A First Course in Wine: From Grape to Glass. Copyright 2013; Race Point Publishers, NY. 224 pages. Forward by Mario Batali.

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Get to Know Your Grapes: Aglianico

There are over 600 indigenous grape varieties used for wine production in Italy.  Some garner more praise than others while certain grapes seem to fly under the radar.  Although it’s one of the most widely planted grapes in southern Italy, Aglianico is rarely given the credit it’s due for its contributions to the wine world.

It is believed is that Aglianico was brought to the north shore of Campania by Greek settlers and was referred to as ‘ellenico’ (Hellenic).  Over time the name evolved into what is now, “Aglianico”, with the oldest identifiable plantings traced back to the seventh century.  Some historians dispute this claim, and believe that Aglianico first entered Italian soil through the shores of Basilicata, just southeast of Campania.  Although no concrete evidence has been discovered as to the true origins of the grape, both regions claim to be the home of Aglianico.

Taurasi DOCG is located in the mountains just east of Avellino.  In order to be labeled, Taurasi, wines must be made from a minimum of eighty five percent Aglianico with the remainder coming from any other black varieties, however most of the finer bottlings are produced entirely from Aglianico.  The wines must be aged a minimum of three years; one in wood, and riserva labeled wines aged an additional year with a minimum of eighteen months in wood.  (As is common throughout Italy, the best wines are often aged longer than the minimum.)  Aglianico is by nature a thin-skinned grape with high tannin levels, moderate acidity, and offers a dense concentration of flavors.  Built for age, these wines mature very well exhibiting a fine balance between fruit and earth, offering all different kinds of complex flavors ranging from from tar to chocolate. The vines span the hilly terrain at elevations of two thousand feet and higher and are tempered by the Calore River just east of the town of Avellino.

Mastroberardino: one of the historic estates of Taurasi

The soil in Taurasi is a mix of volcanic deposits and calcareous marls with rich deposits of limestone which are credited with giving Taurasi wines their tannic edge.  Given these elements and elevation, the grapes are not harvested until late October and sometimes even into November.  The beneficial qualities of Taurasi wines are their big lush fruit characters balanced by mineral and earthy flavors making them ideal sipping wines and also food-friendly wines.  Look for producers Mastroberardino, Vesevo, and Feudi di San Gregorio for approachable styles of Taurasi.

Aglianico is also showcased in the appellation, Aglianico del Vulture, in neighboring Basilicata.  Located about 40 miles east and south of Taurasi, Aglianico vines grow on and around the slopes of Mt. Vulture.  Aglianico wines from this area are usually more beefy and heavier than their counterparts from Campania.

Aglianico wines are great to pair with any grilled and smoked meat dishes, along with hard cheeses and cured meats.

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