The Evolution of Aglianico Wines

of Basilicata’s Del Vulture Region

Basilicata is the little region of Italy found in the south of the country, tucked away in the prominent geographical arch of the boot between Puglia and Calabria. It produces only and handful of wines however, is blessed with some great native varieties like Malvasia Bianca di Basilicata & Moscato Bianca for some of the whites and Aglianico & Malvasia Nera di Basilicata for some of the reds.

The traditions of wine making as well as the drinking of the wine from here began long before Rome was established. The majority of wine production takes place in the Vulture Masif area in the north, where land is most fertile. The volcanic soils and microclimate of long sunny days in the growing season between periods of cooler weather is very conducive to growing the Aglianico grape. It’s here that you’ll find the oldest and perhaps the best wines which comes from the Aglianico grape, called the Aglianico del Vulture. Largely undiscovered for quite some time thanks to the relative isolated nature of this region, it’s not a place that tourists tend to flock to when they go on a wine tasting journey through Italy.
Thanks to the volcanic soils, it nurtures these grapes and lends a distinctive flavor and aroma that is both earthy and touched with deep red cherry elements. The best locations for vineyards upon this dormant volcanic site are somewhere between 1,000 and 1,600 feet in elevation. This altitude provides the sweet spot for these grapes as it helps to maintain the acidity all the while slowing the building of sugars. What that means is the Aglianico grape takes longer to ripen, soaking up the sun in this region that interestingly enough, gets more sunshine than any other variety of grapes grown anywhere.

While certainly Aglianico del Vulture wines are not as famous as their other Italian wine counterparts, as wine culture continues to blossom around the globe, these wines are becoming more prized and have even been dubbed as “the Barolo of the South” is some of the best red wines from Italy.

Since the 6th century BC, the Aglianico grape has been growing in Basilicata. Just like many things from ancient times, it is shrouded in theories about how it came to be though it is most often presumed that the ancient people of Greece brought it to Italy. It has been said that the Greeks were the ones to plant this grape in Metaponto, an ancient colony on the coast of Basilicata. It’s also been said that the Greeks first planted these grapes just north of Naples in Campania. According to that theory, it was used to make a red wine called Falernum that the Romans had claimed was the best wine in Rome.

But in more recent times, another theory about how the Aglianico grape came to grow here claims that it was actually native to southern Italy. It supposedly grew in the wild and was something the people of the Bronze Age would gather and eat. Following that, the Greeks happened upon it. While the tales of its origin are truly fascinating, the one thing we can take away from all this is that this type of grape has been growing and thriving in this region for a very long time.

That’s certainly telling in literary references from ancient times, where poets and writers like Horace, a Roman poet from Venosa, who often wrote about the high quality of wine from the region. Aglianico wines continued making an indelible mark on history as time wore on. Hannibal was said to have sent his soldiers to drink the wines of the Del Vulture region in 212 BC after defeating the Romans. And under both the Swabian and Angevin empires, these wines were highly sought after by the merchants of Florence.

The increase in cultivation of grape vines continued to blossom thanks to wine being used in more copious amounts for religious mass and medicine. By the 15th century, vineyards dominated Mount Vulture’s steep slopes with cellars carved directly into the natural caves, many of which remain today.

In 1971, Aglianico del Vulture wine received DOC certification and then in 2010, gained DOCG certification. It’s truly a marvelous treasure to behold for experienced and even amateur wine connoisseurs. Traditionally, these wines were aged in large chestnut casks, however more and more of the vineyards of this region are now utilizing oak barrels for the aging process.

The switch to oak is something that winemakers in the region do today because this long-term aging provides an impressive impartation on the flavor of the wine. While the traditional methods created gorgeous vintages, these newer methods allow for proper aging in a more speedy fashion that doesn’t compromise flavor while keeping up with demand.

The longer the Aglianico del Vulture wines age, the smoother the tannins and the texture become. Early on, these wines tend to have a rustic flair and a bit of harshness to them. The key to truly enjoying these wines is to be patient for the magic of them. Properly made wines really don’t come of age until at least 10 years which allows it proper time to soften, revealing that lush fruity yet savory, slightly smoked flavor that distinguishes it from all other wines of the world.

A brand new generation of Aglianico del Vulture is taking power. The many wine producers of Aglianico del Vulture wines today know how to give it that fresh style that works with the grape’s unique features of wildness to bring about a more ripe, rich and slightly chocolaty flavor with a low pH and relatively high alcohol content. Even despite these modern aging techniques, the wines of this region are still something spectacular to behold. They are intensely good company for beef and wild game dishes or even just by the glass.

Wine critics tend to toss these 5 names up quite often on the subject of Aglianico del Vulture wines, today. If you’re hoping to sample this special breed of wine, these are excellent ones to start with and for wine enthusiasts, the next trip to Italy will be even more memorable by visiting one of the vineyards in Basilicata. Most of these producers’ vineyards are less than 9 hectares (about 20 acres).

Elena Fucci has been producing wines since 2000 at the foot of Mount Vulture. Elena Fucci Titolo Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2012 is a Cru that is a limited edition. Quite silky and robustly juicy. While some variance is expected through vintages, you can expect a sweet and polished cherry jam, currant and tobacco flavor melded with a big aromatic bouquet with large structure and strong personality balanced by minerality and acidity, it is quite exceptional.

Armondo Martino Winery, named after the innovator and flanked by his daughter Carolin, the company was established in the 1940’s and located in Rionero in Vulture. Martino’s Oraziano Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2012 shows an intense ruby color with violet hues with a complex bouquet of floral and fruity notes, hints of spices, cocoa and tobacco. A beautiful wine that shows the family’s passion for the grapevine cultivation and the respect for the tradition of their roots. Martino Winery is one of the most esteemed in the Vulture region.

On the western side of Mount Vulture is Vigne Mastrodomenico, a winery born on courage and passion for wine and viticulture located in Contrada Acquarossa in Rapolla, also created in 2000. Vigne Mastrodomenico Likos Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2012 has aromas of spice s and red fruit with minerality and sapidity, unique to the terrior and is powerful and elegant.

Bisceglia Vini Del Sud Italia is a winery founded in 2001 by Mario Bisceglia and managed by his son Michele. Bisceglia Gudarra Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2012 is a complex wine with a strong character and a youthful vitality.

From the village of Venosa is Madonna Delle Grazie, whose family has been growing and selling grapes since the 1900’s and it wasn’t till 2003 they started to produce their own wines. Bauccio Aglianico del Vulture DOCG 2012 is a special selection of old vines, the nose is dominated by blackberry, violets, peppercorn and ash while on the palate is rich and structured with blackberry and ripe plum with undertones of graphite, leather and baking spices.

Other producers to try:

  • The Associated Winemakers Consortium of the Vulture Carpe Diem Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2012
  • Carbone Melfi Stupor Mundi Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2012
  • Piccin Damaschito Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2012
  • Musto Carmelitano Pian del Moro Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2012
  • San Martino Kamai Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2012

Thankfully, with the world at our fingertips through the Internet, you can compare prices and order online to try one of the wines from Aglianico del Vulture. However, you should only make sure to go through a reputable vendor to ensure you’ll be delivered legitimate wine from this region.

For those that enjoy reds, taking the opportunity to savor the wine from this delightful region is a must. If possible, track down an older vintage that was made the traditional way in casks and then find one that was aged in oak barrels for more modern methods. It will make for a delightful tasting to compare among the ages, but one thing is for sure, each will lend its own distinct air of harmony and will change the way you view red wines forever more.

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