Aglianico: Do-It-Yourself

Aglianico: Do-It-Yourself

For those of you pursuing an indie do-it-yourself wine education (Really, who else can do it for you?), you might like to take time to explore one of the great and most important grape varietals of Italy’s south, Aglianico.

You’ll probably notice pretty quickly two confounding things about Aglianico: a) that you won’t find it in every wine shop and, b) that when you do, you will likely encounter Aglianico wines from varied regions such as Campania, Sicily, Molise, Puglia, and Basilicata to name a few.

tenuta-del-portale-le-vigne-a-capanno-2009-1All the aforementioned regions produce noteworthy expressions of Aglianico and you must try them eventually. But, do yourself a favor: begin your exploration with Aglianico from Basilicata, Aglianico del Vulture to be specific (takes its name from the region’s dormant volcano Monte Vulture), or from Campania’s Taurasi appellation (named for one of the production area communities), as those two expressions of Aglianico generally set the bar for important Aglianico reference points.

Brief geography: Basilicata is that part of the Italian peninsula that forms the ankle on the boot. You can locate that pretty easily. With only slightly more effort, to find the area for Taurasi, zero in on the Province of Avellino in Campania and you’ll have the place (Hey, don’t complain, I did say “brief” geography, remember? It is do-it-yourself, afterall). Separated by just 40 or so miles, the very common denominator relating the del Vulture and Taurasi production zones is the volcanic soil on which they are situated and in which Aglianico seems to thrive.

I can offer a thumbnail sketch of how the Vulture and Taurasi wines compare: well, actually, I hate doing this kind of broad brush thing, because there are always exceptions, but as you force me:

Aglianico del Vulture wines tend to be wines of complexity and detail, with dark and red fruit tones underlined by mineral character (volcanic, right?) and firm, often dusty tannins, while Taurasi – again, generally speaking – is perhaps the more structured of the two, also has the mineral thing going on, a wine that can show incredible depth and a finish that can go on forever. When cellared, Aglianico wines from either del Vulture or Taurasi areas will reward your patience.

Descriptors for wines from either zone could include red cherry, black cherry, plum, violets, smoke, meat, leather, vanilla, cocoa, menthol and tobacco, and no, that is not a definitive list. Foodie’s will appreciate that Aglianico’s naturally high acidity makes it a great food wine (and also balances alcohol levels that can be north of 14%).

Recommended, reasonable price points and pretty good trade distribution as far as I know:

Bisceglia Aglianico del Vulture
Tenuta Portale Le Vigne a Capanno Aglianico del Vulture
Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi
Terredora di Paolo Taurasi Fatica Contadina

Molise: Di Majo Norante “don Luigi” Montepulciano 2001

don-luigi-thumb  Di Majo Norante “don Luigi” Molise 2001 Montepulciano DOC

“A faint sun
that has come out on purpose from the fog
to send a shaft of light and give some breath…”

(from “Winter Sun” by Molisan poet EUGENIO CIRESE, Translated by Luigi Bonaffini.  Please see the super piece on Cirese @, authored by Giambattista Faralli)

The expressive wines of Alessio Di Majo, Di Mayo Norante winery, shine light upon what appears to be a promising future for wine production in the province of Molise.  If Di Majo is setting the benchmark, we can certainly expect great things to come from this region.

Combining innovation and “old fashioned methods”, Di Majo produces wines of unique character in an updated style that appeals to both modern and traditional taste preferences alike.  Di Majo Norante bottled its first vintage in 1968 and today produces approximately 600,000 bottles from 52 hectares. The estate gives special attention to clonal selection of native vines that thrive in the southern italian soil and uses only fertilizers of organic composition.

In a typically Italian tribute of respect and admiration, Di Majo’s “Don Luigi” is named after the patriarch of the estate.  The wine is made from best Montepulciano (90%) and Tintilia (10%).  Tintilia, a varietal confined mostly to Molise, is blended for its contribution to color and intensity (read: alcohol).

Vineyards lie in the area of Martarosa at an altitude 100 meters in a southeasterly orientation and are of calcareous clay soil composition.

Contact with skins is allowed for 20-25 days with fermentation carried out in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and then it’s off to barrique (Allier / Troncais) for 12-18 months.

Tasting Notes:

The wine, is a deep ruby color, plush and soft in the mouth.  But make no mistake, don Luigi is no wallflower.  Big and rich, it shows ripe plum and berry fruit surrounded by cocoa, anise, smoke, and vanilla cloaked in very smooth, civilized tannins.  A great balance of strength with grace and sensuality, an incredibly interesting, delicious expression of Montepulciano.

Food:  Pasta “al forno” of all types, grilled meats, game, cheeses; also try this with lamb korma or masala