Aglianico Italy’s undiscovered wine treasure

The world’s oldest cultivated grape is its newest wine discovery

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Aglianico wine italyPORTLAND, Or. June 26, 2016/ Troy Media/ – According to the Wine Economics Research Centre at the University of Adelaide, the wine industry produced around 27 billion litres of wine in 2014. That’s enough for almost four litres of wine for every single person on earth. Remarkably, although there are literally thousands of grape varieties suitable for making wine, two-dozen varieties accounted for roughly 85 per cent of the world’s wine production.

Italy is a welcome exception to the increasing uniformity of the wine world. There are over 2,000 varieties of wine grapes currently cultivated in Italy. Many never make it far from their immediate environs. Those that do make it to North America are often lost in the veritable sea of Cabernets and Chardonnays that crowd the typical wine store.

Among Italy’s most remarkable wine offerings is a little known grape called Aglianico (pronounced ah-l’yee-an-nee-koh). This is an ancient grape whose origins are still buried in the recesses of antiquity. First cultivated in Greece, it was brought by Greek settlers to ancient Cumae in southern Italy. Its name is likely a corruption of the Latin term Vitis hellenica or “Greek vine.” Until the 15th century it was referred to as Ellenico – the local term for Greek.

Aglianico was the principal grape variety in the Roman world’s most expensive wine, Falernian. The Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder described wines made from Aglianico as among the greatest in antiquity. Dennis Dubourdieu, a Bordeaux winemaker and a professor of oenology at the University of Bordeaux, has described Aglianico as “probably the grape with the longest consumer history of all.”

The grape thrives in hot, dry climates. Today, it is cultivated in such disparate places as the Murray Darling region of Australia, as well as Texas, Arizona and California. Remarkably, the grape is also grown at Vieni Estates in the rolling hills of the Vinemount Ridge of the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario. It is in southern Italy, however, in the regions of Basilicata and Campania, that the grape reaches its apex.

In Basilicata, Aglianico has the distinction of being the region’s only DOCG wine (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), Italy’s highest wine classification. The Aglianico di Vultura, produced on the steep slopes of Mt. Vulture, an ancient volcano in the northern area of the province of Potenza, is widely considered to be one of southern Italy’s greatest wines – on par with Piedmont’s legendary self-styled king of wines, Barolo. The only other DOCG designated production zone is in and around the village of Turasi in Campania.

The classic Aglianico style is a deep garnet color with notable intensity and weight. These are full-bodied wines whose powerful tannins, high acidity and concentration of fruit endow them with significant aging potential. Highly tannic in their youth, the wines typically need three to five years of bottle aging before they are drinkable. Its attractive price has earned it the nickname of “the poor man’s Barolo.”

One of the most highly rated Aglianico del Vulture’s is the Elena Fucci, Titolo. It’s widely available in Canada, although prices can vary considerably.

Titolo is produced from vineyards over 600 metres above sea level, among the highest in Vulture. This is a powerful wine with a complex nose offering aromas of ripe, almost jammy black fruit, followed by dried herbal notes of fragrant rosemary, as well as tobacco and wood spice. There are traces of cinnamon and slight hints of vanilla, underscored by smoke and a crushed stone minerality. On the palate the wine is dry. It’s full-bodied with a notable weight and plenty of ripe black fruit. It’s nicely balanced with fine and firm tannins neatly contrasted to the fruit and underscored by a notable acidity. The finish is long, with a complex array of ripe dark fruits and dried Mediterranean herbs. This review is for the 2012 wine, a slightly warmer than average year in southern Italy, but is indicative of the Fucci style of Aglianico offerings.

Aglianico is one of Italy’s hidden gems. Little known in North America, it represents an incredible value for one of Italy’s finest red wines.

Joseph V. Micallef is an historian, best-selling author, keynote speaker and commentator on wine and spirits. Joe holds the Diploma in Wine and Spirits and the Professional Certificate in Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (London). Bottoms Up is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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