Aglianico - the new star of Italian Wines? - 9th Sep 2012

Anyone who knows my taste in wine well, will tell you that my top 5 favourite grape varietals would probably look like this: 

  1. Nebbiolo (particularly Barolo)
  2. Sangiovese (particularly Brunello di Montalcino)
  3. Pinot Noir (particularly Cote de Nuits)
  4. Aglianico (particularly Taurasi)
  5. Syrah (particularly Northern Rhone)

No real surprises, especially when you consider my Italian heritage, except maybe that Aglianico sits quite high in my ranking. I beleive that Aglianico has the potential to be one of the superstars of Italy.

Aglianico, with a silent G pronounced “Ahli-Yah-nee-ko” is Greek in origin having been first planted by the Phonecians and from there it came to southern Italy via Greek settlers. There is a good chance that it is a derivative of the Italian word “Ellenico” which translates in English to Hellenic, “from ancient Greece” or more likely in this context “The Greek one”. 

Aglianico has produced the staple red wines of southern Italy for many centuries and has found its home in Campania, a mountainous area dominated by Mount Vesuvius and most famously known for the DOCG Taurasi wines of Irpinia, a sub-district of the region where the wine is affectionally known as the “Barolo of the South”. You will also find Aglianico grown to great effect in Basilicata, particularly wines named “Aglianico del Vulture” using grapes grown on vineyards around the now extinct Mount Vulture. Similarly, you can find Aglianico grapes being cultivated in the lesser known regions of Molise and Calabria plus some occasional appearances in Puglia and Sicily.

With such an abundance of sunlight in the south of Italy you’d expect high ripeness levels and wines that can get a bit soupy with too much alcohol or put another way “fruit bombs” that lack balance, and of course you will find these wines. What can be quite surprising to learn is that Aglianico ripens really slowly in these warm conditions and is often harvested in the middle of October, sometimes late October to reach maximum maturity. Grapes love to mature and ripen slowly, however, to create a truly great wine we need more than just ripeness, we need some acidity for balancing the wine and keeping it fresh over many years in the bottle and finally we need some tannin to provide structure and body to knit the wine together and provide the right qualities for ageing. 

Fortunately, when Aglianico is allowed to mature and ripen slowly it gives full-bodied, concentrated wines of great structure but as mentioned thats not enough, but as luck would have it, Aglianico is gifted with unusually high level of natural acidity (much like Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo). This acidity flourishes on the volcanic soils the vine grow on adding a certain level of mineral fresh characters. The acidity levels are further helped by the fact that many of the vineyards are planted at higher altitude on the mountainous slopes thus providing cooler, night time temperatures in which acidity thrives. Finally, Aglianico grape skins and the pips (like Nebbiolo) give good tannic structure to the finished wine. When all these elements in the grape come together at harvest time, and with the correct handling of the winemaker, we have the perfect recipe for producing wines with great character, complexity and balance with the ability to age well. 

It is probaly fair to say that Aglianico’s reptutaion is not as great as say Barolo on the international wine stage and you could say it is still in its infancy, perhaps as much as 15 years behind Barolo in market experience but there is good reason why it has been tagged by those in the know as the “Barolo of the South”. Do find the time to try some of our Aglianico red wines - in particular I can recommend the following 5 wines to try:

Entry Level: 

Aglianiico del Vulture “MESSR OTO” 2008 £12.99

from Basilicata producer Cantine Madonna delle Grazie

Irpinia Aglianico “TAURI” 2010 £15.99

from Campania producer Cantine Antonio Caggiano

More Advanced Option:

Aglianico del Vulture “BAUCCIO” 2007 £22.99

Aglianico del Vulture Riserva “DROGONE” 2004 £32.00

both from Basilicata producer Cantine Madonna delle Grazie

TAURASI “Vigna Macchia dei Goti” Riserva DOCG 2001 £55.00

from Campania producer Cantine Antonio Caggiano

Make up a mixed case of these Aglianico wines to try and we will give you a 15% discount - please use Promtional Code: AGLIANICO15 at the checkout stage to obtain your discount.

Enjoy a taste of Southern Italy and the delights of the Aglianico grape,

Jason Cozzi