leather.  While the grape’s home is southern Italy, it is grown in Victoria and South Australia and in California’s Sierra Foothills and South Central Coast area of Paso Robles.

Just as Piero Antinori has been so instrumental in the north in establishing Tuscany as a premier wine producing region, so has Campania’s Antonio Mastroberardino been in the south, single handedly reviving the region with his Aglianico Taurasi wines.  While I’ve not been privileged to taste his 1958, 1952 or 1928 Taurasi, reports are that they are aging beautifully with the potential to reach the century mark in great shape!  Is there really more to be said about the potential of this grape?

Aglianico is a late ripening variety, with harvesting some years running deep into November.  The slow maturation process is actually a benefit to the grape (and the wine enthusiast), allowing for the bitter and bold tannins a chance to soften.  Otherwise, picking too early will result in a wine that’s bitter and hard, with tannins that will “sandpaper” your tongue and palate.

Older style Aglianico, similar to its Barolo and Sangiovese cousin to the north, was susceptible to long maceration times, old oak and very long barrel aging, often resulting in wines that were unapproachable for decades.  Today, as with its northern cousins, shorter maceration times, new oak and shorter barrel aging along with other techniques, allow for the fruit flavors to emerge fresher and integrate with less harsh tannins and acids.  The result, largely, are wines that are more approachable yet retain aging potential.  While there are occasions when the grape is blended with varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, to add more complexity, most often the red wine is a single varietal.

To learn about wine and food pairing approaches with Aglianico, please click here.

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