ON WINE: The South of Italy rises again: Aglianico del Vulture takes its place on the global stage

ON WINE: The South of Italy rises again: Aglianico del Vulture takes its place on the global stage

Until recently, wines from Southern Italy, usually defined as south of Rome, hadn’t received much critical acclaim.

But now red wines made from the Aglianico grape, which grows mainly in the southern regions of Basilicata and Campania but also in neighboring Puglia, are starting to get the recognition they deserve.

Almost all of Basilicata’s Aglianico, which the Greeks brought there in the seventh century B.C., grows around Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano in the northwest corner of the region. In Campania, it grows around the village of Taurasi, near Avellino, not far from another extinct volcano in Pompeii.

Because Campania has a higher profile than that of the obscure, mainly mountainous Basilicata, more Taurasi wines have reached our shores. But Basilicata is slowly beginning to reach out to the rest of the world with Aglianico del Vulture.

Before Aglianico del Vulture became Basilicata’s first and only DOC wine in 1971, almost all of the region’s Aglianico grapes went to Puglia. Today, dozens of producers in Basilicata make Aglianico wines. For many years, we saw only one or two Aglianico del Vulture wines in the United States. Today, there are at least 10.

WINE OF THE WEEK

2004 Terra [2] dei Re Aglianico del Vulture “Vultur” (Basilicata, Italy)

The Terra dei Re winery is in Rionero, the heart of the Monte Vulture growing region for Aglianico. Grapes for the Vultur are harvested very high on the hillside slope, with some vineyards over 2,000 feet up, which contributes to the wine being only 12.5 percent in alcohol. The 2004 Vultur is lean, dry and lively, and its substantial acidity is balanced with black cherry flavors. It’s quite delicious and a great value.

Wholesale price per one case of 12: $160; two cases, $144 per case

Standard Aglianico del Vulture wines age for a minimum of one year at the winery, and most of these young, basic wines stay in Basilicata. Aglianico del Vulture wines labeled Vecchio, meaning old, age for at least three years at the winery, and those labeled Riserva age for at least five years. The Vecchio and Riserva Aglianico del Vultures are the most interesting and will age well, especially in good vintages like 1998, 1999 and 2001. The 2004 vintage also looks quite promising, but 2003 was quite hot and often overripe, as it was in most regions throughout Europe.

All Aglianico del Vulture wines are very dry and powerfully structured. They typically show aromas and flavors of blackberry and/or black cherry, but they need aeration in the glass to develop. Aglianico ripens late and seems to thrive in soil enriched by lava deposits, with potassium and tufa—a porous stone containing calcium carbonate.

Aglianico very much resembles Nebbiolo, the Northern Italian red grape that is the only variety used in prized Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Both Aglianico and Nebbiolo grow successfully only in very limited areas. Wines made from both of these grapes are especially tannic and acidic when they are young and need several years of aging to soften. Wines from both of these varieties typically turn garnet in color with age.

Most wines made from Aglianico don’t require as much aging as Barolo or Barbaresco. We were enjoying some 2001 Aglianico del Vultures recently, and a 1998 that we drank was at its peak. On the other hand, you cannot really appreciate 2001 Barolos right now; they’re just too hard and tannic. Nor are 1998 Barolos ready to drink. The other big difference is the price—famous Barolo wines generally cost at least twice as much as most Aglianico.